Alex Smith arrived in San Francisco after the 2004 49ers went a dismal 2-14 in the year prior. On top of this, the two games that 2004 team did win were both against a similarly terrible Arizona team, and they both came in overtime.
This was the worst 49ers team I had witnessed in 30 years as a born and raised San Francisco 49ers fan...until now.
At 1-6, the 2010 San Francisco 49ers disappointed even the most die-hard believers Sunday with a loss to the now 1-5 Carolina Panthers.
San Francisco's first win of the season came the week before, against a Raiders team that ranges from cold as ice, to thermal nuclear in performance. Obviously, the 49ers did not get the Raiders who showed up in Denver (and shellacked the Broncos 59-14.) Rather, in a muddy, rainy duel they miraculously clung on to beat their cross-bay rivals 17-9.
Smith never lived up to the hype that comes with being first-overall selection in San Francisco, but the team slowly improved, with and without Smith. In 2009, they posted an 8-8 record after a disappointing beginning to the year, leaving the hype machine running with an expectation by many experts the the 49ers would win the NFC West in 2010.
This hype machine has crashed violently, however, and certainly is not in any working order now. It is from this hype machine that the 2010 49ers can, in at least one way, claim to be the worst 49ers group to ever take the field, whether at Candlestick, or Kezar.
See, the 2004 49ers were expected to be bad, but they were terrible; the 2010 49ers were supposed to be pretty good, but they've been dreadful instead.
What makes this year exceptionally painful is the number of losses that came on last minute go-ahead plays by their opponents. They lost to their three NFC South opponents thus far, by a combined eight points.
They dropped a winnable game to Philadelphia as well. In fact, their Monday night game against last year's Super Bowl Champions was the only game in which San Francisco did not come in as the favorite to win.
It doesn't take a mathematician to realize the implications here. In one respect, the 49ers are better than their record. As the saying goes, however, a team is only as good as it's record.
The term wasted potential takes on special meaning for this group of athletes. Stars like Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Patrick Willis have the ability to change a game on any given snap. A vault of other talented—not to mention high-priced—gladiators litter the lineup. Nate Clements, Justin Smith, Aubrayo Franklin and Joe Staley lead the pack.
Even more excitement was stirred up when the 49ers produced what looked to be a brilliant 2010 draft class. Two big, strong offensive linemen in the first round; a choice safety in the second, a fast linebacker in the third; and a slew of players with good upside in late rounds made it seem as though San Francisco had patched several holes that had been leaking since the mid 90's.
Nearing the season's halfway point, we now see these young men as the greenhorns they are. While their experience this year will undoubtedly serve them well in the future, their positive impacts this year have been minimal.
Alex Smith, the 49ers most controversial player (on the field, not off of it) took the vast majority of flack for the teams woes. Supposedly given the same offensive coordinator in consecutive years for the first time in his career, Smith saw Jimmy Raye fired less than a quarter of the way into the season.
The team has been headed by a rough-and-tough head coach for about two years now. When Mike Singletary was announced as the new face of 49er leadership, fans rejoiced. The hard nosed, Hall-of-Fame linebacker turned coach gave promise to a struggling San Francisco football culture searching for an identity. Singletary has not provided the 49ers, however, with the escape velocity required to relieve the team of the gravitational pull intrinsic in mediocre to sub-par teams.
Singletary could have set the 49ers up for future success this year, though. He gave the team what seemed like a winning chemistry. Vernon Davis went from a question mark to an exclamation point under Singletary. The All-Pro tight end is now one of the team's most outspoken, respected and productive captains.
The coach implemented a brutally physical training camp that shaped a slew of normal football players into warriors carved from wood. Rookies and veterans alike have benefited from the camp. Now, however, many players seem a little worn out by it. Granted, they should be better in the long run because of it.
Certain players that were not able to cope with the stress of the new program (Glen Coffee, Michael Lewis, for instance) left the team. Sometimes that's the price you pay.
It's attractive to think that this is all brilliant architecture, and in a way it might be. The rabid and hungry fans are in a win-starved frenzy right now, however, and even the ownership is rumored to have started grumbling at the 2010 season's lack of success thus far.
The 2008 Detroit Lions started by sweeping their preseason as well en route to the NFL's first team to lose 16 games in a season. Our 49ers also went 4-0 in the preseason. Nobody seriously could have expected those Lions to win the NFC North. They even handed out ironic T-shirts in celebration. The 2010 49ers, on the other hand, were definitive favorites to win their weak division by many, many experts.
So, because of what they have done, factored by what could have been, this is so far the saddest and most disillusioning season the 49ers have produced in my lifetime. Welcome back to the winter of our discontent.
If, however, Singletary can rally the troops and make a late push at mediocrity (even contention) then perhaps I have seen worse teams don the Red and Gold over the last three decades. If not, the under achievers should get ready for a thorough, offseason scrubbing.