The San Francisco 49ers are to the NFL what Notre Dame is to college football. Always classy in appearance and operation (at least on the surface), their tradition of winning is an organizational calling card. Great in the '80s, still solid in the '90s, but in recent years they've been more reputation than results.
So now the Niners, like the Fighting Irish, have broken ground on another rebuilding project—this time led by a highly-touted new coach (Jim Harbaugh in San Fran, Brian Kelly in South Bend), but with the kind of quarterback uncertainty expected from a franchise in flux. In both cases, for fanbases that have grown accustomed to a certain level of success, realistic expectations are constantly threatened by impatience with the current losing trends.
The first real test for the new-look Niners comes Sunday against the defending NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks, another rebuilding team whose coach faces messianic expectations and whose quarterback situation is shaky.
Here are five storylines to watch in both teams' 2011 season opener: