The San Francisco 49ers are experiencing success for the first time in eight years. They are so far ahead of the expectations given to them that all critics can do is make excuses.
Many playoff-caliber teams are built off pure talent and enough hard work to match their measly opponent the next week.
The 49ers are a little different though. Their talented inner core is protected by an extremely tough backbone and a clear path to success led by coach Jim Harbaugh. On the field, their blue-collar attitude and hard-pressing defense is what stands out.
But there's more to meets the eye, and in the locker room, it's a whole different story. The team is led by a bunch of goobers and goofy, teenage boys stuck inside the bodies of men.
The 49ers are one team that is made up of many different personas that have been melted together into a melting pot of success. Here are the players that symbolize these personas.
Frank Gore is a veteran back who likes to run up the middle and get hard-earned yards a lot, but he also has enough speed to turn the corner on the outside. Even after being in the NFL for seven years, Gore runs like he is a rookie.
The first few games of the season were not productive for Gore, and I started to think his tank was out of gas. He sure proved me wrong. The ran for 100-plus yards in five straight games from Week 4 to Week 9 (besides a bye week in Week 8). In four of those games he ran over 125 yards.
Gore's resilient change in pace is similar to the 49ers' entire season. He symbolizes the "never give up" mentality that is carried by the team.
One look at Joe Staley and you get an insight into his personality. This offensive tackle is more than a hard-working quarterback protectorate.
He is a light-hearted comedian behind closed doors, and often it shows on the field.
After catching a 17-yard pass from Alex Smith earlier this season against the Cleveland Browns, Staley celebrated by doing his version of a "first-down dance." The exuberant 300-pound lineman showed incredible flexibility for his size. It was a fun moment to watch.
He also does a video series called the "Joe Show" that can be seen on the 49ers team website. Through his videos, he is able to provide an insight into the personalities of many of the players on the team. It is quite evident how good the team's chemistry is just by watching these videos.
Staley embodies the 49ers' healthy attitude and enjoyment of the game.
Everyone has heard the story of Alex Smith. Everyone has criticized him. But not everyone is ready to accept the fact that he is actually bringing success to San Francisco.
Analysts are arguing whether or not he is more than a "game manager." Give the man the credit he deserves. He plays in an offense that only requires him to do certain things. He can throw for 150-250 yards and still get the win because of the way Harbaugh runs his West Coast offense.
Smith's resilience is present through many of the 49er players. A team of veterans getting a second chance. Carlos Rodgers is having the best year of his career at CB. He has five interceptions, making him one of the leaders in that category.
David Akers was an offseason addition who has been pure gold for the 49ers this season. He's another veteran putting in work. Even though he missed three field goals against the Cardinals last week (two were blocked) he is still 26-31 on the season and has five 50-plus yarders.
Ahmed Brooks has finally evolved into the linebacker his potential said he could be. He has 32 tackles and six sacks on the season and has made a serious presence besides NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis.
Alex Smith and several other veteran 49ers have reinvented themselves this year and are proving many people wrong. Much like what their record is doing.
Michael Crabtree is the low-key drama queen on the San Francisco 49ers.
He didn't sign with the 49ers at first because he wanted more money, but when he did, his impact was immediate. And he knows it. He walks around like he owns the place. But sometimes a little swagger is all a team needs to start winning.
From his diamond-studded earrings to his freshly tailored collared shirts, the man knows how to look good. He takes pride in his appearance and represents the attitude that the Niners have started to take into every week. They expect to win games, and Crabtree expects to have the ball thrown to him.
He may not be as bold as former 49er receiver and mastermind Terrell Owens, but he still brings a little spice to San Francisco and has the Niners lookin' extra good in their red-and-gold uniforms.
Patrick Willis is a monster. There is no denying it. He has led the 49ers in tackles every season since he joined the league five years ago. He has recorded over 120 tackles in of his first four years and already has 85 this season. Willis can easily be compared to MLB Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens, whom he may be facing tonight during the "Harbowl."
Willis is famous (or infamous in the eyes of his opponents) for his ability to tackle in the open field and chase down ball-carriers despite his distance from them.
Willis is a very athletic player and he has the ability to make interceptions as well as deliver bone-crushing hits. The 49ers often have to work very hard for their wins, and their opponents definitely don't want to see them on their schedule.
The 49ers are coming, and no matter how hard you try, you can run, but you can't hide. Patrick Willis and the No. 1 ranked rushing defense in the NFL is going to sniff out your running back and make sure he is acquainted with the ground.
The San Francisco 49ers have been the surprise story of the 2011 NFL season. Led by new head coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers are off to a 9-1 start. They have won eight games in a row and are undefeated on the road this year.
Their success comes from hard work, talent and a little fun. The 49ers have a lot of funny personalities on their team and it is shown throughout the locker room.
Their success on the field is due in large to the fact that they are able to enjoy themselves in such a serious football league. Then again, who wouldn't be happy with nine wins and a certain playoff spot?