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As die-hard fans of the 49ers, it's very easy for us to succumb to exaggeration. Consider it an extension of our irrational support for guys like Kory Sheets or Thomas Clayton. Given how much time and energy we put into analyzing the team prior to, during, and after each season, it's easy to think the upcoming season is always a monster season. After all, when a team hasn't made the playoffs in almost a decade, it's easy to assume the next year is huge because that's when the team will finally break through.
The 49ers have not made the playoffs since 2002. When they were making the playoffs in 2001 and 2002, I would argue the team wasn't exactly expecting a huge run. That's not to say they didn't want to win it all, but the team was a bit of a rut (a rut we'd all have loved the last few years). And obviously after the struggles over the last seven years It's easy to get excited about the expectations of a team when ever anything positive happens.
Given all that, how important does 2010 stand in comparison to recent seasons, or even dating back to the 90s? We've discussed the details leading into the season, but I think it's time to take a step back and consider the upcoming season from a broader perspective. The team has taken steps forward the last season and a half under Mike Singletary, but now they need to get over the hump.
In looking back, one could argue that heading into 2007 we were looking at another benchmark type of season, heading into said season. The team had finished up 2006 7-9 the previous year thanks in part to a couple big wins over the division-winning Seahawks. Frank Gore had an historical season and Alex Smith seemed to be showing signs of development. Confidence was high among fans. And then the team fell on its face in 2007.
Looking back at the 49ers heading into 2007, and particularly comparing it to the team heading into 2010, the differences are drastic. On the one hand, Frank Gore was coming off what remains the best season of his career. However, beyond that, the 2006 49ers had nowhere near the level of talent the 2009 49ers had. While it's true the 2006 team finished a mere game worse than the 2009 team, a look at the two teams would show the drastic differences on the rosters (2006 and 2009).
We continue looking back to find a comparable season after the jump.
Given the varying levels of talent on each team, it's hard to find a season quite comparable to the season the 49ers just completed, and the season they're heading towards. You can run through the Pro Football Reference 49ers Franchise Index to compare seasons. Obviously teams in the 90s were better and had more talent than this team, but the difference is that this team is following some pretty bad teams, and is looking to take that big step back to respectability. We haven't seen that arguably since the pre-Walsh era.
One could argue for the 2001 season, in which the 49ers rebounded from back-to-back losing seasons to go 12-4 and then lose in the first round of the playoffs to the Packers. The 49ers lost Steve Young in early 1999 and spent that season and the 2000 season developing their identity behind Jeff Garcia. The current stretch has been a bit longer of an exodus back to respectability, but it could be somewhat comparable.
Whatever season we compare, I view 2010 as a monstrous season for this team. Expectations are as high as they've been since the team made the playoffs in 2002. And in fact, one could view the early '00s as expectations on the downswing, while now things are on the upswing.
The team cannot afford a repeat of the 2007 season, or anything remotely resembling that. The team certainly has holes, but anything short of a winning record would be a bitter disappointment for most folks. This certainly sets expectations to a point where disappointment could very well result. And yet, I'm tired of the days where expectations were low and it was easy to surpass them and make me happy. The team hasn't accomplished anything yet, but the proper mentality for fans appears to be on its way back to being in championship form.
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