Throughout this season we have heard and made many comparisons between the upstart 1981 49ers and today's 2011 49ers team. This post is intended to organize the chaos from all the observations I have made along the way (in regards to both numbers and other odds & ends). There does seem to be a peculiar connection between these two teams, and it is only growing stronger.
Let's get started: First of all, the basics:
- 1981 49ers: 13-3 - NFC West Division Champions - Superbowl Champions.
- 2011 49ers: 13-3 - NFC West Division Champions - NFC Championship Hosts (Progress to be determined)
We already know the Superbowl team from the NFC will come through Candlestick Park (is that not amazing or what?). So this 2011 team stands just two victories away from the SIXTH 49ers Lombardi Trophy.
Continuing, let us compare the team ranks in regards to points (I always value points rather than yardage to determine team quality).
- 1981 49ers Offensive Rank: 7th.
- 2011 49ers Offensive Rank: 11th.
- 1981 49ers Defensive Rank: 2nd.
- 2011 49ers Defensive Rank: 2nd.
Looking back at the offensive ranks, I find a weird symmetry: The ranks correlate to the number of the starting quarterback. Anyone familiar with numerology may know numbers of multiple digits get added unto themselves to make a singular digit. Here is a comparison of offense points rank and the quarterback's number:
- 1981 = 7th. Joe Montana's #16: (1 + 6 = 7).
- 2011 = 11th. Alex Smith's #11: (For both here you can do the formula 1 + 1 = 2. What is this, kindergarten?)
This may just be a weird coincidence, but with the history of the 49ers and the franchise's magic that clearly still lives today, who knows? At the very least its an interesting and amusing factoid. We certainly just saw Alex Smith display his own variation of Montana Magic, so the numbers support the idea in a mystical way.
Now going back to the team ranks, we see the 1981 and 2011 49ers were really very, very similar in their balance of offense/defense. The defense was the strength of the team. Both 2nd ranked. While the 1981 offense may have been better than 2011, it still shows the 49ers won with defense.
And then, of course, there is "The Catch." Here we are mere days after the 30th anniversary of "The Catch," and in the opposite blood-red endzone we get "The Catch III." The same fricken week of the 30th anniversary?! That is insane. You couldn't write that script in a movie (and don't even mention Alex Smith's redemption story to Hollywood). Beyond all reason. Celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Catch with a new one.
Speaking of the quarterbacks, they deserve a bit of comparison. Yes, I know the game has changed and QB numbers don't mean what they used to, but I still think they line up fairly well.
1981 Joe Montana (Age 25): 311 of 488 (63.7%) for 3565 yds, 19 TDs, 12 INTs, Y/A 7.3. QB Rating: 88.4. Rushing: 95 yds & 2 TDs.
2011 Alex Smith (Age 27): 273 of 445 (61.3%) for 3144 yards, 17 TDs, 5 INTs, Y/A 7.1. QB Rating: 90.7. Rushing: 179 yds & 2 TDs.
Joe Montana was just making a name for himself and didn't really become a legend until "The Catch" in the NFC Championship against the Cowboys (which was a redemption story for Dick Nolan & John Brodie's 49ers of the early 70's, whom got eliminated by Landry's Cowboys 3 years in a row). While we don't have quite that same kind of TEAM redemption story today, what can you say about Alex Smith's personal redemption story other than "WOW." He delivered his own legendary performance the week of the 30th anniversary of Montana's own.
Speaking of correlations: Does this pattern not sound familiar? Check it out:
- Dick Nolan - 49ers Head Coach - 1968-1975.
- Bill Walsh - Stanford Head Coach - 1977-1978. 49ers Head Coach - 1979-1988.
- Mike Nolan - 49ers Head Coach - 2005-2008.
- Jim Harbaugh - Stanford Head Coach - 2007-2010. 49ers Head Coach - 2011-present.
Apparently it is fashionable (and extremely successful) to follow a Nolan coach a few coaches later with Stanford's head coach.
The guys making those hires? The then young Eddie Debartolo Jr. and over 30 years later his even younger nephew (and apparent heir to the throne) Jed York.
The comparisons can keep going, but it just feels like the magic of this franchise is back. Because of the failures we can't yet call it "The Dynasty" anymore, but it sure does sound, look and feel like it again, doesn't it? Even down to the cherry-red uniforms we thankfully returned to (give credit to Mike Nolan for pushing that idea). We may very well be seeing the Dynasty Reborn. Sort of a lot like Alex Smith's rebirth (and dare I say the return of great 49ers quarterbacking). Its insane I can say this, but on Saturday it was as if Alex Smith were a Joe Montana/Steve Young hybrid with the cool collection of Joe and the rugged toughness and scrambling of Steve.
Beware: The 49ers are back. Be scared, NFL. Be very scared.