An open letter to new bandwagon fans

Below is a letter taken largely from a post I made to, and about, bandwagon fans on a different site last year. I have updated it largely to reflect changes in names (Percy Harvin is a Seahawk now, not a Viking). Nevertheless, the words and the sentiment remain all mine.

Dear bandwagon fans,

First of all, I'd like to welcome you back to the San Francisco 49ers club. Believe it or not, we (and by we, I mean the fans who supported the 49ers even when they sucked) actually welcome you back. We're not particularly territorial, and having you rooting for us makes it easier to watch games on TV, so despite the fact that we have differing views of what "fandom" should mean, we're happy to bring you back into the fold. But so long as you're here, there's a few rules you have to abide by.

1) No insulting the crappy teams (except Dallas).

Really almost all of these rules could fall under the general heading of "act like you've been a winner before", but I think it's important to make this point quite explicit. Despite our schedule having a few tough games, there's always going to be a few that are against opponents that are bantamweights compared to us. This year we play Carolina, and Jacksonville. Later on in the season we'll play Arizona twice. And Tennessee.

You don't get to insult any of their fans.

Let me explain this very simply to you: for about seven or eight years, San Francisco was one of those crappy teams. Yes we had a lot of talent. Yes our front seven was really dominant even back then. But we always found ways to lose the games, and Singletary as a coach was so focused on heart that he didn't bother to use his head. But the thing is that when we tried to accentuate the positive, we usually got laughed at. Mostly by people bearing a striking similarity to you. So if you're going to be a fan of the 49ers now, which again I have no problems with, when you hear an honest-to-goodness Jacksonville fan talk about Chad Henne and Cecil Shorts, you do not get to make fun of them. Believe me, they know as well as you do that the Jags will probably lose, that MJD will probably get stuffed a lot, and that their front line will probably be gashed all day long. They know these things because the only fans of Jacksonville right now are honest-to-goodness fans of the Jags. So those fans are saying those things because they want their team to win even if they don't really expect it. Don't take that away from them.

The only exception, of course, is Dallas. If you see a Dallas fan, you're seeing a person who has adopted trolling as a lifestyle and knows exactly what he's about to get. So really it's almost rude not to give it to them.

2) Keep your head when (not if) we lose.

This is the flip side of number 1. Because you know something about great teams? Even they have off days. Yep, it's true. San Francisco has had five Super Bowl-winning seasons in its history. And in every single one of them, we lost to a team that all statistical measures we should have smothered at some point during the season. And you also know what? It's going to happen to us this season. Maybe Carson Palmer will get red hot with Fitzgerald on a week when our corners are injured. Maybe CJ2K will power through our defensive front. Maybe Sam Bradford is our defense's kryptonite. The point is that at some point during this year, we will blow a game that we should have won.

At that point, you have an obligation to remember that the sky is not falling. We've still got a good team with a lot of weapons and the ability to stymie some very impressive offenses. If you root for the 49ers as a bandwagon fan, it's a season commitment with an option for guilt-free renewal. It's not a license to start raining inside the parade tent because Patrick Willis missed a key tackle. He's Patrick Willis, not Superman, which means that he gets to be fallible and sometimes even he will take a bad shot at a guy. Just hang on to next week, and you'll see that it's simply a once-in-a-blue moon kind of thing.

3) Root for our style of football.

Admittedly, this is stereotyping a bit, but I've found that its a stereotype with a grounding in reality. Put simply, bandwagon fans tend to be more casual than team fans. Now just so we're clear, I don't have a problem with casual fans, or bandwagon fans, or either of those that are now rooting for the 49ers. We're all in this together; these are just rules of etiquette to help keep us all feeling like family for the season. But the dig against casual fans is that they like the passing game because it's easy to watch and showy to look at. It's easy to play a highlight reel pass and see what goes right and what goes wrong. By contrast, it's hard to look at a four-yard run and see immediately why that should be considered a success, much less why it worked. There's just one catch.

That isn't the game we play in San Francisco. Which means that if you're going to be a Niner fan, you have to at least pretend to love the game that we play. The upside is, of course, that if you stick with it, you'll learn something about the game and learn to like how we play football.

You see, our version of football is not the same kind of football teams like the Saints or Patriots or Packers play. It's what used to be called Lombardi football or Bears football or Steelers football. We don't move the chains in high-tempo 30-yard bursts. We move it in slow, patient grinding 5-7 yard chunks. An ideal drive for us is 12 plays and chews up 8-9 minutes of clock time. We want to slow the game down and force the other team to get into the mud and punch it out with us. We're Rocky Balboa, not Apollo Creed. Same thing on defense: our defense wins by slowly squeezing off options and strangling opponents rather than through lightning quick punch-outs. Most of the sacks and interceptions this team gets come late in the second half, because we've spent the first half stuffing the run and dealing crushing blows to the offensive line that just grind them down at precisely the time the opposing QB is taking to the air to come from behind.

And you know what? Once you get used to it, Bears football is actually really, really fun to watch. Because we actually do all kinds of interesting things with our run game to make it work. When we sweep outside, we'll pull a lineman from the weak side and a tight end to lead the blocking downfield. When they stack 7 or 8 inside to stuff the run, we'll hit them with passes to the sidelines. If they back off to seal off the deep routes, we hit them with short slot routes and through the line runs. The more you watch our stuff, the more you learn about the game and the more you learn how to spot what the defense is doing and how, through precisely attacking the weaknesses they offer, we keep moving down the field. We don't have anyone who can simply overpower any matchup like Calvin Johnson or Jimmy Graham. But by playing smart and by getting guys who can do the down and gritty stuff that you don't see reflected in fantasy football stats, we can beat the offenses that those guys help power. Anquan Boldin, for instance, is by no means as good at receiving as Calvin Johnson: he hasn't got Johnson's size, speed, strength, and his ability to seperate comes far more from precisely running the route than from simply blowing by the corner. But Q is also crucial to Frank Gore's success because every time Frank the Tank gets to the second level, Boldin is going to be throwing blocks downfield for him that you'd swear were made by a guy 50 lbs heavier. Learn to love our style of play, and I guarantee you that even if you decide to become a fan of another team later, your appreciation of how the game works will skyrocket.


A lifelong Niners fan.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors.

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