While the off season is humming by (quicker than I thought it would, thanks Giants!) I couldn't help but think about different "eras" in 49er football, mainly thinking about the one we are currently in the middle of. Among all the greatness which is constantly talked about by fans, recognized by rivals, and shown on throwback NFL shows; there are still down period of 49er history, luckily we are currently NOT in one of those periods.
The above was the reality of the 49ers for nearly a decade, but now we are one of the titans of the league (where we belong IMO). Looking at the Niners from 2003 to the present it sort of compliments the NFL as a whole. You cannot buy your way to stardom (salary cap), you need to hit your draft picks, and every franchise needs to experience highs and lows. Some highs seem to last forever (New England) and some seem to never ever come (Detroit), but the system does indeed work. Periods of up or down can be extended or eluded due to team executives whether they are really good or really bad, point being the system works and it makes fans crazy during success or rebuilding.
Instead of comparing Niner eras, which quite frankly wouldn't be fair to old Championship winning eras at this point I want to revel in this one and ask who will be remembered and how long will it last? Is your Kap jersey going to be a forgotten relic in 15 years that is funny in a sort of ironic way in 2030 or will it be next to the Montana and Young jerseys which are iconic and not ironic. Do online memorabilia shops sell Michael Crabtree cards for 99 cents like they do for JJ Stokes or are they being sold for hundreds like Jerry Rice's card? Okay okay, so Crabtree isn't rice and never will be....but will he be Stokes in a decade?
Frank Gore - The bruiser had to carry the load of the team for 7 seasons before he experienced a winning record. Think about being a workhorse for an NFL offense, destroying your body year after year for 4, 5, and 6 win seasons? Gore will always be remembered because after all he is the franchise rushing leader, but beyond that he endured the valley and deserves to stand on the peak, a Super Bowl ring won't matter to his legacy in SF, but it certainly is deserved
Patrick Willis - The best linebacker in football and probably one of the five best to ever lace up the cleats will certainly be in the Hall Of Fame soon after his brilliant career ends. Willis is the key to the Niners stout defense as has been for years. Be it by statistics, accolades, or just watching him make a difference EVERY week Willis could easily be considered for favorite Niner defender of all-time when it is said and done, sorry Ronnie!
Vernon Davis - I think part of the reason Davis will always be a favorite is the way he turned himself around during his time in SF. His issues with Singletary and his character "make-over" are part of his story for sure. From T.O levels of selfishness to a hard working, charitable, and uber-productive tight end....Davis could definitely be considered "beloved" by Niner standards in my opinion.
Need To Finish Writing Their Stories:
Justin Smith - Everyone loves Justin Smith and everyone always will. He has been a great member of a terriffic defense for years, but without the national recongnition he probably deserves what might his legacy be? I could see Smith as a popular player past his playing days as a constant member on all the "under-rated and unhearalded" player lists.
Aldon Smith - This story is the one with the most empty pages at the end of it....a game of thrones type narrative, Smith can either get it together or be a "what-if" forever.
Michael Crabtree - The talent and the numbers don't match-up this far into his career, but if he is a big part of a ring-winning campaing it could change his legacy quickly.
Colin Kaepernick - Obviously he will be remembered as a dynamic talent who has been very close to Championships twice already, but can he rattle of some rings and becoming the 3rd face on the Niner QB-rushmore?
How Long Will It Last?
Periods of success seem to always be followed by ones of failure or "rebuilding" as the NFL has coined to trick fan bases into buying hope aka tickets and merchandise. So, how long can the Niner's ride their current success into the future. Over the past 3 years the teams record is 36-11 and its a safe bet that this season will only improve that percentage after 16 more regular season games. Quite frankly the longevity of this era might rest on Kaepernick and nobody else. Most eras are as long as an elite quarterbacks career (see Brady, Manning, Aiken, etc). As soon as we are truly ready to call Kaepernick elite (which I believe is now) then the future can be as bright as he makes it. Although successful teams sound like ones who are in a position to quickly reload at the end of a quarterbacks career it just isn't that easy. Although it is a team game you aren't going to Trent Dilfer your way to a Super Bowl ever again. Luckily, I am a huge Kap fan and think he is elite and will be for a long time, the talent is there, the coaching is there, the supporting cast is there, and the past season and a half of him being featured are enough for me...I don't know how long 10+ win season will last, but I'd be happy to bet it will be a long time.