Many of us consider ourselves to be extremely loyal to the 49ers. We take it as a badge of honor to stick with the team through thick and thin, to be there in seasons with losing records, long periods of futility, bad coaches, Tim Rattay, even through scandal. There's a lot of activity on this site, even when the team sucks. In fact, it's almost a competition, at times, to compare how long we've been fans. Some of us joined The Faithful during Joe Montana's tenure, others during Steve Young's, and some people didn't make it until Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick were getting their turns. There are even people on here that were fans during John Brodie's - or even Y.A. Tittle's - tenure at quarterback. So that makes me ask, why are we loyal, as 49ers fans?
Let's consider the circumstances that currently surround the team. We're mired in a season where expecting 3 wins is rapidly becoming a badge of "Team Optimist." Very few of us look at the futility of the team and expect good things to happen. I read comments on the game threads yesterday where people declared that the Browns would beat us. I find it hard to argue with that. So let's lay out what defines the 49ers at this point. We have a CEO who is not a football mind, but a businessman. That isn't to say he's been a successful businessman, who managed to parlay his prodigious talents in business into becoming the CEO of a billion-dollar organization. No, instead he was the golden child, born to billionaires who were also businesspeople. When they tired of running the day-to-day operations of the team, they handed it off to their son, and he is in the enviable position of making millions of dollars a year to be in a completely secure position. After all, Dr. John and Denise are unlikely to fire their son.
This young man, Jed York, has managed to run afoul of most important organizations in Santa Clara. He's had fights with the city council. He cheated and lied to a youth soccer organization. He screwed over the Girl Scouts. Jed York is so incompetent that his one triumph - the hiring of Jim Harbaugh - also brought out some of his greatest weaknesses. He showed himself to be incapable of getting along with the aggressively assertive, hyper-competitive, Type-A personality of the first successful coach since Steve Mariucci - whom Dr. John and Denise unceremoniously fired after a playoff season - so Jed York dumped him at the first opportunity. But dumping him was not enough, first there had to be a whisper campaign begun against him, and every attempt made to short circuit and discredit him as the original scapegoat in Jed York's consolidation of power. Certainly, Harbaugh was a difficult man to get along with. That's widely published, but good management finds a way to get along with difficult people, as long as those difficult people are highly successful. And so it was, after a backbiting campaign and an 8-8 season, Jim Harbaugh was fired after being the first coach to have a winning record in almost a decade. 44-19-1, 5-3 in the playoffs. But the good news for him is he got his stadium built, sold a bunch of seat licenses to fans under false pretenses, then destroyed the product in a series of broken promises to the fans.
And so it was that the "coaching search" began, with interviews of several high-profile, up and coming coaches. The 49ers cast their net out wide, and settled on...Jim Tomsula. Tomsula was a good positional coach, and a positive presence on the sideline, but he was woefully overmatched as a head coach. That became obvious when one heard him speak publicly, and his upper-Midwestern-Italian, "aww-shucks," folksy demeanor was endearing at first, but for those of us who tend to be skeptical saw him as being incapable of leading a roster of grown men and being the tactical and strategic genius required to lead the team to a record better than the 8-8 of his predecessor. He then managed to have what was one of the worst 49er seasons in recent memory, lucking his way into four of his five wins, getting blown out in most of his losses, and only thoroughly dominating one team in a win. After the season, predictably, Jim Tomsula was fired, and he was replaced by Chip Kelly.
Chip Kelly brought hope to many of us, who had hoped that he would be able to get something going for the offense. Then, week one rolled around and we saw that we would be saddled with Blaine Gabbert, and that experiment lasted for far longer than it should have, until he was replaced by an almost equally futile Colin Kaepernick. We're now halfway through the season, and we've been beaten so badly by most of the teams that we've played that our points differential is at -93, beaten only by the winless Browns, who are at -105. The fun thing about that statistic is, the Browns are terrible, and lose by an average of 11.67 points per game. So if the 49ers lose by an average of 13.29 points per game, and have their point differential offset by a +28 win over the Rams in week one, how bad are we? Is it coaching? Is it talent on the roster? Is it some combination of the two, or would these coaches be successful if it weren't for the abysmal lack of ability of the vast majority of our players?, which brings us to...
Trent Baalke, Draft Ninja Extraordinaire. That almost made me sick to type, but I remember when Draft Ninja was a common nickname applied to him, because he seemed capable of finding talent in odd places, and getting good prospects who were either currently injured or recovering from injury, and were likely to become stars as soon as they were healthy. Marcus Lattimore was the heir-apparent to Frank Gore, Tank Carradine was to be a pass rushing star, AJ Jenkins was taken when Alshon Jeffrey was still available, and Vance McDonald was taken when Travis Kelce, Jordan Reed, and Luke Willson were still on the board. The only quarterbacks taken in his tenure were Colin Kaepernick in the 2nd round, BJ Daniels in the 7th round and Jeff Driskel in the 6th. We've had needs at ILB and OLB since Jesus was a toddler, and those positions have almost completely failed to be addressed, with picks preferring to fall on DBs. We've had needs (ILB, QB, WR, TE, OLB) and almost never are our higher picks used there. You can make the argument for best player available, versus drafting for need, but our roster hasn't been good enough for the past few years to warrant drafting best player available or injured "stars" to stash them for future years. It just doesn't work anymore.
So we've gone from 5 yards from a Super Bowl victory to maybe winning 5 games in less than 5 years. How did this happen? Mismanagement at its best.
Why are we loyal? People refer to a product on the field, so let's put it into the context of a product. If your favorite automaker has been something that you have purchased for decades because of reliability, affordability, fun, or status suddenly started to go south, maybe you might consider switching automakers. If your favorite car company suddenly started making inferior quality cars that were not fun to drive, weren't reliable, or didn't provide you with status, perhaps it would be time to switch to a competitor. If you prefer an entertainment metaphor, let's go that route, since football is, at its core, entertainment for the masses. If you were a fan of a sitcom since its debut, and had been watching for years, wouldn't you change the channel if it was no longer entertaining or you no longer enjoyed it? The NFL wants to sell us on the idea that "football is family" but that couldn't be further from the truth. Football is a time waster that consumes 9-10 hours of many of our lives on Sunday and an additional 3-4 hours on Monday night, and 3-4 hours on Thursday. That's 15-18 hours a week spent watching a bunch of grown men we'll never meet, smashing into each other, fighting over a brown leather ball, adhering to arbitrary rules while trying to push that brown leather ball over a white line into a colorful section of the field. If the product - or show - sucks, why do we keep watching? Is it habit? Is it pride? Is it for bragging rights? Is it peer pressure, the fear of being told "SEE YA!" by your fellow 49ers fans when you begin to waver in your loyalty? Football loyalty is silly. If you used to drive Fords back in the 1960s because they were good, but then they started to suck in the 1970s and kept sucking until the 1990s, you get no bragging rights for continuing to buy Mustang IIs, Pintos, Mavericks, or Fairmonts out of brand loyalty, while waiting for them to get good again. You get no bragging rights for continuing to watch Two Broke Girls even though it sucks, while waiting for it to get good. The automotive industry has a reason to try to make a good product, and so does the entertainment industry. If consumers aren't loyal then the manufacturers or production studios make less money, so loyalty from consumers is often rewarded with a reciprocal sense of loyalty.
The NFL, on the other hand, has no incentive to be loyal. The TV deals are set, the endorsement deals are written, and the NFL makes - and distributes - its money, regardless of whether you or I are loyal to the 49ers, or decide to start watching the Raiders. The Yorks continue to make their money, Levi's Stadium continues to announce sellout crowds. What it boils down to is whether or not the NFL - or your favorite team - is worthy of your loyalty. An argument could be made that a well-run team certainly is worthy of some loyalty, because they will continue to try to find a way to field the best, most entertaining team that they can. A poorly run team, on the other hand, has no idea how to be competitive for the long-term, or finds a way to self-destruct because of egos, and doesn't reward the fans with success. If the loyalty that we have for our team isn't shared, then why bother? We, as fans, shouldn't be afraid to find other teams to cheer for if watching the one we used to cheer for out of a weird sense of loyalty causes us misery.