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Are You There, Niners Nation? It’s Me, El Pato

Did you miss me?

Well, hello there. Long time, no see.

A lot of you are saying, “Where the hell have you been?” A majority of you are saying, “Who the hell is this guy? And why did he write a post over 2500 words?” Well, it’s probably time to set the record straight and explain everything.

And then Kyle and I never want to talk about this again.

This is going to be a rather lengthy read, but after everything that’s happened, I want to tell my side of the story. I don’t speak for the entire former staff involved in the Niners Nation purge, and some of them are doing quite well for themselves.

So, I both thank Kyle for giving me another forum that has nothing to do with sports, and I also apologize to everyone I worked with for the look this projects. A look that my situation is/was more important, so look at me! My situation is not better or worse than the some 200 writers who wrote for SB Nation during this mess, but this is/was my situation.

I guess we can start with some background: My first stint at Niners Nation began in 2015, and I didn’t have a clue I was doing. Among the few gems, there was a stupid article I made calling out all of the Bay Area media (sorry about that…not my proudest moment).

And there were other shining moments, like getting into a Twitter spat with Jalen Ramsey or saying the 49ers could get Nick Bosa long before it was even seen as a possibility (and y’all called it clickbait. Who’s laughing now?) Behind the scenes, I went from unpaid, to a paltry stipend, to a nice monthly payout.

In 2018, Fooch, Niners Nation’s previous overlord, came to me and asked me to be his Number 2 man. Being affiliated with Niners Nation was something I was already proud of, so being asked to be second in command was really a high mark of my life. I was going to be more exposed, I was going to have more pressure, but I was also going to be depended on. Then that same year, Fooch went to DraftKings Nation. The fate of Niners Nation hung in the balance. I was encouraged to apply and take over.

That much is common knowledge. I think the rest of this story has only been whispered around to those in the circle of trust. Here’s a secret: in 2019 I leaned towards turning down the Niners Nation job if offered.

The most notable reason was that I always felt like an imposter. I’m a failing novelist and writer who loves retro video games, and I’m talking about a team I simply watch as a fan. If the 49ers weren’t my team, I wouldn’t care about the sport of football (I played defensive tackle and middle linebacker, if you’re curious).

To add to my own insecurities in thinking I wasn’t right, these guys do A LOT of content. So much, that in my then-role as No. 2, I was feeling burnout, my weekends were shot, and the cries of clickbait and sucking were hitting me hard. I was getting more hate mail, more angry tweets, and the weight of it all began flattening me. Take over? While I felt—no I knew— I could do it, the mental side of things meant I could have sacrificed something pretty valuable. As I went through the application process, these things weighed against me and I felt like it might not be worth it.

That said, I was unemployed, so a full-time job was a full-time job. I’m 39 years old as I write this, and the 2008 Great Recession really did a number on me. I never got started on a career until I was 37. The 10 years following college were spent jumping around, and NN was the only consistent thing for five of them. Why would I not want something stable? Why would I not want a career that aligned with what I had a bloody degree in?

Three months into the NN overlord search, I received a job offer from the company I am still with today. I contacted Fooch and told him this three-month hiring thing was coming to an end. I didn’t say which way I leaned, but I did force SB Nation’s hand. An hour later, I got a phone call from one of the higher-ups telling me they were going in a different direction.

And I was disappointed.

“Wait a second…you didn’t want it!” You are saying. “You arrogantly were going to turn it down. What’s the big deal?”

Right, I didn’t. I was never mad, and I didn’t blame anyone. No one promised me anything, and no one stole anything. If that were the case, you can be angry. I was disappointed that they didn’t think I could run this place.

I was hurt that my background and work didn’t speak enough for me to ascend the throne, despite me feeling deep down I didn’t belong here. I was hurt that someone came in under the radar, and they thought this new person was a better fit than I was.

Not only that, but I wanted the confidence from this company where they felt I could do it. If not me, I figured someone else on the staff past or present would have been a good fit. That would have made sense.

That never happened, instead in the same conversation they told me they hired this Kyle Posey guy. Of course, that left my status up in the air. The last thing I wanted was a manager to feel stuck with me. They asked me to stay.

And something felt off.

“I don’t want this to be a shotgun marriage,” I said. “Kyle will want his guy, and I don’t want to be dragging him down.”

“It won’t be,” A higher up who shall remain nameless told me. “Kyle wants you onboard. We need your help with the transition.” They went on to tell me my monthly pay had increased by 1/3. How could I say no to that? I’ve lived in poverty for 15 years. Now I have my SB Nation stipend on top of a decent salary with my other gig. Hell yes!

I also knew that put me in the upper echelon of SB Nation contributors, and there was no way dummy, imposter me would be making that kind of cash for long. It was at that moment, when they made the increase and told me about Kyle’s hiring, I knew my time at Niners Nation in my current form was slowly, but surely coming to an end.

I was now one of the higher paid contributors, and I definitely wasn’t the best. This raise in pay was damage control, not merit or ability. As a business, I would be let go at some point. It’s no one’s fault, that’s just how these things work.

And if not by their hand, I certainly knew I couldn’t take another five years of the workload.

As Niners Nation sculpted itself into the vision and voice of its new boss, I grew more burnt out. I had a quota of 25 articles per week to write, and even getting my average of 20 in left me straight exhausted. Losing sleep and my social life, I began telling several people privately that I intended to leave Niners Nation within two years, should they not fire me beforehand.

The way I saw it, I wouldn’t make it that far. I figured I’d say something dumb, make another article calling out everyone like an idiot, or get so much as a name wrong and I’d get my pink slip.

“Wait,” you ask. “If you were burnt out, and you were pissed anyway about not getting the job, why are you doing this to yourself in the first place?”

Honestly? I love the San Francisco 49ers that much. At the end of the day, this job is a labor of love. I also felt loyalty to it, I wanted to write to a mass audience. I never had that opportunity until Fooch gave it to me. Likewise, I felt like I owed Fooch—and to an extent, Kyle—something.

Besides, who else could I do it to? Fooch and Kyle wouldn’t let me do it to them, and I needed the money. While I consider myself a “blogger”, if you want to get technical, many beat writers, let alone bloggers, don’t get to cover the team they grew up watching and get paid for it.

It doesn’t work like that, so I considered myself quite fortunate. Screw entitlement. There was a lot I was doing off the site also. Fooch and Kyle always called upon me to represent Niners Nation because I like to think they trusted me. A small-time radio needs me to talk junk? I got the call. SB Nation wants me to help with a mock draft? Be there in 10. Despite all of this, I knew at some point I’d have to make a decision.

In December 2019, the decision was made for me. Or expedited.

In the midst of the 49ers returning to the playoffs, AB5 passed in California. I, along with anyone affiliated with a California team (some 200 writers) was shown the door. The law required a total of 35 articles per year. When my contract called for 25/week, that business model wasn’t going to work. It didn’t matter I lived in Seattle, Washington, I was tied to this new rule. I filled everyone in on an unedited open forum on this very site, approved by the powers that be, and walked away quietly after the Super Bowl.

So, there. That’s about as transparent as I can be. That’s what really happened. To me anyway. That’s my story among others for those that made up the previous Niners Nation staff.

I didn’t want it, they hired someone else anyway, and what little shards left of my ego took a hit. There still is some more minute drama details I left out, but we can save that for a memoir, I’ve debated writing over the whole mess. Getting let go expedited an end result of my burnout and frustration. Did it suck I did all that Super Bowl coverage (when I probably shouldn’t have) without in so much as a “thank you” from anyone? Absolutely. Did it suck when some of the more obvious people you think would reach out during the layoffs didn’t? Yeah, it hurt.

Before any of you think this is some revelation or that this contradicts a dirt sheet somewhere that indicates Kyle and I didn’t ever like each other and there were never good vibes—stop. Kyle and I have talked about all of this. Several times.

Yes, I had overanalyzed our situation quite a bit and what I felt he intended, especially when I left, but there wasn’t a personal feud or anything. Bitterness, yes, but no feud. Any beef between Kyle and I simply never has, and will never, exist. Did he frustrate me? Yes, but that was the situation, there wasn’t any resentment against him. Do we make fun of each other's nuances? Yes. That’s what happens in a workplace, especially one where Kyle and I were, in effect, business partners. That’s how you keep your sanity.

If you’re curious, Kyle didn’t mince words, saying he was holding on to me and I was his guy. That was his plan, SB Nation had a different one. Obviously, I questioned it when I was given the axe, but I think the fact I’m here, should end that speculation. Are we different people? Yes. It’s why we worked well together.

It’s also why Kyle and I were planning some podcasts and video content together, because we mutually agreed our personalities fed off one another extremely well. We were talking about me taking more control of the Niners Nation YouTube, doing some crazy videos, since my Facebook Halftime Shows were something a lot of people looked forward to.

We were also going to do a podcast on YouTube where the two of us just…talked. Not only that, but we fed off each other, we were good for each other. Kyle will tell you that also. For God’s sake, I bought him pancakes in Seattle. The takeaway here is Kyle has been cool with everything because we talked about it. How cool? He’s only editing this very post for grammar. That’s two posts now where he’s allowed me to come in here and shoot on his employer. Think about that.

Niners Nation has changed since then. We come to evaluate change and say that since it’s not what we remember, not what we expected, or simply what makes us comfy, it’s instant crap. Niners Nation seems to have suffered this as well. I see all these remarks about how someone isn’t editing right, or someone got a name wrong, or didn’t proofread, so the site sucks now.

How many names did I get wrong? (Matt Miller/Matt Millen anybody?) Remember when I outright got the Sunday Night Football game wrong and Kyle had to trash the post and rewrite everything in five minutes? How about when I thought Bobby Wagner was a running back? Or when I did poor cut-and-paste jobs? I’ve screwed up plenty. To say the quality has deteriorated is just not true.

Niners Nation isn’t bad, maybe it’s just not for you. Perhaps one of you outgrew the other. Move on. If the food from your restaurant no longer seems good, stop going. Just complaining every time while reaching for a check does nothing.

When the search for the New Fooch went on, I didn’t realize something then that I realized the last few months. They wanted to position this in a way to continue making a lot of money. A wider audience certainly helps in that endeavor, and Kyle delivered.

Kyle knows football and got football minds like I knew I wouldn’t. I’d say he’s done pretty well here. Then there’s Rob Guerrera, who did a great job building the podcast and visual side of things. It’s disappointing I didn’t get a chance to work with him, but I don’t think words can be put into just what he built here. I don’t think I’d have ever matched what he did, whether I agreed with his takes or I didn’t.

So, for all three of you still here, you saw the headline, you probably are wondering where this is going.

After 2020 Free Agency, outside of him telling me on Twitter to binge-watch Tiger King, Kyle and I haven’t said a word to each other. A few weeks back, he reached out to ask me to rejoin the staff. And it’s just that: I am just another member of the staff, and that’s how we both wanted it.

I’ll be doing a few posts on the weekends. Very short posts where I find somebody else who took the time to do actual research and regurgitate it for you guys to discuss in the comments. Heat-O-Meters, Punterville, it’s all going to show up. With just a few articles to be responsible for, I can spend an hour or two entertaining you, collect a check to pay for my middle age dental upkeep and go enjoy life.

For the record: I’m not here to cause issues, get my old job back, or any BS like that. On Sundays, I’ll be watching the game like everyone else (maybe we’ll use my Twitch Stream as the NN Reaction link). If you see someone else slot into the role I held, just know I didn’t want it. If I return to my role, that means I changed my mind.

And it’s all I have time for now. I got a full-time job, video games to play, a novel on submission, and a YouTube channel to build. I don’t have time for 20 posts a week, but damn, I’ve been getting that itch. Punterville has been growing, and I didn’t get a chance to do a state of the Punter for years. 49ers Special Teams were atrocious in 2021, and I didn’t get to bust out the Heat-O-Meter.

For those few of you who haven’t forgotten me, I’m eternally grateful. The words I’m about to say wouldn’t be said if it wasn’t for both Kyle and you:

I’m back, Niners Nation