Monday, October 10, 2011

Harbaugh Has 49ers Looking to the Future

Transition is such a complex term. On the surface it seems easy enough, moving from one phase to another. But look deeper, transition can be perceived as negative or positive. In history, some of the roughest periods in civilization's existence occurred during a labeled "transition" phase. What's that line attributed to many but most recently used in The Dark Knight? "It's always darkest just before the dawn". Transitions can be difficult, troubling times.

But what about positive transition? Some of the best basketball teams in the history of the sport had a superb "transition offense", forcing the ball upcourt before the newly defensive team can even stop the ball. Or how about awkward transitions? Going from young boy/girl to man/woman is fraught with embarrassing peril. Going from one phase to another requires transition. Or does it?

Enter Jim Harbaugh, stage left. Coming into the season fresh off a fantastic season with the Stanford Cardinal and signing a major contract for 5 years with the 49ers, Harbaugh inherited a 49ers squad that had gone just 21-27 in the last 3 years under Mike Singletary. Their quarterback was a #1 overall draft pick bust, their running back, while talented, was oft-injured. Their only claim to fame was perhaps the hardest hitting linebacker in the league in Patrick Willis and one of the best tight ends in history in Vernon Davis. Thats it.

Ah, but then the lockout. The lockout that threatened the season. The possibility of no season. The season that never was. And then suddenly there it was. It had come back to life, like a phoenix from the flame to energize American's who had visions of no tailgating, no beer, and worst of all, no football. Teams who had established coaches, players, defensive schemes and offensive sets, ie. Patriots, Packers, N'Orleans, were predicted to go far. The 49ers were not.

The 49ers brought back Alex Smith for one more shot with QB Guru Jim Harbaugh. They were late (or slow, whichever story you believe) to sign Free Agents. They let the top Free Agent prize in Nnamdi Asomugha go to the Eagles. Harbaugh's playbook was said to be elaborate and enormous. Almost every coach was replaced. Many said the Niners would take this season as a learning curve, and be ready to compete and contend next season.

It's week 5 and the 49ers are 4-1. How did they get here? They beat an atrocious Seahawks team, barely, lost a lead to Dallas at home late and got buried by a field goal in OT. They played perhaps the most boring game of the year in Cincinatti, but came out victorious. They came back from 20 points down in the 2nd half against a "Dream Team" in Philly that has quickly become a nightmare. And perhaps most impressive feat of all, they drubbed a 3-1 Tampa Bay squad by 45 points. Wait, what?

Harbaugh has his team believing and working towards a common goal: To win. Even Alex Smith, booed often in his home stadium at Candlestick Park, walked off the field to the crowd chanting his name. He is having a Renaissance year, playing mistake free football, and unbelievably, according to the statistics as they stand right now and not looking at anything else, is one of the top quarterbacks in the league. That transition from #1 pick to effective quarterback only took 6 years and a lot of misery.

Jim and his 49ers seem to be transition free. Harbaugh has his team believing. The 49ers are pulling an Athena, emerging from the NFC West fully formed, ready to do battle, ready to go to the playoffs for the first time in 8 years, ready to win. Are they as good as their record indicates at the moment? Probably not. Losses are coming, perhaps 2 or 3 in a row. The game against the Lions in week 6 will be a measuring stick. It is probably the most compelling game in week 6. Win or lose, they have a bright future. The 49ers have lived in darkness for too long. Light looms on the horizon in San Francisco.

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