My high school basketball coach used to say, “Why not us, why not now?” Most of the team usually dismissed him, figuring it was just the scotch talking. I imagine San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh sending a similar message to his players before the season — and I imagine them buying into it.
Seen by many at having a legitimate shot in the Suck for (Andrew) Luck sweepstakes before the season, the Niners are currently 5-1 for the first time since 1998. The recently discombobulated franchise has found stability under a new and exciting head coach in Harbaugh.
It’s not like the 49ers have been beating up on scrubs, either. San Francisco’s opponents have a combined record of 19-15, and the team is 3-0 away from home, beating the Bengals, Eagles, and Lions on the road. In fact, if not for a heartbreaking three-point loss to Dallas in overtime, the Niners would be undefeated.
Ultimately, it is all about expectations. To quote Ari Gold, “Expectations: you beat ‘m by a dollar, life is great. Get under by a dollar, put a gun in your mouth and make sure I’m standing behind you.”
Last year, the 49ers — who were the division favorites heading into the season — started 0-5. This year optimism was not exactly prevalent, so the Niners’ start to the season was unexpectedly impressive.
At the same time, the Niners are doing it the right way — the way that (am I really saying this?) championship teams do it. The team is playing hard, minimizing mistakes and taking advantage of its greatest strengths: a stout run defense and an imposing run offense.
It all starts with the coach. If you watched the way Harbaugh transformed the Stanford Cardinal — both their record and approach to the game — then you may not be totally surprised by the mindset he has brought to the Niners this year. The team has taken on Harbaugh’s emotional and hard-working persona.
I won’t talk about the Jim Schwartz/Harbaugh incident after last week’s game. I am sick of it being blown out of proportion. I will just say that I like it — from both coaches and both franchises. Fuck sportsmanship. As a fan, it’s just simply more fun when opposing teams — including coaches — don’t like each other. I believe that players rally around a coach that has their back; a coach that is not afraid to yell and cheer and be emotional. I like the way Vernon Davis put it on PTI yesterday: “Man, coach Harbaugh is crazy! But I love him!”
The reason San Francisco is nearly undefeated has been its consistent play, both on defense and *gulp* offense. Their third-ranked rushing defense is now supported offensively by a consistently solid Alex Smith, and consistently awesome Frank Gore. Gore is fifth in the league in rushing, while Smith is 25th in passing yards, even though there are only 32 NFL teams, and SF hasn’t even had its bye week yet. But it’s okay. For years now, we have been saying, “Alex Smith doesn’t have to be Joe Montana, he only has to manage games.” And now, with an elite defense and rushing game, this is more true than ever. And Smith is doing it! I feel as though my eyes must be deceiving me, but Smith, currently 8th in the league with a 95.2 quarterback rating, has been uncharacteristically solid, with 8 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions — tied for the league’s fewest among starting quarterbacks.
Barring a Red-Sox-esque collapse, the NFC West — still the worst division in football — is the Niners to choke away. The future of the 49ers is looking good, and Niner fans should be just as stoked as Harbaugh.
Daily Nexus Sports Editor Ryan Porush would take Big Bad Jim over his high school coach any day.