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Niners naysayers need to get grip on perspectives

Published: Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 5:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 5:31 p.m.

It’s not like Niners’ fans shouldn’t be worried. Of course Niners’ fans should be worried. A playoff-bound team (49ers) that gets embarrassed by another playoff-bound team, which also happens to be a division rival (Seattle Seahawks), well, yeah. It behooves the Niners and their fans to be worried.

But let’s give this whole big 2012 playoff picture some perspective.

Let’s give this this whole mainstream, knee-jerk, trendy “the Niners have lost their mojo” jibber-jabber some context.

If memory serves, the New York Giants won last season’s Super Bowl after having entered the playoffs as a wild-card team with a 9-7 regular-season record.

The Niners will almost certainly enter this season’s playoffs as division champion, needing to beat the woebegone Cardinals today. The Niners will enter this season’s postseason with a much better regular-season record than last year’s Super Bowl winners.

So, why the gloomy outlook?

Why the panic?

Jim Harbaugh has taken some cheap shots lately, but if memory serves, Bill Walsh, the exalted, sainted, Hall of Fame coach of the 49ers during the franchise’s Golden Age, wasn’t always so golden nor so exalted.

If memory serves, his Niners finished an uninspired 3-6 in the strike-shortened 1982 season, one year after winning the franchise’s first Super Bowl. A despondent Walsh openly talked about retiring after that desultory campaign.

If memory serves, Walsh’s Niners lost first-round playoff games three consecutive seasons, in 1985, ’86 and ’87 — nothing to be ashamed of, certainly; after all, making the playoffs in three straight seasons is a level of success not to be summarily dismissed. But neither is it the resume of a certifiable genius.

And not to sadistically emphasize unflattering statistics, but none of those three straight first-round playoff losses in the Walsh regime contained much food for future optimistic thought. After the ’85 season, the 49ers lost to the Giants, 17-3, not particularly humiliating for the San Francisco defense but not exactly a highlight for Joe Montana and the SF offense. After the ’86 season, both the offense and defense could share the mortification of a 49-3 first-round loss to the Giants. And after the 1987 season, a 36-24 first-round playoff loss at home to the Minnesota Vikings was a game some amateur historians point to as the beginning of the Montana-Steve Young quarterback controversy, although it wouldn’t truly blossom, and polarize the team and the fan base, for another five years.

Point being, even in the Niners’ so-called golden era that included multiple Super Bowls and the birth of a nostalgia industry that still flourishes, there were plenty of setbacks, disappointments and outright pathetic, losing performances. It’s easy to remember the five Super Bowls, the Hall of Fame players, the fun, the drama with the happy endings. But mixed in with all those good vibes was enough shock and misery and downright downers to fill a defeatist’s diary.

Point being, even though today’s 49ers might seem to be scuffling, even though in the eyes of some fans and hyper-critical media types the 49ers went from Super Bowl contenders to pretenders in the space of one awful loss at Seattle last week, it’s all just so much grist for the sports-talk mill and not much else.

More tenacious nerds can come up with several more examples, it’s certain, but off the top of this NFL history geek’s head immediately come two examples that may give heart to Niners fans.

In 1969, the Kansas City Chiefs lost to archrival Oakland twice in the final four weeks of the regular season. Only because it was the first season that the AFL added non-division winners to the playoff did the Chiefs even get a ticket to the Super Bowl dance. Well, they punched that ticket, beating the defending champion Jets on the road, then beat the Raiders in Oakland before dismantling the heavily favored Vikings in the Super Bowl.

In 1983, the Raiders lost to Seattle twice in the regular season, but the Raiders trounced the Seahawks in the AFC Championship before delivering to Los Angeles its only Super Bowl trophy.

Point being, sure, it would be nice if the Niners were going into the playoffs with a head of steam, a long winning streak. But a finer point being: It’s not necessarily relevant.

Everything starts over when the playoffs kick off. So let’s see how it plays out and quit pretending there’s a crystal ball that only certain selected “experts” have access to.

Robert Rubino can be reached at robert.rubino@pressdemocrat.com.

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