Article Title: Be Thankful for the gifts bestowed upon us.
All the San Francisco 49er faithful can sing Merry Christmas and rejoice in the gifts that have been bestowed upon us from up high as we defeated the playoff bound Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21-19 in our final home game on the 2007 season with a quarterback that was patient and waiting in the wings silently anticipating his moment for literally six long years.
As if that wasnít enough we saw the coming back of former San Francisco 49er quarterback Jeff Garcia who piloted this franchise through rough waters with former head coach Steve Mariucci in a five-year span that saw playoff appearances and multiple Pro Bowls for the San Jose star that had his own private assembly of fans that still wish he was our beloved offensive leader to this day as I do.
Bryant Young is the last remaining outlet to the famed glory years under former owner Eddie DeBartolo and the very last man standing from the 1994 Super Bowl era that marked a franchise for decades with fellow teammates Steve Young and Jerry Rice that to this day sing the praises of a rookie back then that has been the absolute trademark of what it is to be a 49er up and until today.
He rode upon his teammates shoulders last Sunday in a farewell salute to all the 49er faithful sitting and standing around Monster Park or as he recollects it Candlestick Park and Bill Walsh Field. Everyone that witnessed it through the television airwaves also reflected on this incredible human being that has given so very much of himself to a franchise rocked in adversity following the transfer of ownership from Eddie DeBartolo to his sister and husband that havenít ever come close to the continuity that once was.
Multiple injuries the most famous one being the titanium rod that exists in his leg from a horrific fracture that sent his screams into the stands all around Monster Park for the faithful to hear. He was and still is the absolute face of this franchise standing tall and above all the evil and inequity that has infiltrated this franchise. He has been the ever-evolving teacher of what were the past legacies of being the perfect 49er pupil to a franchise that treated their players with enormous good will and respect.
When he was signed to a one-year deal back in the beginnings of 2007 I saw the writing on the wall that his 14-year tenure with us as a San Francisco 49er was coming to an end. He recognized that fact as well in conversations with his generous and wonderful family and listened to the body that has provided him the armor and will to persevere through all of lifeís adversities as they came his way. He has had those private conversations with himself and fellow teammates along the road to making that ultimate decision to call it the end to a career he wanted to end on a high note of prosperity.
Bryant Young represents all of us. He is the epic senator of a Roman Empire gone by from a Bill Walsh/George Seifert legacy to being embraced by Steve Mariucci as the best 49er he has ever known. The epic glory of what was in this San Francisco 49er Dynasty is in the very face of Bryant Young. He carried the torch and the belief that it could all be re-created and or reincarnated in some fashion way or by pure hard work.
I have nothing but incredible honor and respect for an athlete so giving of himself throughout the Bay Community and beyond and to his personal and team accomplishments as a whole. Anyone that has played beside him or with him will testify to the fact that he is a selfless man.
He would take on the annual double-teams that came his way for another teammate to receive the glory of a quarterback hurry, pressure or even a sack. He would play in immense pain regardless of the injury. If he could stand and or move in some way or fashion he demanded to play in honor of his team and teammates. He wanted to be in on every play imaginable and possible.
Multiple Len Eshmont Awards and Pro Bowls later Bryant Young stands taller than any other 49er I know as he will retire a 49er wearing the crimson red and gold he carried on his back as a rookie player back in 1994. He believed in Mike Nolan and what he said he would bring to this broken franchise rocked with mismanagement and foolhardy decisions by its new owners. As the Mike Nolan era dawned in 2005 and change began to happen he saw a team on the verge of something special entering 2007 after an unprecedented draft and multi-million free agency signings that this franchise meant business.
What he saw happen though after two consecutive games in mid-September was a complete reversal of fortunes he anticipated and the same mismanagement and indecisions that brought about the terrible disease that killed a franchise following the dumping of Steve Mariucci and Jeff Garcia in 2003 at the hands of owners who up and until this day struggle to know how to run a successful pro football franchise.
Bryant Young can now only listen to what his body is telling him. His family awaits and beckons him to come as a healthy husband and father that are equally incredible as he is out on the field. His commitment and dedication to his team is unwavering and unrelenting. He will play hard right up and until the final game at Cleveland. He will be remembered and an athlete of his caliber will never fill his position in the starting defensive lineup ever again.
Looking back on the game and evaluating what happened with Shaun Hill in his third game as a starter at the quarterback position following Trent Dilferís major concussion, I have to be in envy of the return of a West Coast type of quarterback that rivals Jeff Garcia and Steve Young like Iíve never seen. He gets the ball out of his hands quickly and makes a play when all the walls are caving in around him with his feet and his arm like a leader on a successful offense ought to.
Alex Smith staring from the bench or on the sidelines has to imagine that he will have the fight of his life in maintaining a career he has been called on for, with the new emergence of a diamond in the rough so to speak in Shaun Hill that all his teammates are talking about. Shaun Hill faced a playoff bound opponent with a devastating defense and although statistically it was below average offensively he made the plays that counted to the tune of 21 overall points.
He went 11-for-24 for 123 total yards and was sacked twice for a loss of seven total yards`. He threw for three touchdowns and ended the day with a quarterback rating of 83.9. He was intercepted once and threw a stellar pass for 23 total yards. He managed the game in the sense that he made critical plays where they needed to and moved the chains better then any quarterback Iíve seen since Jeff Garcia period.
The offensive line over the last two games has meshed and shown a new commitment to Frank Gore who churned out 89 total yards for a 4.2 yard average per carry and a long burst of 20 total yards. Pass protection has been improved with gaps and seams closing in tune with one another and communication vastly improved from the sidelines to the center in Eric Heitmann.
Defensively the San Francisco 49ers were tortured at the hands of Jeff Garcia making his return to Monster Park and Luke McCown to boot to the tune of 381 total passing yards and two touchdowns. The secondary played the game in a bend but donít break type of philosophy and saw the Tampa Bay Buccaneers exploit a well recognized weakness in the middle of the field that they preyed upon in the entirety of this game.
However critical pressure was brought in the tune of four sacks and we limited the Buccaneers to 37% on third down efficiency. We also closed the door whenever the Buccaneers got into the red zone and limited them to field goals and a failed two-point conversion. Nate Clements picked off Luke McCown for a 62-yard interception that helped set-up yet another 49er touchdown and it was a critical play in the game.
Patrick Willis had yet another 20-tackle game in which he converted two sacks on the game and was literally all over the field and is the young Ray Lewis linebacker that Mike Singletary envisioned him to be. Mike Singletary earlier in the season on a road trip coming home told Mike Nolan that Patrick was something special. Well that something special has been the centerpiece of a defense that this team needs to build around for the future especially with the impending retirement of defensive lineman Bryant Young.
Taking another look at Shaun Hill I see a quarterback that needs immediate recognition by signing him to a deal as he is an unrestricted free agent after this season. I also see him as the undisputed quarterback even at this time considering the very limited successes Alex Smith has had in the beginning of this season before the shoulder injury had incurred. Hill needs to be the No.#1 quarterback going into the season with Alex Smith at No.#2 fighting to stay there along with a newly drafted quarterback to provide competition for both. Trent Dilfer nor Chris Weinke are the answers at this point or at any point.
But as all things go the off-season will be here soon enough closing out a season chuck full of disappointment and wonder for the future of this franchise. Jim Hostler the embattled San Francisco 49er offensive coordinator admitted openly that Shaun Hill was the very type of quarterback he envisioned being in his offensive system and that he has executed it the best out of anyone in his brief tenure as a coordinator and alongside Norv Turner and now Ted Tollner.
Even his very teammates have openly off the record recognized him for his abilities and talents out on the field to make plays out of nothing. He has stepped up and as it was shown in the nasty rib cage injury he incurred briefly in which the air was knocked out of him and Chris Weinke came in for a snap, he shook off the painful hit and came back to drive the team down the field and score.
Never have I seen this type of performance from Alex Smith? He doesnít have the acute ability and keenness to manufacture fragments of success out of nothing. He displays very little emotion both on and off the field and doesnít reach down inside himself to provide a leadership presence that is recognized and appreciated by his teammates. They all are telling the same story in relation to the quarterback position and Mike Nolan needs to identify that and react to that as being a key factor for our demise this season.
A ray of light and hope has been provided in Shaun Hill on this season. We must recognize that and build upon that. Mike Nolan and his staff must be re-evaluated and processed accordingly by ownership. Christmas has come at a time of immense need so letís hope that the powers that be get this right once and for all.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.