Sacramento Bee

49ers should leave the past behind
January 08, 2003
By Marcos Bretón -- Bee Staff Writer

Joe Montana is gone -- his joints ache, his hairline is receding, and his heart yearns for the past.

Steve Young is gone -- he has time on his hands, he mugs for the cameras, and his heart yearns for the past.

Jeff Garcia is here -- he's making his own history, he's his own man, and his heart is burdened by the past.

By tired comparisons to Montana and Young.

By doing great things as the 49ers' quarterback and being reminded daily that two ghosts did it better.

By never measuring up in a region spoiled by success and forgetful that times have changed, that the NFL is radically different than it was in the 1980s.

Get over it, already -- it's time to let Garcia be Garcia.

To let the 49ers make new history.

Because you know what? It's harder to win now than it was in the '80s -- when the 49ers won four Super Bowls.

When there was no cap on NFL salaries and the 49ers could afford a Hall of Fame quarterback and a Hall of Fame understudy.

When they could freely stack their roster with stars.

And when they took title-contending for granted.

Oh, wait. They still do.

They're still a franchise so colored by the '80s that it's a wonder the 49ers' headquarters aren't drenched in the flaming pastels of "Miami Vice."

It's so easy to believe that Bill Walsh -- architect of the 49er "dynasty" -- would grow big hair if he could.

You should have seen Walsh last Sunday, waxing poetic after the big Niner win, letting us in on how he had spoken to the troops before the game.

And leading us to believe what a big difference that made.

"I asked them, 'What would happen if we fell 20 points behind?' I put the question to them," Walsh said.

Don't get me wrong -- talking to the old man was great, and he was rightfully proud because he built this thing and discovered Garcia. But you have to believe that Walsh could add to his legend by removing it as a burden to his successors.

As Walsh spoke, you couldn't help but wonder if Al Davis has it right by keeping himself and his legacy in the background so a new generation can shine.

Here it was Sunday, the 49ers had just made the second-greatest comeback in playoff history, and so much of the postgame talk focused on "How does this compare?"

With "The Catch"?

With the Super Bowl wins?

With past comebacks?

Of course, that's human nature.

But we have it backward -- Montana, Young and Walsh never won a playoff game like last Sunday's.

When those football gods fell way behind in the playoffs -- they lost.

Yet 49ers coach Steve Mariucci still faces questions about his job security.

While Garcia has the faded jerseys of Montana and Young constantly shoved in his face.

"It starts to take its toll," the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback said last week. Without a doubt, a Super Bowl win would lighten that load.

But even if they don't hoist the trophy this year, the 49ers should be wary because they've suffered self-inflicted wounds in pursuit of glory.

Walsh admits now that pressure and personal conflicts made him retire prematurely after the 1988 season -- a decision he deeply regrets.

Great players such as Ronnie Lott were dumped too soon in organizational panics after non-Super Bowl years. And today, a 10-6 season and a division title are couched in negative terms by fans and the press.

Honestly, we should ask ourselves this: How would Walsh of the '80s fare in today's NFL?

How would he have handled the salary cap and having to dump great players for cheap ones and still win?

Would he be just as great?

Or would he be no more successful than the 49ers of today?

It's an interesting question.

A question the 49ers should ponder as they focus where all great teams should -- on the future.

Tell us what you think on the new 49ers Clubhouse message board.