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7:35PM

Dwight Clark wanted to see Niner mates ‘one more time’

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The game was forgettable. As opposed to the halftime ceremony. That is something we must never forget, an emotional tribute — realistically, and how awful it is saying this — a farewell.

The 2018 49ers played awful Sunday. “There’s a very fine line between winning and getting your butts kicked,” said first-year coach Kyle Shanahan. They got their butts kicked.

They were beaten by the Dallas Cowboys, 40-10, at Levi’s Stadium. The team and the rookie head coach are 0-7. And while NFL teams rarely win them all or lose them all — yes, the exception is the 2008 Detroit Lions, 0-16— the possibility of the Niners going without a victory this fall is growing.

Depressing for Niners fans. As, in a way, was the halftime program. Depressing and at the same time uplifting, because it reminded us of better days, for the franchise and for the man being honored and remembered, Dwight Clark.

Clark has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is a horrible, cruel ailment that traps a person in his own body, stealing life a day at a time. “A few months ago,” remembered the kind man who operates the press elevator at Levi’s, “I saw Dwight and he was joking, laughing.”

But time moves quickly with ALS. A healthy, robust individual is conquered by an ailment for which there is no cure. Clark made it to midfield Sunday at halftime, but when he spoke there was hesitancy in his words, as if he were fighting to get them out and barely succeeding.

Clark is best known for The Catch, and while surely no explanation need be required, not if you know football, not if you know Northern California, not if you know the 49ers, one will be given.

It was Henry Ford who said, “History is bunk.” What he meant was don’t look back when you should, look ahead. Yet all of sport is wrapped in history, and when the first pro franchise created in San Francisco has gone year after year without the championship and then in a moment of timing and brilliance it is transformed because of one play, The Catch, then the past must be cherished.

Early January 1982, Candlestick Park, the NFC Championship game for 1981, Niners and Cowboys, and once again it seems Dallas will win. But Joe Montana, Super Joe, avoids the leaping pass rush of Ed “Too Tall” Jones and flings ball to heaven knows where. To a desperately leaping Dwight Clark, that’s where. Touchdown, and after a brief defensive stand, Super Bowl, the start of a dynasty.

Montana was part of the ceremony on Sunday. Of course. So were as many teammates of those 1981 49ers as could be located and, through the passion and generosity of former owner Ed DeBartolo Jr., brought to the stadium.

Each wore a red 49er jersey with Clark’s number, 87. History. Memories. Sadness.

“I just want to see my teammates one more time,” Clark said he told DeBartolo. “And the 49ers heard that and flew all these players in so I could see ‘em one more time.”

DeBartolo wiped away a tear. Perhaps others did as well.

Montana reminded us that he and Clark were rookies and roommates in the summer of ’79, a friendship still strong. You watched, you listened, you shook your head in disbelief. Clark is 60, so young.

I’ve known others with ALS, including Bruce Edwards, who for quite a while was the caddy of champion golfer Tom Watson. What causes the disease? Why does it strike so many football players and golfers or caddies? Is it something on the grass? Something in the air?

Clark said DeBartolo flew him to Japan, hoping a researcher would have an answer, have a cure. “Thanks, Eddie,” said Clark. “You’ve been my friend since 1979.”

Then, after a few seconds, he said, “It’s been a tough year.”

5:00AM

49ers and Shanahan: Give them time

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA — There was disappointment. There was no despondency. Somehow, after his first game as an NFL head coach, an event unfortunately of more yawns than thrills, Kyle Shanahan, very much a realist, made you feel there would be better days — and of course that’s the reason the 49ers hired him.

In our fantasies, the new guy walks in and, voila, turns a loser — which the Niners have been the last couple of years — into a winner. But as everyone since the days of Bill Walsh, who started in 1979, should be aware, success is a painful process, requiring patience and at least a dozen upgrades of the roster.

One could study both the progress and the result of San Francisco’s and young Mr. Shanahan’s debut for this season of ’17, boring for the most part and unrewarding specifically, and wonder what had changed from the Jim Tomsula (5-11 in 2015) or Chip Kelly (2-14 in 2016) years.

Not much was different in the stands at Levi’s Stadium, where despite the announced attendance of 70,178 Sunday at least a third of the seats were unfilled — especially in the west stands, where the sun bakes those who do remain. Game-time temperature, in the shade, was 87 degrees.

On the field, the Niners kept falling further and behind, 7-0, 10-0, all the way to 20-0, before kicking a face-saving field goal, ultimately losing 23-3. And yet, both the way the Niners played defense — and never mind Shanahan was an offensive coordinator — and the words Shanahan employed in his post-game interview offered glimpses of hope.

Teams don’t effect coaching changes when they are any good. Walsh lost his opening seven games and went 2-14 that first year. He became an offensive genius, but not until Joe Montana replaced Steve DeBerg as quarterback the middle of Walsh’s second year.

Is it unfair to describe Brian Hoyer as Shanahan’s DeBerg? Hoyer is the best of the worst, or at least in Shanahan’s view the best he has. Hoyer threw 35 passes Sunday; 24 were caught by the Niners, one by the Panthers. But what doomed the Niners on offense was their running game. They gained 51 yards net. Carolina’s rookie Christian McCaffrey, from Stanford, had 47 on his own. Teammate Jonathan Stewart had 65.

So the better team won (two seasons ago the Panthers were in the Super Bowl, right here at Levi’s). Still, Shanahan understood the situation — and he didn't concede to it. He liked the effort. Maybe no touchdowns, but also no quit.

“We go make sure we get better,” he acknowledged. And just the way he said it, without pomp or pretense, a guy who has been a part of football since he was a kid — that’s what happens when your dad is a dad, not to mention a Super Bowl champion — was enduring.

The last real game before this one in which Shanahan was a coach was also a Super Bowl, last February. He was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, who built up a 28-3 third-quarter lead over New England before losing, 34-28, in overtime. Maybe the play-calling had something to do with that, or a lot to do with that. Or maybe the Falcons' defense just collapsed.

Whatever, as assistant and head coach, Shanahan is 0-2 in the last two meaningful games his teams have played. Then again, this all might border on irrelevancy, numbers to fill space and create conversation. Just like asking whether the 49ers, with their penalties (10 for 74 yards) and a Carolina interception on the SF28) beat themselves.

“I don’t think that,” said Shanahan unemotionally. “That’s a good team, and you’ve got to be at your best to play against them. By no means do I think we beat ourselves. I’ve got to give credit to them. They deserve it. We can make it a lot easier.”

Levi’s, in its fourth season (and hosting its fourth head coach) rarely has been full up with spectators. Someone felt compelled to bring up the issue to the new coach, asking, “Do you have anything to say to the fans in terms of the product getting better or hang in there with you, any of that kind of stuff?”

“I didn’t notice attendance or anything,” said Shanahan, “but I thought the fans were great. I don’t think we gave them much to cheer for in the second, so I definitely can’t blame them for that. They haven’t had a lot to cheer about recently, but I promise we’re going to do everything we can, working as hard as we can, to change that — as soon as we possibly can.”   

That, certainly, is why he is the new coach.

10:42AM

S.F. Examiner: New 49ers GM spends first draft dealing picks, fortifying defense

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

SANTA CLARA — This is how you start, how the 49ers start, by choosing, talented, intelligent players, by selecting men you’ve judged to be one of the best — and your opinion is shared by others, even the television analysts who could find fault with Miss Universe.

Hey, she’s slow getting off the line.

Read the full story here.

©2017 The San Francisco Examiner

9:23AM

SportsXchange: Shanahan exits Falcons after deflating defeat

By Art Spander
SportsXchange

HOUSTON -- It was nearly a perfect ending for Kyle Shanahan. The offense that he developed as coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons couldn't be stopped, and the defense was no less impressive.

Shanahan's final game with the Falcons, Super Bowl LI on Sunday night before he stepped away to become the presumptive head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, was everything the Falcons and their fans -- and the Niners -- could have wanted. 

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2017 SportsXchange

9:37AM

S.F. Examiner: 49ers are a lost franchise, it’s up to CEO to find way

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

Hey, Jed York, what’s the plan? That’s the issue now. No one has to be told again your 49ers are a bad football team. That’s evident on the field, 12 straight losses. In the standings, second worst record in the NFL.

The question is how to make things better.

We’re well aware owners or executive officers never fire themselves, so anyone demanding your resignation is either naïve or ignorant. That understood, something has to be done. Or a lot of things have to be done.

Read the full story here.

©2016 The San Francisco Examiner