Entries in 49ers (148)


( Exclusive) The 49ers are making noise

SAN FRANCISCO -- The noise is there. It’s in the roaring of a crowd beginning to believe. In the ringing of a phone in a coach’s apartment at 2 a.m. In the footsteps of a running back as he darts 79 yards for one touchdown and sprints 80 yards for another.

The noise is there, 49er noise, reverberating through Candlestick Park, making people think, making people wonder, not ending any secrets but, still in a football season too young to fully understand, not eliminating all the doubts.

“Now everybody knows we’re for real.’’ Frank Gore said it. After he ran for 207 yards, including those two breakaways. “That was a great one, man.’’

Frank Gore was a great one. A great man. He sped through the Seattle Seahawks just often enough that, with an effective defense, the San Francisco 49ers could win Sunday, 23-10.

Could prove in a game that's supposed to be an early yardstick, against the team picked to win the NFC West, that the Niners indeed are for real.

They honored the past on Sunday at the 'Stick. Brought back former owner Eddie DeBartolo to celebrate his induction into the Niner Hall of Fame, named for his late father, Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. Mixed in with nostalgia was hope.

The Niners are 2-0, duplicating their start two years ago when head coach Mike Singletary was an assistant. And while Singletary insisted "the Niners must do a better job than we did today,'' one senses a different feeling about the 2009 team than the 2007 team.

Not a Super Bowl feeling, not yet, as in the Eddie D years, but a feeling of possibility, a feeling of anticipation. This is a better team than last year, than the year before, maybe than any year since 2002 when, under Steve Mariucci, the 49ers last qualified for the playoffs.

Gore is healthy again. Gore is in shape. Gore is the offense. “They can put an eight-man front,’’ said Jimmy Raye, the Niners’ offensive coordinator. “We’re not going to shy away. What we do is run.’’

Or if you’re Frank Gore, ring up Raye from a dead sleep a week ago Sunday night in the wee small hours. The Niners had beaten Arizona in the opener, but Gore had gained only 30 yards in 22 carries.

“He was bothered by the numbers,’’ said Raye, “the times he got hit in the backfield. He was feeling bad, wanted to know if he was missing some holes. He just wanted somebody to hug, rub and lie to him.’’

Gore wanted reassurance that he hadn’t lost the skills. Other excellent backs Raye had coached -- Earl Campbell, Eric Dickerson, Curtis Martin -- also had their bad days and restless nights and needed a kind word, a reminder that even the best stumble and are not perfect.

“You have to remember (Frank) didn’t play much this summer,’’ said Raye of the exhibition games. “So he expected to jump out last week like he did this week, and when it didn’t happen, he basically just needed someone to talk to.

“I knew last Sunday night his week of preparation would be different this past week. This was more than I expected, but you can’t factor in two 80-yard plays.’’

The first, the 79-yarder, came late in the first quarter and gave San Francisco a 10-0 lead. The other was on the opening series of the second half. The Niners led 13-10 at intermission. Eleven seconds into the third quarter, they led 20-10.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that before,’’ said Niners quarterback Shaun Hill. His job primarily is to hand off to Gore or Glen Coffee and occasionally throw passes. Short, don’t-take-a-chance-on-an-interception passes.

Hill was 19 of 26, but only for 144 yards. Nostalgia? Sorry, not with 256 yards rushing and 144 yards passing, not with the franchise of Joe Montana, Steve Young and Jerry Rice. But you utilize what’s available, and what the Niners have is one of the NFL’s leading running backs. And late-night conversationalists like Raye.

“He’s got great vision, great patience and is a great pass blocker,’’ Hill said of Gore. “The offensive line was opening big holes. It was fun to see from the back end, seeing the same thing that Frank was seeing.’’

A week earlier, Frank was seeing red. “I told (Raye) I was kind of frustrated,’’ said Gore. “I was upset that we just couldn’t get anything going, but I was happy about the win, though.

“I had been training so hard. Things just weren’t clicking for me. I got injured the end of (last) season. I told myself I would dedicate myself. Go back to training at the University of Miami. I told myself I want to be one of the top guys in this league. I ran the dunes. I did a lot of work.’’

If the work didn’t prove rewarding in the first game, it definitely did in the second. So did the commiseration with Jimmy Raye long past midnight. Call him anytime, Frank.

SF Examiner: Future looks bright for Bay Area sports teams

By Art Spander
Special to The Examiner

SAN FRANCISCO — The Niners’ offensive line is in trouble. The Giants are not going to catch the Rockies. The Raiders are still the Raiders, unable to beat the Chargers. Now, that’s out of the way.

It’s the nature of our business to complain, usually for good reason. But it isn’t that bad, people. The Niners are undefeated, and who cares if it’s one game and they’ll probably lose to Seattle. They’re undefeated.

The Giants remain in the pennant race. Surely after those constant water-torture defeats on the last road trip and then the bashing by the Dodgers — wasn’t San Francisco’s strength pitching? — they don’t have a legitimate chance. But they remain in the pennant race, and it’s the middle of September.

Who knows how to approach the Raiders, who again feel they were mishandled by the unofficial Conspiracy Committee the NFL created specifically to taunt them. Oakland is better than it was, if incrementally. So accept that and, as Serena Williams says, “Move on.”

There’s always something out there to grasp, something to make us believe anything is possible. Didn’t Y.E. Yang beat Tiger Woods? Didn’t Juan Martin del Potro beat Roger Federer? Didn’t Cal beat Western Washington Central State, or whatever that poor little institution is called?

We’ve been informed the Niners are going to play ugly football this season. So be it. That billboard with Mike Singletary says, “I want winners,” not, “I want guys who are pleasing aesthetically.”

The Niners’ rhetoric is borrowed from our pal Al Davis. You know the line, “Just win, baby.” Not, “Just be artistic.” In Oakland, the problem the past six years — as in San Francisco — was not how the performance looked, but how the scoreboard looked. The Raiders are the guys who came up with the Immaculate Deception, a play that was as unattractive and effective as any ever subsequently banned by the league.

Things are turning. The Niners probably will get to .500 for the first time since 2002. That also was the last year the Raiders had a winning record, and while they’re probably not going reach that small pinnacle, they should be improved, which unquestionably the Giants are. Once again we reach back to March. It looked like a reheated version of recent seasons past, if more experienced. In spring training, the idea the Giants would be alive two weeks from the end of the season would have been cause for disbelief. Also for great rejoicing.

The great baseball axiom of what might have been will vex Giants fans through the winter if, as it appears now, the team will not make the postseason. Why not dwell on what was? And what may be?

In theory, the Giants were next year’s team. Suddenly, two months into the season they got a jump on the time schedule. They’re not as good as the Dodgers, not quite as good as the Rockies. But they’re better than most everyone predicted they would be.

What will the Niners and Raiders be? The forecasts are for mediocrity or worse. But the first weekend was encouraging. And if you need a reason to dream the impossible dream, there’s always that tennis player Juan Martin del Potro.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

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Copyright 2009 SF Newspaper Company 

SF Examiner: Niners attempting to return to greatness

By Art Spander
Special to The Examiner

SAN FRANCISCO — They were the originals, the first major sports team in Northern California, created here, staying here, at times bumbling, at other times triumphant but at all times special.

The 49ers, who open another season Sunday, their 64th, are as much a regional treasure as a football team, as finally John York and son Jed figured out.

It never really mattered who owned them — the Morabitos, the DeBartolos, the Yorks. In effect, the 49ers belonged to the town, to the area, to the people.

The Giants came later. The Raiders came later. The Warriors came later. The A’s came later. The Sharks came much later. The Bay Area is chock-a-block with big-time pro franchises these days.

But from 1946 until the Giants arrived in 1958, there was just one franchise: the Niners.

Just one major pro team crossing the country in propeller planes.

Just one pro team playing the Cleveland Browns or Los Angeles Dons, and when the old All-America Football Conference merged into the NFL in 1950, the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants.

Major League Baseball was a weekly television show. We sent Bill Russell and K.C. Jones to the NBA, but we didn’t see them in person for another five years. The 49ers were our link to the rest of America.

The sports world is different than it was 50 years ago. Now it’s all about sales and commercialization, about getting out a message, about persuading people to show up at the stadium or to watch telecasts.

So the Niners, the marketing department in particular, have leased that billboard along the Bayshore Freeway, at the entrance road to Candlestick, with huge photo of Mike Singletary with the words “I want winners.” As if that’s a unique concept.

Frankie Albert wanted winners. Jack Christiansen wanted winners. Dick Nolan wanted winners. But not until Bill Walsh became coach was the wish fulfilled and did the frustration end.

You had to be here on that Sunday in January 1982 when the Niners, the losers, at last became winners. When the silence was over. When The City blew its top.

By then the Raiders had won two championships, the A’s three championships, the Warriors an NBA title. And yet there was nothing like the day the Niners escaped their penance.

The group that labeled itself “The Faithful,” the fans who never believed it could happen, were as much dumbfounded as ecstatic. Finally, out of the wilderness.

Singletary is a football man. He’s also a Chicago man. He’s a three yards and a cloud of Walter Payton man. That’s never been San Francisco football.

The Niners, from Frankie Albert back in ’46, have thrown the ball. They did have Hugh McElhenny and Joe Perry, both of whom could run like mad. Yet the team’s fame, or infamy, was on the arms of Y.A. Tittle, John Brodie and eventually Joe Montana and Steve Young.

Get the ball to R.C. Owens, to Gene Washington, to Dwight Clark, to Jerry Rice.

Now the Niners, after six straight losing seasons, more than anything need to get wins, no matter who gets the ball.

History. It’s great, but a new generation of fans would trade it all for a place in the playoffs.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

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Copyright 2009 SF Newspaper Company 
9:48AM Quarterbacks, the Great and the Unknown

By Art Spander

So the $40 million man goes to the bench, and the guy who nobody wanted becomes the starter. Once again, you have to wonder what goes on with pro football. Does anyone in charge have a clue? And how did 198 players get chosen before Tom Brady?

Quarterbacks have been big and expensive the last few days. Eli Manning signed an extension for $106 million. Then Philip Rivers, whose draft rights back in 2004 were traded for Manning, received an extension worth $98 million. Somebody must think these guys are important.
Because they are. It's an unarguable fact that every play starts with the quarterback touching the ball, other than that wildcat formation and punts or place kicks. In the NFL, you don't win without at the least a good one. But how do you get a good one?

The San Francisco 49ers had the first selection in the 2005 draft, took quarterback Alex Smith, gave him $40 million and now -- because of injuries and other difficulties -- he's second string behind Shaun Hill, who in his first five years in the league, four of those with Minnesota, played maybe five minutes.

Meanwhile, Brady, who's won three Super Bowls, who's considered to be no worse than the fourth best quarterback in the game and by many no worse than the very best, was taken in the sixth round.

That's better than Kurt Warner, who as we well know was a virtual outcast, had to work in a grocery store and, disproving all theories except the one that a strong arm is never to be underestimated, has played in three Super Bowls, including the most recent.

You've heard this. Drafting is not an exact science. That's a justification for making mistakes. Not that the people in charge don't have a decent understanding of what they need in a quarterback.

Manning, the No. 1 pick in 2004, won a Super Bowl. Ben Roethlisberger, the No. 11 pick in 2004, has won two Super Bowls. Rivers, fourth that same year, has had the San Diego Chargers in the playoffs. On ESPN the other day, Mike Golic was debating which of the three he would take. Interestingly, it was Rivers.

John Elway was the very first selection in the 1983 draft. He quarterbacked the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl five times and won two of those times. No one questioned the choice or later his performance.

Alex Smith, however, was a questionable No. 1. The 49ers had the first choice. The 49ers needed a quarterback. The presumption was they would take Aaron Rodgers, from Cal, just a few miles away from the Niners' headquarters. The second-guessing has gone on for four years.

Sometimes all a quarterback needs is a chance. Sometimes it's better when he never gets that chance. We're told the best job in the NFL is backup quarterback. You're anonymous, bullet-proof. Until you're forced to play.

Literally, Shaun Hill was forced to play. He had been in Europe with the Amsterdam Admirals, the same for which Warner spent a season, and in retrospect it was a season well spent, Kurt going to the St. Louis Rams and to unforeseen success.

Joining the Vikings in 2002, Hill -- as Warner, undrafted -- virtually never crossed the sideline. Oh, they let him in a couple of times to kneel down at the end of the game, a gesture that once you're beyond high school serves no purpose. What, someone wanted Shaun to earn his letter? Or to let his family know he still was around?

He came to the Niners in 2006, and with Smith in his second year taking every snap, Hill again was a non-entity, this time in a red jersey rather than a purple one. But in 2007, Smith separated his shoulder, Trent Dilfer, No. 2, also was hurt and finally in December, Shaun Hill was throwing and handing off. And winning.

Because Mike Martz, who interestingly enough was Warner's offensive coordinator with the Rams had the same role in 2008 with the Niners, Hill was deemed not capable of directing the Martz wild-air attack. But head coach Mike Nolan was canned, Mike Singletary took over and on came Hill, the methodical sort that Singletary prefers.

Now, as Manning and Rivers receive their raises, Shaun Hill becomes a starting quarterback for a season opener for the first time. And even he seems amazed.

"It's been quite a ride,'' Hill said. "I almost made it through a whole six seasons without taking a real snap in the league, and now here I am, with an opportunity to start for one of the most storied franchises in the league, a franchise that's had great quarterbacks through its history.''

Hill isn't Joe Montana or Steve Young. Hill isn't Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger. He's the man nobody wanted but now the man the San Francisco 49ers need.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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© RealClearSports 2009


SF Examiner: Singletary’s choice of Hill far from shocking

By Art Spander
Special to The Examiner

SAN FRANCISCO — Shaun Hill gets what every quarterback wants, the starting position. Alex Smith gets platitudes, words. Kind ones, but nevertheless words. He’s with the 49ers, but he’s not of them.

Football coaches know what to say. They make a smack in the face seem like a pat on the back.

Mike Singletary is going with Hill, hardly a surprise, since Singletary tossed him in last season when the coach no longer could tolerate J.T. O’Sullivan and the Mike Martz chaos, and since Smith is coming off a year without football.

It’s Singletary’s team, and he can do what he chooses.

Other than deny Smith is a backup.

“I don’t see backups,” Singletary insisted. “One of the things I don’t want on this team are backups. I want starters, and I want No. 2s. They’re only No. 2 because they’re not as good as the starter.”

Which, semantics to the contrary, makes them a backup.

Poor Alex. Rich Alex. He got that $40 million contract, which has since been restructured. He was the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft, going to restore the Niners to greatness, going to follow in the golden footprints of John Brodie, Joe Montana and Steve Young.

Except he came from Utah’s spread offense, and as we’ve learned from the failings of David Klinger and Andre Ware, that college system proves a restriction in the NFL.

Then Smith not only was injured but was berated for not playing hurt by his coach at the time, Mike Nolan, the man who took Smith No. 1.

Singletary gave Smith accolades “I’m very proud of what he’s had to overcome,” said the coach.

But Singletary still gave Hill the role Smith wants so desperately.

“It’s nothing you want to hear,” Smith said of being told Hill would be starting. “Nothing you get used to hearing.” 

Shaun Hill, a one-time free agent who conceded he didn’t take a snap his first six years in the NFL, is becoming the man in charge. Alex Smith, who was supposed to take the Niners to the playoffs, is becoming, OK, not the backup, the bench-warmer.

Singletary spoke of Hill’s presence, about intangibles. What he didn’t say was he believes Hill is better for the Chicago Bears-style offense the Niners will be utilizing, which will feature Frank Gore pounding out yardage and then Hill throwing a timely completion.

The coach wants a quarterback who doesn’t lose games even more than a quarterback who tries to win them.

The gap between Hill and Smith, Singletary explained, wasn’t large. The coach, however, likes Hill’s consistency, his leadership, his experience.

Smith hasn’t played a league game in two years. He had more to prove and still has more to prove.

“He has confidence,” Singletary reminded about Hill, “and probably was feeling in his mind he was the guy all along.”

They say the best job in sports is, sorry Mr. Singletary, backup quarterback. You’re never booed, never injured. Unless you’re elevated to No. 1.

“How many quarterbacks play all year?” Smith asked rhetorically. “I wish the best for Shaun, but my job is to be ready to go. I have to have perspective.”

Sounds good, even if it’s not as good as Shaun Hill’s job as starter.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

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Copyright 2009 SF Newspaper Company