Death of a Rivalry

2019974298In fairness to the mantra uttered by members of San Francisco’s steadily eroding fan base, the 49ers did indeed achieve a Quest for Six on Sunday afternoon.

With just over thirteen minutes remaining in the first half, the frail fragments of former running back Frank Gore plunged into the end zone for a sextet of points and a whopping eighty-six-percent of San Francisco’s scoring output on the day. Seconds later, a keen ear could almost make out the resonating sound of Gore’s Life Alert Emergency Response monitor, the result of the old man unexpectedly succumbing to the effects of gravity.

The Niners’ lone touchdown was supplemented only by Phil Dawson’s extra point, tacked on immediately after Gore’s jaunt to paydirt. And just like that, it was over.

If there is such a thing as moral victories, however, the visiting squad could chalk up their second quarter red zone success as exactly that. In two of the three previous games, the Seahawks had neglected to allow their foes anything more than a field goal. That San Francisco achieved a six-point score should be applauded. Quest for Six complete.

When all the dust had settled and the clock ticked down to a host of zeroes, Seattle proved triumphant by a ten-point margin. The defeat was especially numbing for the 49ers, losers in more ways than one, as they wandered off the field eliminated from postseason contention in the wake of the day’s shortcomings. For the first time in Jim Harbaugh’s four-year tenure as head coach, San Francisco had failed to reach the playoffs.

Common knowledge seems to indicate that Harbaugh won’t enjoy the luxury of a fifth year at the helm of the rogue ship Niner, a dysfunctional working relationship with management all but preventing the affair to endure. Which means that the whining, pouting face of a franchise that has emerged as Seattle’s most hated foil will no longer be seen wearing the red-and-black of public enemy No. 1.

It almost doesn’t seem right. Villains rise and fall, certainly. But few, if any, are relieved of their villainous ways due to what could very nearly be classified as a technicality. Not a retirement nor a true firing will end the Harbaugh era. Instead, speculation has it that the head coach will be traded — traded! — to a competing organization. And all because his bosses can’t seem to get along with their prize pony.

Make no mistake about it, as Harbaugh goes, so go the Niners.

Prior to the former quarterback’s arrival from the college ranks, San Francisco found itself in the midst of a nine-year playoff drought. The dry spell came to an abrupt halt almost overnight, with the ex-Stanford head coach guiding his new club to a 13-3 mark and NFC West divisional crown in his rookie tour through the NFL. Twenty-seven victories over the next two seasons kept the 49ers among the league’s elite teams before a fateful meeting in the NFC Championship game some eleven months ago seemingly knocked the organization into a lower tier of the sport’s hierarchy.

The 2014 campaign has been far from kind to the 2013 conference runners-up.

Once a team on fire, the Niners now simply exist afire, raging like a burning dumpster in an alley, engulfed in equal parts flame and turmoil.

A squad impressive and dominant even in defeat a season ago now stumbles through four quarters of football like a fawn on ice.

A signal-caller who some once insisted would be “the greatest quarterback ever” now flings wounded doves across yards upon yards of emerald expanse, intended for the hands of receivers, yet destined for the mitts of opposing cornerbacks … if anyone at all.

A running game led by a man as ancient as an inner-city school’s textbooks, a star linebacker who logs more playing time in penitentiary pickup runs, and an injury list peppered with some of the most impactful names in the organization help paint the picture of the 49ers’ struggle. Suffice it to say, the struggle is real.

A look at the talent the Niners now field elicits more grimaces than grins. Wideouts toiling in mediocrity, a secondary that is slightly more tertiary, and a cavalcade of castoffs that will one day inspire reactions like, “Oh yeah, I think I remember that guy” don the colors of a franchise fallen from grace. One can only imagine the slogan of a team with such a growing dearth of talent: “This could be us, but you playin’,” might work.

This was supposed to be a rivalry — and for a couple seasons, it was. Now, however, the best matchups take place off the field. If you can’t beat ’em, do battle in community forums and comments sections. Niner faithful can still take solace in their five Super Bowl titles — the most recent of which was won while much of their current roster was still in diapers — while Seahawks fans can lay claim to last year’s Lombardi Trophy. It’s still a rivalry in spirit, one may surmise, if not in talent, ability, or outcome on the playing field.

Other than that, it’s over. Dead. Gone.

Jim Harbaugh will take his talents elsewhere, Colin Kaepernick will futilely search for talents he once possessed, and Seattle will continue cultivating talent that produces playoff wins and postseason ventures. How can this even exist as a fair fight going forward? It can’t. It won’t. Goodbye, good night, the end.

To a rivalry now departed, rest in peace. You won’t soon be forgotten.

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