by Daisy Barringer
The 49ers may have lost five straight games this season by three points or fewer, but with yesterday’s 40-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, this team reminded us that they’re exactly who we thought they were. Undeveloped, uninspired, and completely inept.
What a shame they had to remind fans of that fact on the day that former wide receiver and 49ers icon Dwight Clark, who is battling ALS, came to Levi’s Stadium for what may very well be the last time. What a shame that he had to see this team go 0-7, matching the worst start in franchise history. And what a shame that it had to happen against one of our biggest rivals, and the team the 49ers were playing when Clark made his famous 6-yard grab, better known as simply “The Catch.” The only good news is that the only other time the 49ers lost their first seven games, it was in 1979, Clark’s rookie year. So at least we know that he gets it.
I’ve been rooting for the 49ers to lose every game this season because intellectually, I understand that’s what is better for this team in the long run. But I made one exception, and that was yesterday’s game against the Cowboys. I don’t care how much you want a first round draft pick; if you’re gold blooded, there’s no way you can root for Dallas to come into your house and decimate you. Unfortunately, it turns out it doesn’t actually matter what I want because when a team is as bad as this 2017 squad, losing is the only option.
There’s really not much more to say. If I tried to call everyone out for his abysmal play, this column would be longer and more tedious than Infinite Jest. Literally, every single person played like the steaming piles of the poop that come out of my enormous Saint Bernard.
The defense allowed 501 yards of total offense, including 265 rushing yards, 147 of which came from alleged girlfriend-beater Ezekiel Elliott. (It’s worth noting that even though watching Ezekiel Elliott run all over the 49ers defense was probably the most painful part of the game, if he had been serving his six-game suspension, it likely would have affected the final score, but not the win.)
The offensive line also allowed C.J. Beathard (who does not appear to be the answer, though it’s still early yet) to be sacked five times, two times during which he fumbled the ball.
And lest special teams think they’re off the hook from my wrath, I’ll take this opportunity to point out that Trent Taylor fumbled a punt return that set up the Cowboy’s first touchdown and set the tone for the game.
Regarding the coaching, I feel confident that if Shanahan had better personnel on the field, he wouldn’t look so incompetent at his job, but unfortunately, I also feel confident that he may not have that better personnel for years to come. So there’s that.
Sadly, the “best” part of the day was that Dwight Clark was there to be honored by the 49ers organization and fans. And that 37 members of his 1981 squad were there to stand on the field during halftime wearing No. 87 and show him their love.
Of course, it’s hard to say that moment was great when the truth is that, as Clark said himself, “I just wanted to see my teammates. And the 49ers heard that and flew all of the players in so I could see them one more time.”
One more time.
Because, as anyone could see from his debilitated state, Dwight Clark probably doesn’t have much more time. The 60-year-old man who was once so tall and strong and handsome (okay, he’s definitely still handsome) was only diagnosed with ALS a year ago, but he already requires a wheelchair. His speech is already slowed. His body has already rapidly weakened.
ALS is a heart-wrenching disease. It will eventually take away Clark’s ability to walk, speak, swallow, and breathe. And while there is no definitive proof that ALS can be caused by playing football, Dwight Clark said he certainly suspects it did.
All of which brings us back to the conversation about what the NFL is doing (or not doing, as it were) to prevent brain injuries in its players. Because maybe there’s not proof that ALS is caused by hard hits to the head, but there is proof that CTE is common in ALS sufferers. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did release a report in 2012 that says NFL players are four times more likely to die from ALS disease than the rest of the U.S. population. And yet, what is the NFL doing about it? Not much.
I sat in bed last night trying to think of what it is that I actually want to see from the NFL to address these concerns. But I also questioned how I can love a sport that asks men to destroy their bodies for my entertainment. And finally, I wondered how it is so many people say, “The players know what they’re getting into and they get paid millions of dollars” as an excuse to not think about any of it.
I don’t have answers. But I will say this: I think I’ll see the demise of NFL football in my lifetime. And I think by the time it finally fades away, we’ll all know that it ending was the only choice. Because we can’t continue to say we care about human life and simultaneously pay people large sums of money to wreak havoc on themsleves purely for our enjoyment.
Dwight Clark’s legacy will always be that leaping grab in the end zone to set the 49ers up for a 28-27 win against the Cowboys in the NFC Championship game, but perhaps there’s something more we should take away from his time on earth. Perhaps his real legacy is bigger than one magnificent touchdown.
At the very least, he’s got me thinking.
Next Week: The (0-7) 49ers travel to Philadelphia to play the (5-1) Eagles. It’s going to be brutal to watch. And it won’t help that Eagles fans are some of the most insufferable people on earth. The Niners will definitely lose and be the first team in franchise history to go 0-8. Good times people. Good times.