With Kaepernick at helm, 49ers still a 'team of grinders'

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With Kaepernick at helm, 49ers still a 'team of grinders'

BOX SCORE

Colin Kaepernick faked an inside handoff, broke left on an option run and kept running, and running, and running, and he didn’t stop until he had obscured the events of Sunday’s 49ers-Dolphins game.

Not the result, of course. His 50-yard touchdown run with 2:10 to play was the coda in San Francisco’s 27-13 victory, one which advanced them one game closer to Atlanta in the National Football Conference, kept them at arm’s length from the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West, and in general did them no appreciable harm.

On the other hand, it didn’t make anyone feel appreciably better about them, either. This game wasn’t meant to reveal much about the longer term. It was meant to be what Jim Harbaugh said it was.

“These are really hard games to play,” Harbaugh said. And it showed.

Miami is not a good team, but it plays hard, and it defends the run well. Indeed, until Kaepernick sprung himself free for the spread-covering score, the 49ers were averaging a desultory 3.9 yards per carry, and converted only 1 of 9 third downs. In fact, they had the ball for only 55 offensive plays, and are tied for last in the league in that arcane statistic.

In other words, they do not have an easy time impressing people with their overall offense. They have their moments – the Kaepernick run, Frank Gore’s catch-break-five-tackles-and-run, Michael Crabtree’s 25-yard reception to set up the 49ers’ go-ahead field goal at the end of the half – but for the most part, they are under Kaepernick what they were under Alex Smith.

A team of grinders. Grinders do not wow casual fans.

Grinders also do not beat the New England Patriots in Foxborough, so Sunday’s game really didn’t help anyone more fully understand the way next Sunday night’s game will play out. 49ers-Patriots is the game that will tell us just how Super-Bowl-able the 49ers actually are in the Kaepernick Era.

But they don’t let you play games out of order, at least not without the benefit of more universes than the one in which we dwell, so we take what we are given and try to make sense of it.

Kaepernick did grind the 49ers through 10 possessions, of which only two were three-and-outs. He missed only five of 23 passes, threw neither a touchdown nor an interception, and other than a fumble on the game’s fourth play (that was recovered by tackle Anthony Davis) and four sacks, he did your standard credible quarterback’s job.

Again, a lot like Alex Smith’s standard credible quarterback’s job.

And we don’t bring that up to try to fan the dying embers of a quarterback controversy that died three weeks ago. We bring it up only to remind you that the 49ers are at their very essence a flash-free football team. They do not spice the game with exotica, nor do they win the day for fantasy leaguers. That is not who they are offensively – not through 31 games of the Harbaugh dynasty, anyway.

And since that is what Miami strives to be once its roster gets a few more miles on it, Sunday’s game did not promise a lot of entertainment. So when it did not deliver a lot of entertainment, few were surprised.

You want the game explained? Okay. Donte Whitner took down Reggie Bush with a full-on Cael Sanderson one-armed amateur wrestling takedown in the third quarter. Bush got up and gestured that he was too mighty to be hurt, Whitner got up and swaggered like he knew better, and they were both right. Only Whitner was righter, because the 49ers were up 13-3 at the time and were never threatened thereafter.

This was, put bluntly, a game the 49ers had to get through without mishap, blunder or injury. They succeeded at all three, and Kaepernick’s moment made it look slightly more one-sided than it was. In the style-points era of 49er football, this would have been a disappointing afternoon. These days, it is (and God help us for going this way) only what it is.

But New England in Foxborough . . . ahh, that will give us more of a lead-in to January. The Patriots are real, they amass points in vast bins, and they want you to try and score with them. The 49ers are their polar opposite. Styles, as they say, make fights.

“We’re going to be able to see where we are as a defense,” Whitner said. “We understand who’s going to have to win that football game, and we think it’s going to be the defense. And they understand that their offense is going to try and control the ball and get some big plays and put some points on the board. And we can’t allow that, so we’ll be ready.”

This game didn’t have much style. So it wasn’t much of a fight. It didn’t have to be. Next week’s does.

Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention

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AP

Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention

Frank Deford’s death over the weekend did not mark the end of longform sportswriting as we knew it; he had long ago become part of the electronic commentariat that has reduced longform’s place in the public’s attention span.

But there is still longform writing and storytelling to be found in many places, and it is still worthwhile. It has more production value, as the TV folks like to blather, and the words have to fight for their place between the cracks left by the pictures and the mutated graphics, but longform lives, and it should, lest we all agree as one people to further desiccate that attention span like a grapefruit left in the sun.

Deford’s death, though, reminds of when longform was the zenith of the storytelling art. It could, and still can, give you access and depth and breadth that a TV crew simply could not, and cannot. Even extended TV features are by their very nature so contrived by all the equipment that nothing is natural, nothing is a surprise, and the act of writing is almost an afterthought.

Deford knew this. He more than merely dabbled in TV himself, playing the wizened old raconteur who was as much character in his pieces as storyteller. He was also a star and a starmaker with The National, a daily sports network in newspaper form that was long on talent and ideas but short on delivery and distribution. It lasted 17 months, until mid-1991, but it led to grander attempts decades later, and could if you squint your eyes hard enough be the natural parent of Grantland and The Ringer and Vice and SB Nation and dozens of others – all bigger ideas, positioned in the post-typing world. Some lasted, more didn’t, but capitalism is like that – making fuel to keep the fires burning and the engines churning.

Deford could have thrived in such a world, to be sure. He was not, in the hideous phrase, “a man of his time.” Indeed, he was a crossover figure years ago in ways that other longform writers attempt to resist even now. They want to be Deford at the height of his powers at a time when the instruments for their gift are either dying or veering away from anything that hits the 600-word mark.

But his passing did not kill the art of clever writing and incisive storytelling. There are far too many people who can do that still, even if the market for their gifts is neither as pronounced nor as eager for the product as it once was. It did remind us not only that he was a giant, but that there are still giants among us should we deign to take the time to seek them.

Thus, Deford’s death marked his passing but not the thing that made him worthy of our attention. Storytelling, longform and otherwise, remains the heart of why this is still worthwhile to a culture, and when the generation his work spawned starts to die off, I suspect we’ll still be saying the same thing then. Notebooks are smartphones, photographs are streams, but the human eye and ear and hand still remain pre-eminent.

That is, until the robots take over, at which point reading won’t be worth it.

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

You thought you were done worrying about the Raiders. You thought the votes were in, the moving vans booked for three years down the road, and all gnashing and sharpening of teeth was over. You thought you were free.

Then those buttinsky-come-latelies from St. Louis decided to rear their litigious heads, and now you find yourselves slipping back into that desperate-hope world from which no one escapes.

It seems the city and its regional sports authority has decided to sue the National Football League and its 32 semi-independent duchies over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago because, and you’ll like this one, the league allegedly did not follow its own relocation rules when it moved the team.

As you know, there is no such thing as a rule if everyone governed by the rule decided unanimously to ignore the rule. This doctrine falls under the general heading of, “We’re billionaires, try and stop us.”

But all lawsuits have a common denominator, and that is that there is money at the end of the rainbow. St. Louis is claiming it is going to miss out on approximately $100 million in net proceeds (read: cash) and has decided that the NFL and especially their good pal Stan Kroenke is going to have to pay for permission to do what they have already done -- specifically, leave.

Because the suit was filed in St. Louis, the benefits of home field advantage apply, and the league is likely to have to reinflate their lawyers for some exciting new billable hours.

As to whether it turns into a windfall for the jilted Missourians, well, as someone who has known lawyers, I would list them as prohibitive underdogs. But there is nuisance value here, which brings us to Oakland.

The city and county, as we know, did not put its best shoe forward in trying to lure the Raiders into staying or the other 31 owners into rejecting the team’s pleas for geographical relief. By that, we mean that the city and county did not fall all over itself to meet the league’s typically extortionate demands.

But they did play angry enough to start snipping about the 2019 part of the Raiders’ 3-More-Coliseum-Years plan, and they are threatening to sue over about $80K in unpaid parking fees, so filing their own breach-of-rules lawsuit might be a possibility.

Because, hey, what’s the point of sounding like a nuisance if you can’t actually become one?

By now, it is clear that everyone in SuitWorld got what it needed out of the Raiders’ move. The city and county could concentrate on guiding the A’s into activity on their own new stadium. The team could go where Mark Davis has been agitating for it to go for at least three years – somewhere else. The state of Nevada could find a place for that $750 million that was burning a hole in its casino vault. And the league went to a market that it, at first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, decided should be its own.

The fans? Oh, please. Who cares about them? To the NFL, and to all corporations in all walks of business, folks are just walking wallets.

But for some cash? Well, climb on board, suckers. The gravy train is pulling out on Track 3.

Nobody is fool enough to think the Raiders would be forced to return. Hell, even St. Louis isn’t asking for the Rams back. They just want to get paid for the money they probably banked on in the good old days before Stan Kroenke decided to head west.

And that would doubtless be Oakland’s stance as well if. Now the circumstances are slightly different, in that St. Louis worked harder to keep the Rams than Oakland did to keep the Raiders. St. Louis scared up $350 million toward new digs for the Rams, well short of what Kroenke would have accepted, while Oakland said it could get its hands on some infrastructure money and no more.

But Mayor Libby Schaaf complained in her relocation post mortem that the league didn’t follow its own guidelines (yay correlation as causation!), maybe with an eye toward throwing a few lawyers into the fire to see how long it would burn.

There is not yet any indication that the city and county are going that route (and the silence may simply mean that they are sick of the Raiders’ saga as everyone else seems to be), but if they do, well, don’t freak out that the team might be forced to return.

Except, of course, in that place where migraines start. Dragging this back up is a bit like the phantom pain amputees feel -- but hey, people will do a lot for a bit of court-ordered cash. Anyone who has ever watched Judge Judy will understand.