Ratto: 49ers learn limitations in loss to Dallas


Ratto: 49ers learn limitations in loss to Dallas

Sept. 18, 2011

Jim Harbaugh prides himself on saying nothing, and explaining less, when it comes to the outer workings of his job and his teams jobs, but to his great revulsion, he must face the fact that he revealed the central essence of the 49ers in one sentence Sunday.We played well enough to win the game, he said, and without taking a breath, followed it with, but we didnt play well enough to win the game.Oh. Well in the case, well done, and shame on you.

I suppose there is some sense to be made in controlling the Dallas Cowboys early, taking a 14-0 lead with the same conservative deftness that propelled them to a 16-0 lead a week ago against Seattle. Nothing flashy, nothing too demanding, just regular tough-minded flatnosed football.But then came the final 39:16, in which they gained 52 yards and three first downs, en route to a galling 27-24 overtime loss in front of a very happy transplanted Cowboy crowd at La Candeliere. A week after they finished 31st in yards gained, they gained three fewer yards than that. They ran for 11 fewer yards. Why, if the Cowboys werent such damaged goods (their injury report starts with Tony Romos ribs and shoulder and goes weird from there), this might have been a full-on rout.In short, Harbaugh might defiantly refuse to play the blame game, saying, Im not gonna play the blame game, the blame here is clear.The man who failed the 49ers is Ted Ginn, Jr. I mean, if he isnt going bust two returns a game, this is going to be a long season.Oh, lets be honest. This is going to be a long season anyway, and the number of 49er fans who sold their seats to Cowboy fans is an indicator that most people know it. There is no quick fix, and Sunday showed the conundrum in which the 49ers are truly wedged.They are at their best when they are careful with the ball, but they cannot run because defenses have put 16 and 17 men in the box to squeeze Frank Gore. The receiving corps were average before Michael Crabtree and then Brandon Edwards went down. The offensive line was stripped naked by Dallas greater talent and multiple fronts.In other words, the 49ers at their most efficient can jump out on a team quickly, but are not yet a team that can keep that opponent jumped upon, and they know it.Or at least they are beginning to suspect it.This isnt about coaching. It certainly wasnt about leaving David Akers 55-yard field goal on the board with 11:12 to play. The 49ers were playing against a crippled quarterback whose two best receivers, Jason Witten and Miles Austin, were clearly hurt. It was the right percentage move.But it also demanded that the defense continue to stifle Romo, Witten and Austin, let alone Jesse Holley, who caught the 77-yard throw on Dallas first offensive play of overtime. The Cowboys gained 237 yards and scored 17 points in fewer than 14 minutes of playing time, and nine minutes of possession time.Thats not a team that played well enough to win, or is in a position to say such a thing, even if it it just pre-programmed, stonewalling nonsense from a coach who is not in a position to say, Were not good enough yet.At least not without two stiff belts of Ginn.Not that Harbaugh will get any more glib in the months and years to come, so lets never mind fixing that idiosyncrasy. It is, as most existentialists will tell, what it is.The fact is that whether the opponent is Seattle or Dallas, scheme will only take you so far. The rest is toughness, and an even more difficult trait to develop, talent. One player change doesnt do it, either, so stop with the blathering about You Know Who. This team simply isnt in a place yet to stand steady on ground like two games over .500.And you all know this as well. Otherwise, Sunday wouldnt have been a modified home game for the Cowboys.But if its any consolation to 49er fans, consider this. The lead the 49ers blew was three fewer points than the one the Raiders coughed up in Buffalo three hours earlier.That, kids, is what happens when you play well enough to win the game but not well enough to win the game.

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


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.