Ratto: Conservative Harbaugh ekes out first NFL win


Ratto: Conservative Harbaugh ekes out first NFL win

Sept. 11, 2011


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For those of who you thought Jim Harbaugh would leap, fully formed and pushing in with seven-deuce all day long Sunday, surprise. Hes just like every other NFL coach.And for those of you who thought Ted Ginn would turn into Devin Hester, surprise again. He did.Ginns 102-yard kick return and 55-yard punt return 59 seconds apart in the fourth quarter -- the first such double touchdown in franchise history -- gave the newest new-era 49ers a 33-17 win over the stultifying Seattle Seahawks Sunday.RECAP: 49ers win opener thanks to Ginn's two return TDs
But without it, the 49ers would have been a very vanilla-on-white-bread team, living off a stout defense and David Akers chip-shot-honed left leg. Which, frankly, tells us that for the moment, and as should have been expected, the Jim Harbaugh Era still has more than mere trace elements of the Mike Singletary Era.

And before you get your delicates into an uncomfortable formation, we speak here of the conservative, careful, largely predictable offense that is dictated by the personnel and the opponent, rather than the Harbaugh of the last two seasons at Stanford, which was all wolverines-out-of-hats and no-lead-too-safe-to-make-seven-point-safer.In other words, Harbaugh coached to his talent, Pete Carrolls talent, and the exigencies of the National Football League. Why, he even did something with Carroll on the other sideline he had never done before.He took a knee to kill the clock. Twice.And he should have, just as he should have taken a fifth field goal off the board at the end of the first half to take a couple of shots at the end zone -- which he got when Alexander D. Smith chugged into the end zone for the offenses only TD, 12 seconds from halftime. We were a pretty blue-collar offense today, Harbaugh kept saying, which is a fancy way of saying he did very little to fool the Seahawks. No discernible razzle, barely a bit of dazzle. Frank Gore ran 22 times for 59 yards, even though Seattle clearly schemed to stop him first, last and in between, and ran eight times on third down in 12 tries, converting none of the runs and only one of the passes.In short, Harbaugh did what he used to do at Stanford when his personnel wasnt infused with Andrew Luck. He did with what he had, as conservatively as he could get away with and as liberally as he thought he could sneak.Because, and lets be honest here, what he has is still largely Mike Singletarys personnel.This should not be a surprise to those who know that in the NFL, change is like turning an ocean liner. It needs lots of planning and takes a long time to complete. And with the lockout smothering his plans to recreate the franchise and all its minions in his own image, it will take even longer.Thus, he kept Smith on a short leash, with only 20 pass attempts and one major blocking assignment, on a reverse-field pitch to Gore than netted 12 yards. He rang up memories of the old Lombardi line, You want a seam here, and a seam here, and you take it . . . up . . . the alley.Yes, Alex Smith as Fuzzy Thurston. Whod have guessed?But whatever members of the audience had qualms about this carefully controlled offense, they were overcome when Ginn broke the game open, giving the game the pizzazz it had lacked for so long, and Harbaugh his first National Football League victory.On a day when the St. Louis Rams were decimated by the Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona pipped Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, and Seattle declared itself one of the five or six worst teams in the league, the 49ers established . . .. . . well, not a lot, really. There will be at least 14 games where gaining 209 total yards, lower than all but Minnesotas 187 in San Diego, will not be sufficient. Neither will averaging 2.7 yards per rush, or 4.0 per play, or throwing only 20 times. Were still allowing for the possibility that the 49ers can get away with this in Seattle, barring new information between now and Christmas Eve.But for one day, Harbaugh gets the last word:The only goal is to win, and our guys did a great job.Okay, not the last word. They did a competent job on a day when competence was good enough. It wont be so low a standard as often that wins the game, but the 49ers will presumably raise their game from this.If not, it will be a lot closer to the Singletary Years than anyone wants to consider.

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.

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun


A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

I’m liking this 2017 so far. Then again, after 2016, nearly any year would be an improvement.

Just this last weekend we got a flat-earth scandal that turned into a mock-up about media self-importance and fake news (yay Kyrie Irving and his impish sense of satire!).

We got the overblown Russell-Hates-Kevin narrative, and the faux Russell-Secretly-Loves-Kevin counternarrative, all because we are stunningly attracted to meaningless and utterly contrived drama (yay our ability to B.S. ourselves!).

We got the NBA All-Star Game ripped for having no defense even though last year’s game was, if anything, worse (yay short attention span!).

We got the Boogie Cousins trade and the national revulsion of all the thought processes the Sacramento Kings put into this perpetually rolling disaster (yay making Boogie and Vivek Ranadive household names!).

And now we got the Great Sutton United Pie-Fixing Scandal. Yeah, pie-fixing. Hell never felt so fun.

So here’s the deal. Sutton United, a very small fry in English soccer, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, a competition in which all the clubs in England are commingled and play each other until one team remains. The big clubs almost always win, so any time a small club goes deep, it’s a big deal.

Anyway, Sutton went deeper in the competition than nearly anyone in the last century, a charming development given that it is such a small club that it had a stadium caretaker, goalie coach and backup goalie all in one massive fellow, a 46-year-old guy named Wayne Shaw. Shaw became the globular embodiment of the entire Sutton Experience, a jolly lark for everyone involved and especially when he ate a pie on the bench in the final minutes of Sutton’s Cup-exiting loss to Arsenal.

And now he’s been eased into resigning his jobs with the club, because – and this is so very British – there were betting shops taking action on whether he would in fact eat a pie on the bench, and he either did or did not tip off his pals that he was going to chow down on television.

He did eat the pie. His pals collected on their bets. The sport’s governing body opened an investigation into market manipulation by gambling – which is hilarious given that no fewer than 10 gambling establishments have advertising deals with English soccer clubs. Shaw was invited to quit to kill the story, and he took the hint.

Hey, dreams die all the time. But it’s still pie-fixing. Let that rattle around your head for a minute. Pie-fixing. Not match-fixing. Not point-shaving. Pie-fixing.

Now how can you not love this year?

Sure, it sucks for Shaw, but it serves as a series of cautionary tales for athletes around the world.

* Gambling is everywhere, and every time you inch toward it, you dance on the third rail.

* If you want to help your friends, give them cash.

* This is a horribly delicious way to lose your gig.

* And finally, fun in the 21st century isn’t ever truly fun because someone in a suit and a snugly-placed stick is going to make sure you pay full retail for that fun.

But it is nice to know that something that has never happened before is now part of our year. Pie-fixing is a thing now, as silly in its way as Irving’s flat-earth narrative was. And as we steer away from normal games as being too run-of-the-mill-fuddy-duddy entertainment, we have replaced them with sideshows.

Or do you forget how many people complained Saturday and Sunday that the dunk contest wasn’t interesting enough? How stupid is that?

Lots. Lots of stupid. But against pie-tin-shaped planets and pies turned into betting coups, how can it possibly compare?

We chase a lot of idiotic narratives in our sporting lives. The great What Will The Patriots Do To Roger Goodell story died like the old dog it was. We still try to flog Warriors-Thunder as a rivalry in search of better TV ratings when all the obvious evidence is that it is no such thing unless you think a couple that broke up nine months ago is still a solid story. We have Bachelor fantasy leagues, for God’s sake.

This would leave most normal folks in despair, thus matching their everyday experiences, but yin meets yang, and every time it looks like we are all barrel-rolling into the sun, we get Irving, and then we get Wayne Shaw.

In short, 2017 is going to be fun of grand surprises for us all. I look forward to the day President Trump tries to fete the Patriots and only gets to Skype with Bob Kraft and the equipment guys who midwifed DeflateGate, and Mark Davis in Las Vegas, just to see if he can get a P.F. Chang’s into the Bellagio.

Why not? This is sport’s year-long tribute to sketch comedy, and evidently everyone is signing on enthusiastically to replace lessons of morality and honor and equality and dignity and sportsmanship with slackened jaws and belly laughs.

So yay sports! Or as it is clearly becoming, A Night At The Improv.