For SF, this is a full-blown QB controversy

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For SF, this is a full-blown QB controversy

Colin Kaepernick seemed to be the only one who understood how delicate the next few days and perhaps weeks of the 49ers season would be. Good vision on the field, good vision off it.

He was asked, based on coach Jim Harbaughs notion of having two quarterbacks with the hot hand, if he thought he was ready to be the starting quarterback going forward, and he smiled and said, I dont think one game can be a hot hand.

Thousands will beg to differ after his exemplary work in the 49ers ridiculously easy 32-7 throat-punching of the Chicago Bears Monday night. He gave no indication of being the neophyte he did the week before against St. Louis, not only staying in the pocket but commanding it. His raw numbers (16-of-23, 243 yards, two scores, a 133.1 rating) were arresting enough, but the way he rolled the 49er offense and even rediscovered tight end Vernon Davis in a surprisingly easy win over an allegedly good opponent.

Indeed, starting now, he will be considered by the outside world to be the real starting quarterback even if the ever-coy Harbaugh decides otherwise.

In fact, youre probably safe in thinking that Harbaugh will decide otherwise. One game does not a star make, and Harbaugh not only knows it, but frankly is banking on it. Having created Smith, he isnt likely to abandon him off one impressive performance against a broken team.

Oh, he kept the door open, to be sure. He dismissed the notion of the rule that an injury doesnt cost a player his starting job, and he said again and again, We have two quarterbacks with the hot hand, and well make that decision when we have to make it.

He also evaluated Kaepernick in the highest possible terms, citing his accuracy, poise in the pocket, running the offense, understanding the game plan, and describing his pre-snap reads as in the high 90s, an A-plus operation.

In short, Harbaugh raved about Kaepernick. But, and we cannot stress this too much, he has raved about Smith in his time, too. Harbaugh raves easily, even if all hes doing is trying to smother a story.

Still, the Kaepernick raves, atop what all our eyes told us, creates a dynamic that hasnt legitimately existed since the Montana-Young days. Oh, weve tried to create others, but the ingredients havent been the same. So, yes, this is about to get very very weird if Harbaugh lets it.

And he just might.

Now either he knows the dynamite with which he plays, or like so many other external pressures, he doesnt care. He is sure that he can dominate his environment, and media speculation and the shrieks of the populace are part of that environment.

But Harbaugh is less a swashbuckler than a pragmatist, and even if Smith cannot clear all his protocols before the New Orleans game next week, hell want to see Kaepernick in a loud and hostile environment before he commits to anything longer term.

In short, Alex Smith will be the 49ers starting quarterback again, and theres no use you bitching about it. Whatever his limitations, perceived or otherwise, Smith has shown more in the aggregate than Kaepernick. And Harbaugh plays percentages.

Smith, on the other hand, is already sensing that he is about to become unpopular again, this time through no fault of his own. He has endured much in his time here, most of it as the earnest victim of the franchises wilderness years, and he has fixed almost all the things that have been laid at his feet by coaches who werent very coach-worthy and players who often werent.

And now that hes shown he can handle the brand new car, people are trying to pry the keys away from him again. We may have to come to grips with the possibility that he is simply cursed.

But the real test for Smith now is narrowing his focus even more, and this is where Harbaugh can make things easy for him by telling him--if not anyone else--that he will be the starter again. He can say whatever he wants about two hot hands, but he can only put one man behind center Jonathan Goodwin. And he does not yet know with the metaphysical certitude a coach must have that Colin Kaepernick is the next superior 49er quarterback.

We all thought the Bears game would be an enormous test for either Smith or Kaepernick, and we were wrong, as it turned out. The 49er defense saw to that, holding Chicago to 143 total yards, the second lowest total of any team this season, and two yards fewer than the 145 the 49ers held the New York Jets to in Week 4. Aldon Smith stood proudly on Jason Campbells thorax, but nothing else worked for the Bears, either.

That, though, is the backstory. This is a quarterback controversy town, and this is a full-blown quarterback controversy, with 20 rooms, marble floors, platinum inlaid fixtures, a magnificent entry hall, and a huge garden with wild animals running free behind it.

It isnt really, of course. Not inside the building, where such things really matter. Harbaugh isnt ready for that one yet, only because Smith remains the smarter play.

But outside, where the screaming happens, its on, Jack. Its so on.

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.