Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Searching for perspective - a 49ers post-mortem

Watching Colin Kaepernick’s fourth down pass sail over Michael Crabtree’s head was like a bad dream. We’ve all had them – the ones where something awful is unfolding right in front of you and though you try, you can’t muster a movement or a sound. You reach out to stop it, affect the outcome, but your arm moves slow as molasses, held back by supernatural forces. You open your mouth to shout, but your vocal chords fail. You’re completely powerless to affect a forgone outcome.

Everyone in my living room stared at the screen for several seconds, hoping to see the yellow penalty indicator roll out atop the score box, but nothing ever appeared. The camera focused on Jim Harbaugh as he appealed to the referees that Crabtree was held, replaying his efforts over and over in slow motion. Meanwhile, reality continued. The 49ers traded out offense for defense and the Ravens vice versa. Barring a miracle, the game was over.  That miracle was barred.

Though it will probably continue for the next few days, the time for finger-pointing and blame-placing is over. I’m guilty of doing as much, both in casual conversation and on social media. It’s part of our problem solving nature – when an experiment goes awry, we strive to find the variable that made it fall apart. Over the course of a 60 minute football game, countless variables account for why one team wins and the other loses. The 49ers slow start had as much to do with them losing as the questionable officiating did. The questionable officiating had as much to do with it as the perhaps more questionable goal-to-go play calling. Who’s to say the Ravens wouldn’t have scored even if Jones’ run back hadn’t be called due to a hold? It’s all meaningless in a vacuum. Though we’ll continue to mull it over, none of it matters. The city of Baltimore hosted a parade today. San Francisco did not.

It marks the first time in 49ers’ history the team lost in a Super Bowl. Perfection is gone, and perhaps so is the insurmountable pressure that came with a 5-0 championship bid. It probably won’t make the next trip any less pressured, but it does play a role in how badly this one hurts the fan base. Even when the 49ers wallowed in a puddle of mediocrity, fans could still proudly point to their perfect Super Bowl record.

February brings a change in the seasons for sports. If you’re a fan of only the NFL then you’re in for a long nuclear winter – one filled with what-ifs and bitter feelings as you make the trudge through Spring and into late Summer. For those who love other sports – basketball, hockey and baseball – detoxification is coming, and though those won’t completely take away the side effects they’ll help to quell the pain and eventually help you forget.

Some people call passion for sports completely irrational. In a sense it is; as fans, we invest time, money and a whole lot of emotion into our favorite teams. Maybe too much of it. Losses eat away at the soul, and how it feels is probably too embarrassing to admit to anyone who doesn’t see sports the same way. They say we take it too seriously.

Maybe we do. Then again, maybe they don’t understand why we love it.

Sports exist to distract and entertain us. They’ve always existed – competitive by nature, human beings gathered to watch gladiators battle and live vicariously through them. It feeds our most primal side, the Darwinian tic in us that needs competition and craves to stake a claim on superiority. It’s no different than watching a reality show. We always pick a favorite competitor, relish in watching the villain fall and mourn ever-so-subtly when our rooting interest gets eliminated.

Except a favorite sports team gets passed down from generation to generation. It’s shared with friends. Unforgettable memories are forged while watching sports. We bond with our fathers and brothers over sports. Some of my best friendships have been made thanks to the common bond of being a fan. Incredibly opportunities have presented themselves thanks to my injudicious love for the game.

I’ve heard it said that pain spurns growth; last year’s NFC Championship loss inspired me to write, and what followed was a groundbreaking year of opportunities and progress. I left Candlestick Park that night feeling crushed and speechless, as if the world collapsed on me. In hindsight, my life was far from over. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

It’s the plight of being a fan: the highs are atmospheric and the lows fall far deeper than the crust. There’s really nothing anyone can do to ease the pain of a championship loss, but time will bring perspective and eventually, remedy. To say “it’s just a game” doesn’t take any of the sting away, but it shouldn’t deter us from holding our heads high, knowing that next season will eventually be here.