It is a measure of the absurdities of geographical bias, the fervor of fans with burnable money, the wasted landscape of the National Football Conference, and the joys of legalized gambling, but somehow the San Francisco 49ers have lost their starting quarterback, best running back, and most reliable pass catcher, and gone from 20-1 to 16-1 as a Super Bowl bet in most Las Vegas books.
Then again, it may be none of those of things at all that explains the rise in their reputations, but just an appreciation for the sheer hilarity being provided by the reinstatement of Jimmy Garoppolo. For truly nothing in this early season has been more preposterous than that.
Before you start giggling, a moment for Trey Lance, the heir apparent who is going to spend the rest of the year in an air cast and after breaking his fibula and tearing some cartilage on an ill-developed run early in the 49ers’ 27-7 win over Seattle. For him, this sucks with oak leaf clusters. Then again, this is football, and no game is complete without someone being carted or ambulanced off, and no development more pleases some fans more the the nostalgia of the good old days when players all but exploded in mid-play. Ahhh, happy times.
But we digress. The 49ers have so confused its fan base since the start of last season that they are now in a place in which they largely forgave a nine-point loss in Chicago in Week 1 to the Christ-awful Bears, but now largely hated Kyle Shanahan after a 20-point win at home over the equally rancid Seahawks. They hold him responsible for the play that injured Lance, for his inability to win the Super Bowl in September, and more than anything else for being in the job longer than any coach since Steve Mariucci. They were promised change, damn it, and their team looks more like last year’s than last year’s.
But fret not. Forty-Niner fans are largely erratic in their behaviors as it is. While Bills fans are largely performative, 49er fans are 48-card decks, more deeply in love with the backup quarterback than with the starter at all times, annoyed that their team’s main strength is defense, and chapped beyond belief that they have to settle for a decent quarterback when they have been led to believe that their birthright includes a Hall of Famer, even though they haven’t had one of those in a quarter century. Even Garoppolo, who they once idolized as the prettiest guy on the block, has some gray in his hair now. Josh Allen, Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes don’t! Why can’t they have one of them?
They were pleased when Garoppolo was fired for all intent and purpose after only helping them achieve a place in the NFC title game, confused when none of the contracted haulers would take him away, angry when his offseason shoulder surgery made him an insurance risk for any potential client, and now seem oddly mixed on whether it’s good that he has been rehired at a 75-percent pay cut—although with the performance bonuses he is likely to hit now that he is starting again, it will only be a 40-percent cut if he can stay healthy. Yay restorative money!
Well, they have to move on now, forward to the past that they both acknowledge is pretty good yet utterly unsatisfying. George Kittle, their fine tight end, is supposed to return soon from a groin muscle issue, and they only have to wait eight more weeks for Elijah Mitchell, the running back who was supposed to ease Deebo Samuel’s running burdens. They play the Denver Broncos and their coach Nathaniel “So what game are we playing?” Hackett Sunday, and then they face the defending yet uninspiring Los Angeles Rams. It is well within the limits of imagination that they could be 3-1 and forget that the absurdities of the first two weeks ever happened.
Except of course for Garoppolo. It will always be difficult to reconcile Kyle Shanahan’s big all-in move of the offseason losing spectacularly, with him taking his chips back anyway and have the casino let him do it, but that’s where we are, and where we stay. The 2021 San Francisco 49ers will never die—until 2023, anyway, and if they make another deep playoff run like last year’s, maybe 2024 as well. By then, Lance will almost be out of his rookie contract and of less value to them, and we can all sit back and enjoy the 49ers’ new helmet logo—of a jutjawed cartoon hamster with an angry grimace on a red-and-gold wheel, frantically running to get where they’ve already been.
But by then, they could be prohibitive betting favorites in Vegas. Because for them, the worse it gets, the better it gets. If that doesn’t convince you that betting football is for other people, nothing will.