Over the past year or so, Bay Area teams have found ways to continue to surprise their loyal fans. The San Francisco Giants were able to win the World Series in 2010 when no one (and I literally mean no one) picked them to win, let alone even make the playoffs. This particular Giants team was labeled a team of “misfits” or “castoffs,” but there was still this type of allure around them. They were the proverbial nerds, geeks, and loners on the playground that no one believed in or understood. The bullies were the Yankees and the Phillies of the world that believe that no one is ever going to be as great as they are. Giants fans were even stunned to see their local team beat the almighty Phillies and continue on to the pivotal World Series. They proved to be a team defined by great pitching and defense, ingenius coaching by Bruce Bochy, and amazing team chemistry. These are the main reasons why many teams win the World Series, but it was much more special with this team because of the fact that winning the World Series was so unexpected.
So how does this connect to the 49ers? This season cannot properly be described as a “surprise,” because this particular word doesn’t do enough justice to what has been accomplished so far. Not only did no one expect this 49ers team to be any good, but no one expected this team to win the division. This 49ers team has a different appearance than any other 49ers team in the recent past. They have a tenacity, a determination, and a fun spirit about them that is so captivating. Like the Giants, they are a team defined by not only these particular traits, but great defense, creative coaching by Jim Harbaugh, and amazing team chemistry. This team, also like the Giants, plays with immense confidence despite having some “misfit” characters. These factors have lead the 49ers to a 10-3 record, which is tied for the 2nd best record in the NFC.
Strong similarities can be seen in the stellar defenses of both teams. The starting pitchers (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner) for the Giants had a collective 3.36 ERA during the regular season and maintained their excellence throughout the postseason. The starting pitchers had a collective 2.17 ERA during the postseason. This includes Matt Cain’s 0 earned runs allowed over 21.1 innings during the postseason. Madison Bumgarner, in his first postseason and first season as a starting pitcher, maintained a 2.18 ERA. Including the relievers, the Giants pitching staff had a 3.36 ERA throughout the season. The Giants defense also had a 98.8% fielding percentage, which ranked first out of all NL teams. The 49ers defense has been regarded as the strongest asset that this current 49ers team has. With new additions Carlos Rogers, Donte Whitner, and other new starters such as Ahmad Brooks, Tarell Brown, and others, the 49ers defense consistently appears to be one of the strongest defenses in all of the NFL. They are ranked 1st in all the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game. In addition to that, the 49ers defense is ranked 4th in all the NFL is total yards allowed per game. Both of these stats are quite impressive and prove how strong this defense really is compared to other great teams.
Although Bruce Bochy and Jim Harbaugh coach with different styles, they both have the ability to inspire a team and get the absolute best out of their players. Bruce Bochy is a calmer force and coaches much more lackadaisically. Bochy rarely argues calls, rarely yells at players, and always believes in his players. His approach to coaching is much more subtle, but he is known to make all the right decisions at the right time. Jim Harbaugh, in his first year as an NFL head coach, is a more fiery, passionate coach who is not afraid to show his emotions. He can often be too exuberant or excited though. For example, right after winning a rather significant game against the Lions, Lions’ head coach Jim Schwartz accused Harbaugh of “shaking his hand too hard” after the game. This is such a bogus argument that it requires no more description or analysis. Anyway, Harbaugh’s passion is inspiring and quite contagious amongst the players. Both coaches can be seen as their own versions of “players’ coaches.” They are both likeable and respected, but still admired for their high-quality coaching. They become a sort of father figure, and truly want and expect the best out of their players. This type of coaching style is often preferable and can often lead to winning results.
In sports, chemistry cannot be forced. Chemistry occurs when players get along on and off the field and truly believe in each other and the system. The Giants were comprised of many players who other teams didn’t want, hence the names “castoffs” and “misfits.” This underdog mentality was definitely a reason why the players were able to bond off the field and perform extremely well together on the field. Here are some examples of the main castoffs on the team. The Giants were the only team to offer Aubrey Huff a deal before the 2010 season. Cody Ross was placed on waivers by the Marlins and the Giants only picked him up to avoid San Diego from acquiring him. Andres Torres was a career minor league player who never really hit his prime and had suffered from ADHD. Pat Burrell was cut from the Tampa Bay Rays after struggling in his role as DH and the Giants offered to sign him to a minor league contract with no guarantees. What’s ironic is that the biggest castoffs on this Giants team were the players that contributed the most to the success of the team. Aubrey Huff supplied constant offense throughout the season, Cody Ross defined clutch hitting, Andres Torres showed off his speed and defensive prowess in center field, and Pat Burrell provided power hitting that the Giants so desperately needed. The term misfits applies because no one would necessarily think that this combination of players would result in a World Series title. However, these players might not have traditionally fit together, but they did know how to have fun and, therefore, win together.
The 49ers’ key example of a misfit is Alex Smith. Every 49ers fan knows his story. The 49ers selected him with the number 1 pick in 2005 (to this day I still believe the 49ers should have drafted the hometown kid, Aaron Rodgers), which was surprising and upsetting to most fans. Smith experienced many different head coaches, offensive coordinators, and various injuries, which all contributed to the general hatred of him amongst fans (talk about a misfit). Jim Harbaugh was brought in as the new head coach this past offseason, and everyone hoped this would finally be the end of the Alex Smith era. Sadly, this was not the case. Harbaugh decided to bring him back and resurrect his career. Fans were more than skeptical about this decision because he was an unproven quarterback and was thought to be overrated. Harbaugh was the absolute perfect coach to help Alex Smith though. He’s a players’ coach, a former NFL quarterback, and he’s extremely smart and creative with his offense. With this mentoring, Alex Smith has become a relevant quarterback once again and has put him relatively good numbers all season. With a confident quarterback leading the way, the 49ers have great chemistry because they are all fierce competitors, hard workers, and talented players that all believe they can win every game.
Sometimes a sport team can have more influence over others than one would think possible. After the Giants won the World Series, Bay Area fans became very emotional because they could relate to this team. Everybody knew what it felt like to be the underdog and to have all the odds against them. The Giants knew how important they became to the city, so the team and the fans became united. Their winning formula seems to have shifted over the 49ers now. After many years of suffering, 49ers fans can finally watch quality football again. Hopefully the 49ers can surprise the Bay Area like the Giants did by making it to the Super Bowl. Both the Giants and 49ers based their game plans on strong defense, coaching, and chemistry, and this has lead to success for both teams. Along with their winning records, their underdog mentality becomes addictive and inspiring to fans. Sports teams can be powerful figures, especially when lead by misfits.