The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Masoud: It’s Harbaugh Time (Nov. 10)

Chris Masoud | Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cue the lights and the dramatic Monday Night Football music. Cue the football at Candlestick Park in January. Cue the red and gold in the playoffs.

Playoffs? Yep, I want to talk about playoffs, and it’s been almost a decade since the San Francisco 49ers reached them. The franchise’s last postseason victory ranks as one of the greatest playoff comebacks of all time, a 24-point come-from-behind win over the New York Giants in the 2002 NFC Wildcard game.

Since then, the once-great franchise has fallen into mediocrity and disappointment. Joe Montana and Steve Young were succeeded by Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey. Management drafted Alex Smith as the No. 1 overall pick instead of Aaron Rodgers in 2005, a move fans have yet to come to terms with.

The irreplaceable Bill Walsh, the innovator of the West Coast offense, and Steve Mariucci were followed by Dennis Erickson and Mike Nolan. The GOAT, Jerry Rice, will also never be replaced, but no one has even come close to filling the gap at wide receiver since Terrell Owens left for Philadelphia.

But at 7-1, the 49ers own the second-best record in the league behind only undefeated Green Bay and compete in possibly the worst division the league has ever seen. A 25-19 win over the Detroit Lions on Oct. 16 was our coming-out party. While completely blown out of proportion, the subsequent media-labeled “handshake-gate” (do we have to add “-gate” to anything remotely controversial to catch someone’s attention?”) gave the team the national spotlight it has been missing since it captured its fifth Super Bowl title in 1994.

More importantly, it revealed an unmistakable culture shift that has gripped hold of the locker room, and it all starts with the head coach, Jim Harbaugh.

Yes, he’s arrogant, loud and probably still wishes he could suit up and take the field. But he also likes to run up the score against USC, has an NFL pedigree and sure knows how to coach, taking Andrew Luck and a Stanford program mired in mediocrity to the top of the Pac-12 and near the top of NCAA football.

While less physically gifted than Luck, Smith has gone through six different offensive coordinators in as many years. A former quarterback himself, Harbaugh finally resembles the mental stability Smith needs to be successful — that, and a healthy Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards.

Four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Patrick Willis anchors a stifling defense that is tops in the NFC. David Akers has found new life by the Bay, and Ted Ginn, Jr. is always a threat to run back a punt (he’s already done it twice in one game).

One of my favorite scenes in “Gladiator” is of Proximo talking in private with Maximus in his chambers after the General dismantles a set of provincial gladiators prior to their departure for Rome.

Proximo: “After five years of scratching around in flea-infested villages, we’re finally going back to where we belong — the Coliseum.”

The NFC West is very much a flea-infested village, and it’s been almost 10 years since the 49ers played in front of a playoff crowd at Candlestick — but it’s where we belong.

So I’m drinking the Harbaugh Kool-Aid, as I will be while fighting the tryptophan when the 49ers take on the Ravens in the Harbaugh Bowl on Thanksgiving. While our following in northern Indiana is small, look for the 49er faithful in our puffy red and gold this winter.

“Who’s got it better than us? — Nobody.”