There is nothing in your Stadium Builder’s License, not even some sneaky fine print from Jed York, that requires you to ever like the erector set in Santa Clara. So far, the 49ers are giving you little reason. Along with having to travel 42 miles from The City the franchise purports to represent, you also need a GPS-carrying Sherpa guide to find Levi’s Stadium, body armor to protect you from thugs in bathrooms and parking lots and gobs of sunscreen if sitting in east-side seats that largely go unoccupied after halftime.
The place feels more like an extension of the amusement park next door, and the surrounding office parks, than anything remotely reflecting what the 49ers symbolized in San Francisco for decades. And when the team tried to import some semblance of soul in the form of the Candlestick Park foghorn — well, where the hell is the fog in Silicon Valley beyond a few stoned techies?
A supersized Chipotle has taken over your lifelong burrito dive.
So the best way for this $1.3 billion cyberstructure to endear itself to fans, if even possible, is for the residing football team to win games at Levi’s and try to create a sort of home-field advantage. It may shock you to know that the 49ers, amid an unprecedented organizational crash triggered by a bad loss to Seattle the last time the Seahawks were in town, may be showing hints of establishing one. Not that any parades should be planned for Marie P. DeBartolo Way, but they’ve won three of their last four regular-season home games and didn’t completely embarrass themselves in the one loss, to Aaron Rodgers and the potential Super Bowl-champion Green Bay Packers. In fact, if the 49ers happen to beat the reeling Seahawks tonight, I might even dare introduce a home-edge slogan for York.
The Levi’s Zipper.
OK, I’m way ahead of myself.
It was Thanksgiving Night last year when the 49ers as we knew them crumbled in a smoldering heap, when Richard Sherman twice intercepted Colin Kaepernick and then joined Russell Wilson in devouring turkey while sitting with NBC’s Michele Tafoya on the 49ers’ midfield logo. Said Sherman between chomps: “Their fans were saying some pretty vulgar things to us earlier. We always ask our fans to be classy and a first-class organization. So sometimes you should let sleeping dogs lie, so you get this.”
York, almost looking for a reason to fire Jim Harbaugh, went to his trusty Twitter account after the 19-3 no-show and wrote, infamously: “Thank you #49ersfaithful for coming out strong tonight. This performance wasn’t acceptable. I apologize for that.” Since then, Harbaugh’s successor, Jim Tomsula, has produced performances far worse, but because he is York’s hand-picked coach in the ongoing drama, he will receive more rope than he should after signing a four-year, $14 million contract. Rather than drawing motivation from the Sherman slight, Tomsula and his players keep trying to purge All Things Harbaugh as if they never happened.
“I didn’t remember that until you just brought that up,” Tomsula said. “Yeah, I don’t really pay much attention to the pomp and stance around it.”
Pomp and circumstance, Jimmy T meant.
“I’ve got a short-term memory,” receiver Quinton Patton said. “So I don’t remember that.”
“Y’all do what you do,” said Kaepernick, again blaming the media for a scene witnessed by 27 million viewers.
To which Clay Matthews responded, “You ain’t Russell Wilson, bro.”
The Tomsula Era will be judged heavily on his approach to landmark games. And odd as it seems after a 2-4 start marked by unwatchable road blowouts and wildly erratic Kaepernick performances, tonight is a landmark game. The Seahawks, 2-4 after a series of fourth-quarter collapses, had to travel in a short week against a wounded rival that smells blood. If Tomsula indeed is NFL head-coaching material, if Kaepernick indeed is an impact NFL quarterback and the likes of Geep Chryst and Eric Mangini indeed should be coordinating units on an elite level, the 49ers will take advantage of Seattle’s issues and win.
And if not? If Kaepernick’s recent improvement and new snaps-under-center equilibrium dissolves into the same old skittish play against his traditional nemesis (1-5 record, nine interceptions, 54.1 career passing rating against Seattle)? If Mangini can’t devise a way for his vulnerable secondary to cover 6-7 tight end Jimmy Graham? If Tomsula and Chryst are so hellbent on using ballcarrying weapon Carlos Hyde, who has a serious foot problem, that it becomes counterproductive to the offense? Then York again should be tweeting his disappointment afterward, though he won’t because he loves Tomsula and hated Harbaugh.
It should be clear to readers that I miss Harbaugh and think his firing was beyond dumb, one of the most idiotic decisions in American coaching history. A lot of people miss Harbaugh, including — sitting down? — Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, even after the heated dialogue and phony handshakes that dramatized their fierce coaching rivalry dating back to their Stanford and USC days. “He’s a terrific coach,” said Carroll, “and it was a lot of fun playing against him.” He claims to have respect for the new coaching staff, but does admit, “I think they are somewhat different, with different names and faces.” That is code for: These amateurs are the perfect cure for our problems.
How impressive if Tomsula, Kaepernick and all others who’ve served as post-Harbaugh pinatas were to rise up, meet the challenge and keep interest alive in this pathetic, 12-month story. In the two home wins this season, over Minnesota and Baltimore, you may recall Hyde and Patton leaping into the end-zone seats after touchdowns.
“Why not?” Hyde said. “The fans, they believe in us, so why not cheer with them?”
The Levi’s Leap, they’re calling it, which would go well with the Levi’s Zipper.
Whereupon Jed surely would trademark both slogans, put them on T-shirts and try to make more money in his cash-cow stadium. Greed, the owner should know, is tolerated easier with success on the field and smiles in the stands.
That’s how you wash away the Levi’s Blues.
He won’t be trademarking that.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.