Archive

Tag Archives: Colin Kaepernick

Yesterday I detailed how Colin Kaepernick’s extension seems to be a pretty great deal for both sides. Kaepernick will be among the top paid handful of players in the league so long as he or the team performs at a truly elite level. The 49ers will recoup several million dollars should that fail to happen. This contract ought to anchor the 49ers talented roster for years to come, possibly into the next decade. But will Kaepernick’s contract create a dynasty on par with that of Joe Montana’s four Super Bowl championships? Probably not.

Whether Kaepernick’s yearly cap hits end up being closer to $16, $18, or $20 million remains to be seen, but no matter what that money cannot go to anyone else on the team. Under Jim Harbaugh, who has coached in three NFC championship games in his three years with the team, the 49ers have yet to pay a premium for their quarterback services.

Season Starting QB Cap Hit % of Cap League Average % of Cap
2011 Alex Smith $4,900,000 4.08% $6,478,783 5.40%
2012 Alex Smith $9,250,000 7.67% $8,257,642 6.85%
2012 Colin Kaepernick $1,164,613 0.97% $8,257,642 6.85%
2013 Colin Kaepernick $1,397,535 1.14% $10,293,699 8.37%

Under Harbaugh the 49ers had one season when Alex Smith cost the same as a league-average starter1, and the other two years the 49ers’ starting quarterback cost them very little relative to the rest of the league. Getting quality quarterback play for such low cap hits gave the 49ers that much more money to add and retain talent elsewhere. And in 2014, Kaepernick’s cap hit remains a scant $3.767 million. But after that?

Year Cap Hit
2014 $3,767,444
2015 $17,265,753
2016 $18,765,753
2017 $21,365,753
2018 $21,865,753
2019 $21,200,000
2020 $23,400,000

Over the six-year extension (2015-2020), Kaepernick’s average cap hit is $20.644 million. Again, that could fall a few million in some seasons, depending on his and the team’s performance, but it will be at least $16-$18 million every year, if not more. It is not known what the salary cap will be in those years,2 but since 19993 the cap has, on average, increased each year by 7.15 percent. This is not, by any means, a perfect predictor of what the cap increases will look like going forward, but it may be close.4 If the cap increases roughly as it has in the past,5 what will Kaepernick’s contract amount to as a percentage of team spending?

Season Kaepernick’s Cap Hit (Overly Simplistic) Projected Salary Cap Percent of Salary Cap
2015 $17,265,753 $142,509,500 12.12%
2016 $18,765,753 $152,698,929 12.29%
2017 $21,365,753 $163,616,903 13.06%
2018 $21,865,753 $175,315,511 12.47%
2019 $21,200,000 $187,850,570 11.29%
2020 $23,400,000 $201,281,886 11.63%

Jim Harbaugh is a terrific football coach, but he has never had his team spend such a high share of its budget on the starting quarterback. General manager Trent Baalke and Paraag Marathe and Co. have never had less money to spend on the other 45 players who will suit up on game day. Quarterback is the most important position, but there are 10 other guys on offense, and 11 other guys on defense, and three unique guys on special teams, too, and some backups, and they all matter to some degree. Even if Kaepernick’s contract diminishes some, and the cap increases more than the 7.15 percent average annual rate of the past, the 49ers will still likely spend 10 percent of their available funds on Kaepernick every season.

Teams spending so much on their quarterbacks can win the Super Bowl. But it is not easy.

Year Super Bowl Winning QB % of Team’s Salary Cap Super Bowl Losing QB % of Team’s Salary Cap
1999 Kurt Warner 1.31% Steve McNair 10.60%
2000 Trent Dilfer N/A Kerry Collins N/A
2001 Tom Brady 0.46% Kurt Warner 3.46%
2002 Brad Johnson 9.56% Rich Gannon 5.22%
2003 Tom Brady 4.42% Jake Delhomme 2.37%
2004 Tom Brady 6.28% Donovan McNabb 9.69%
2005 Ben Roethlisberger 4.94% Matt Hasselbeck 7.72%
2006 Peyton Manning 8.38% Rex Grossman 1.50%
2007 Eli Manning 10.75% Tom Brady 6.73%
2008 Ben Roethlisberger 7.11% Kurt Warner 5.17%
2009 Drew Brees 8.42% Peyton Manning 18.88%
2010 Aaron Rodgers N/A Ben Roethlisberger N/A
2011 Eli Manning 11.75% Tom Brady 10.79%
2012 Joe Flacco 6.63% Colin Kaepernick 0.97%
2013 Russell Wilson 0.55% Peyton Manning 14.23%

Reliable data for the salaries of Dilfer and Collins back in 2000 was not available, and in 2010 there was no salary cap.6 But in the other 13 seasons since 1999, 26 unique teams made the super bowl. Only six of those 26 teams paid their quarterback more than 10 percent of the salary cap: the 1999 Titans (McNair), the 2007 Giants (E. Manning), the 2009 Colts (P. Manning), the 2011 Giants (E. Manning), the 2011 Patriots (Brady), and the 2013 Broncos (P. Manning). (Whole lotta’ Mannings comin’ at ya.) Only a small minority of recent Super Bowl teams had crossed the 10 percent threshold with their starting quarterbacks. What does it all mean? Are the 49ers’ Super Bowl dreams dashed?

Perhaps not, at least not completely. Five of those six teams come from 2007 or later, with four coming from the last eight teams to play in the Super Bowl. Fans keep hearing it, and not without reason: the game really has changed significantly, even since I started watching football 15 years ago. More than ever, it is a passing league. Quarterback salaries are, literally and figuratively, on the rise, not only in absolute terms but relative to other positions. That the 49ers will spend more than 10 percent of their budget on their starting quarterback every year may not be ideal, but it makes a lot more sense now than it would have 15 or even 10 years ago. And this is not just any starting quarterback we have been talking about; it’s Colin Kaepernick.

Nonetheless, with two more years on his contract, Russell Wilson remains the envy of every general manager in the league. Not to overreact, but at what point do we start discussing rather Wilson is the greatest draft pick of all time?7 If the Seahawks win the Super Bowl again next year? Peyton Manning is still probably better than Wilson, but his share of the Broncos’ cap when they met in the Super Bowl last season was nearly 30 times larger than Wilson’s. The Seahawks had a lot more money to spend elsewhere. We all saw what happened.

The 49ers, meanwhile, have a powerful opportunity this year, with Kaepernick only taking up 2.8 percent of their funds. After that, the road gets tougher, with every draft pick, every low-budget signing becoming that much more important. Hopefully the 49ers can pull out a Super Bowl win in the next seven years, maybe two with a bit of luck. But do not expect an NFC championship game appearance every year, Harbaugh or no. It’s just too darned expensive to keep getting there.


  1. The average cap hits of the top 25 paid quarterbacks in each year, according to OvertheCap.com. I use the top 25 because though there are 32 teams and therefore, technically, at least 32 starters, the dregs of the league tend to see high turnover rates and are not really “true” starters, due to poor play, repeated injuries, or what have you. 
  2. Kaepernick’s cap hits escalate every season, as the salary cap is expected to, so Kaepernick’s percent of the whole cap will hopefully change little year to year, even as the 49ers pay him millions more. 
  3. 1999 is something of an arbitrary end point; the modern salary cap really began in 1994. For some other findings in this piece I didn’t find much data before 1999, but most of the data after 1999 is available, so I am keeping it consistent. Something of a nice coincidence, as the Titans-Rams Super Bowl following the 1999 season (played in 2000) is the first one I remember watching in its entirety. 
  4. Most increases were five to six percent, with a couple outliers wherein the league drastically increased the amount of money teams can spend. Since the new collective bargaining agreement, the 2012 salary cap was 0.5 percent more than 2011’s, 2013 was 2 percent more than 2012’s, and now 2014’s is 8.13 percent more than 2013’s, so who really knows what the hell the league will do. 
  5. Again, this is not guaranteed to happen. It is a very, very, very simplified estimate, not a concrete prediction. 
  6. Salary data from Spotrac.com 
  7. Yes, Tom Brady went in the 6th round. But Brady was not drafted to be who he is today; he was clearly a backup coming out of camp and fell into the Patriots’ lap as a great player when Bledsoe was injured. The Seahawks took Wilson in the third round with the intention of him competing to start from day one, and that is exactly what happened. Goodness, how they have reaped the rewards. 
Advertisements

Kaepernick Signs Extension

Last Wednesday the San Francisco 49ers signed quarterback Colin Kaepernick to a six-year extension. On top of the one year remaining on his rookie deal, the 49ers now own his rights through the 2020 NFL season. Needless to say, Mr. Kaepernick was pretty excited about the prospect of earning $126 million to play football.

Kaepernick Deal

The Six Million Dollar Man…times twenty-one.

And, needless to say, 49ers fans were pretty excited as well.

See Kaepernick Make Money

Yet, even in the moment, there were some doubts. Averaging $21 million a year over the extension would currently make Kaepernick the second-highest paid player in the NFL, after Aaron Rodgers. And $61 million guaranteed is the most any player has ever received, eclipsing the $58 million the Denver Broncos guaranteed Peyton Manning in 2012. Despite some struggles, Kaepernick has clearly been a keeper since emerging as the starter, especially since his electric, dynamic, record-breaking, many adjective performance against the Green Bay Packers in the 2012 NFC Playoffs.

See Kaepernick Run

But, even for the above, even in the NFL, $21 million a year with $61 million guaranteed is A Lot of money. Or so it seemed in the moment. In the aftermath some key details emerged.

The Deal Is in the Details

Kaepernick’s cap hit for the coming season remains very low, with only $3 million of his prorated $12 million extension signing bonus adding on to a base salary of $645 thousand. (That is, $3,000,000 onto a base salary of $645,000 for a cap hit less than $4,000,000.)

And of the $61 million guaranteed, only $13 million is fully guaranteed. His 2015 salary (amounting to nearly $15 million all told) only guarantees if he is on the roster on April 1st, 2015. His 2016 and 2017 salaries also guarantee only if he is on the roster in April of those years. Roughly $5 million of his 2018 salary guarantees for being on the roster in April of 2018, and after 2018 nothing is guaranteed. Throughout the extension, the 49ers can evaluate Kaepernick’s contract at the end of each season and decide whether to continue or release him at minimal cost.

And it gets better. For every year that the 49ers do not appear in the Super Bowl and Kaepernick is not selected a 1st or 2nd Team All-Pro, Kaepernick loses $2 million a season. But as soon as the 49ers do appear in the Super Bowl or Kaepernick is selected as an All-Pro, that $2 million kicks in for every year left on the deal. The 49ers or Kaepernick must be in the top two league-wide for one season, or Kaepernick will lose $2 million each year until that happens.

Kaepernick also loses some money if, for whatever reason, he does not play. From 2015-2020, $12 million comes via $125,000 per-game roster bonuses. Throughout the extension, for each game Kaepernick is not on the active roster the 49ers keep $125,000. And, in after-tax dollars, he must purchase a $20 million disability policy to be paid to the 49ers should his career end in injury.

 

A Win-Win, Unless They Lose…

All of these details make the deal pretty terrific, for both sides. If the worst should happen, the 49ers really only lose the $12-plus million signing bonus and some change. Until both Kaepernick and the 49ers play at a truly elite level (as indicated by Kaepernick being a 1st or 2nd Team All-Pro or the 49ers reaching the Super Bowl), the 49ers retain $2 million of the deal per season. The deal’s dead money drops to a manageable $5 million by the 2017 season, and disappears completely by 2019.

Most likely, the 49ers will pay Kaepernick lots and lots of money, but it is about as risk-free as a deal for a starting NFL quarterback can be. 49ers beat writer Matt Maiocco remarked that Kaepernick had bet on himself, and so too has the 49ers front office bet on themselves. It is an expensive deal, but a low-risk deal, a fair deal, a great deal, a many adjective deal.

But…

As a fan, I could not be happier for Colin Kaepernick, and I could not ask for more from 49ers chief contract negotiator and salary cap architect Paraag Marathe. This contract may cement the 49ers as a team to be reckoned with into the next decade, and 49ers fans will get to enjoy one of the league’s most exciting players every game. Will they win the Super Bowl during Kaepernick’s six-year extension? Maybe…but history indicates it may be a bit tougher going forward. Check back tomorrow for more.

First, here are the numbers on Bethea. Player performance grades come from Pro Football Focus; salary information from Spotrac.com; all averages and rankings are position specific; and a player’s contract quality is the number of standard deviations his performance is above/below the average minus the number of standard deviations his average annual salary is above/below the average.

Age: 29 (30 on July 27th)
Old Team: Indianapolis Colts
Old Contract: 4 years/$26 million, $6.5 million average (9th highest of 85 safeties)
2013 PFF Grade: -2.9 (52nd)
2013 Contract Quality: -2.08 (81st)
New Team: San Francisco 49ers
New Contract: 4 years/$23 million, $5.75 million average (projected 12th highest)

Last season, Bethea’s below-average on-field contributions were worth about two million. It is worth mentioning that his performance was not just below the league average, but below his personal career average. In 2007 (his second year in the NFL) he was PFF’s seventh highest graded safety (6.4 grade) of the 80 who played 25% or more of their teams’ snaps; in 2008 he was 17th (5.7) of 83; in 2009 25th (3.5) of 88; in 2010 16th (7.2) of 85; in 2011 21st (3.7) of 87; and in 2012 69th (-4.2) of 88. These numbers suggest his play has fallen off, but they do not say why.

Perhaps Bethea lost a step as he neared 30; perhaps he did not fit as well in Coach Pagano’s system. Regardless, his decline in play does not necessarily mean he has lost a lot of his value. Through his previous contract Bethea’s on-field worth averaged roughly $4 million. The Colts paid him $6.5 million, and the 49ers just decided to pay him $5.75 million on the other side of 30. Why would they do that?

A recent article by 49ers beat writer Matt Maiocco hints at the answer. Maiocco’s post, “Bethea provides ‘smart, steady’ leadership in 49ers secondary“, notes that in addition to eight years of NFL experience:

“Bethea is viewed as a ‘good locker room guy’ and great in the community.”

General manager Trent Baalke has demonstrated a reluctance to chase the high-priced free agent who may disrupt team chemistry. Baalke’s signing of Bethea not only underscores Baalke’s philosophy, but indicates just how much the 49ers value teamwork, isolated from talent. Bethea’s professional demeanor and strong character are seemingly worth $2-4 million or so, at least to some NFL front offices.

As always, it is likely other considerations play into his value. With two prior Pro Bowl appearances Bethea may emerge as a fan favorite, or at least a recognizable presence in the defensive backfield. And, though his talent may be slipping, Bethea has not had injury problems. Nor has he stooped to committing penalties; Maiocco reports that he was not called for a single infraction last season. That, at least, would be a welcome change from Whitner, who was whistled eight times.

The bottom line for Whitner ended up being the $7 million a year the Cleveland Browns were willing to give him. The 49ers, meanwhile, will be paying his replacement more than $1 million fewer each season. Perhaps best of all, 49ers games will finally be rid of out-of-date stories discussing a potential name change to Donte Hitner. Oh, and we have another million and change for a few years to maybe work out a deal with Colin Kaepernick. And if the intangibles of an NFL safety cost into the millions, surely a team needs every cent for a quarterback’s.

Most football analysis requires expertise. But some plays, even amid unknown audibles, blocking schemes, options, etc, are simple enough for the common fan (such as myself, or yourself) to understand. Sometimes it is clear that no matter what else was going on, player X beat player Y for a big play. Let’s look at two very similar, very big plays from the 49ers 23-10 victory over the Panthers in the NFC Divisional Round game from last Sunday.

Up 7-6 with 6:35 left to go in the second quarter on a first and goal from the 49er seven, Cam Newton rushes around left end before NaVorro Bowman tackles him at the one for a six yard gain.

Here is the scene at the snap. Bowman is the right inside linebacker on this play, next to Patrick Willis, their other inside linebacker, who is standing on the hash marks five yards behind the line of scrimmage. Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey is lined up in front of Willis, directly over center with his left hand in the grass at the line of scrimmage.

Screenshot (2)Three seconds later the Panthers have four blockers to handle the three 49ers on the left edge at the line of scrimmage, between the six and seven yard lines. Newton’s chances of reaching the end zone look good. Panthers guards Travelle Wharton and Chris Scott–numbers 70 and 75–are closing in on Bowman, number 53. Center Ryan Kalil has moved Dorsey–number 90–back a couple yards, but Dorsey is still upright and in pursuit.Screenshot (6)Wharton engages Bowman on the five yard line, just in front of the rushing Newton. Dorsey–number 90–has shed Kalil–number 67–but he likely will be unable to move his 297 pounds into Newton’s path in time; Scott–number 75–sees him coming into the play.Screenshot (9)Now Wharton is blocking air, and Newton–number one–is going down, grabbed by the mostly hidden Bowman. Scott has broken away from Bowman and moves to block Dorsey, number 90. This has all happened in one second, from 6:32 on the game clock to 6:31.Screenshot (11)And what just happened, exactly? Let’s take another look, Joe! This is another view from the instant replay provided by FOX.  Newton breaks around the edge as Wharton–number 70–moves to block Bowman.

Screenshot (49)Wharton engages Bowman. Scott–number 75–sees Dorsey coming in. The Panthers look all set to escort Newton into the end zone.Screenshot (51)Bowman starts to shed Wharton and clear his path to Newton, number one. Scott–number 75– breaks towards Dorsey, number 90.Screenshot (53)Bowman, having freed himself of Wharton, and with his teammate Dorsey occupying Scott’s attention, meets Newton head-on at the five yard line. Just from these screen shots, it seems that if Newton had cut left around Wharton, he would have scored. Watching in real-time reveals that Bowman purposefully sheds Wharton in this direction to meet Newton after Newton had already cut inside.1

Screenshot (55)And there is our hero, emerging triumphant from the pile at the one yard line. Dorsey himself ended up getting in there too; he is the horizontal 49er next to Bowman.Screenshot (58)At the time Bowman’s outstanding effort (along with the teamwork of Dorsey, not to mention the other nine 49ers out there) seemed trivial. The Panthers would still have second and goal from the one yard line. The 49ers defense, as indicated by plays such as this, and their previous goal line stand, is certainly good, but generally even bad offenses against good defenses are going to score a touchdown given second and goal from the one. Brian Burke, of Advanced NFL Stats, noted on Twitter that in the past two seasons, the 49ers had given up touchdowns on 10 of 15 plays from their own one yard line. But they did not this time. The held the Panthers through third down, and Ron Rivera quite unwisely2 opted for a field goal. Bowman’s tackle, aided by Dorsey’s continual pursuit, saved four points.

Up 13-10 with 8:59 left in the third quarter on a second and goal from the Panther four, Colin Kaepernick rushes around left end and scores a touchdown.

This is the snap. Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence is following 49ers wide receiver Quinton Patton–number 11– to the offense’s left side. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is lined up on the goal line just to the referee’s right; safety Mike Mitchell is at the near hash marks, on the goal line to the right of Kuechly. 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree is wide left, with Anquan Boldin in the left slot.

Screenshot (19)Kaepernick breaks left, following Patton. But left tackle Joe Staley is down on the goal line after having missed his block on Luke Kuechly, now at the two yard line on the far hash marks and breaking into the play. The corner Florence, originally chasing Patton, is now a yard deep in the end zone, also unblocked, and seemingly in good position to stop Kaepernick. The safety Mitchell is moving in from the two yard line on the near hash marks. Patton is now Kaepernick’s only blocker for the three Panthers.Screenshot (21)Patton engages Mitchell, but Kuechly is covering the lane to Kaepernick’s right, and Florence the lane to the left.Screenshot (22)Kaepernick (or “Fleetfeet”, as is about to become appropriately apparent) breaks left. Mitchell–number 21–has released off of Patton and is closing in. Kuechly–number 59– has come around them both and is also closing in. Florence is also closing in–wait, no, he is heading up field and taking himself completely out of the play, unless merely brushing Kaepernick with his outstretched hand will suffice. Boldin and Crabtree, in the lower left, finish their blocks on the outside.Screenshot (25)Kaepernick dashes past Florence and Mitchell, and Kuechly reaches out with his right hand…Screenshot (26) …and gets nothing. Kaepernick strides into the end zone.Screenshot (27)Touchdown 49ers! Screenshot (28)None of the three Panthers–not Florence, not Mitchell, not Kuechly–even register a missed tackle, because they do not even get close enough to attempt one. But all three of them miss Kaepernick, Florence by far the hardest of all. His poor angle, combined with Kaepernick’s speed, were enough for a touchdown, despite the fact that the 49ers blockers were outnumbered.

The Panthers are a very good football team. These two plays show how the 49ers beat them.3 Being a little bit stronger, a little bit faster, and making better snap judgements (whom to block, what angle to take) a little more quickly is often all the difference in the NFL.


  1. Unfortunately video of the play, outside of NFL Game Rewind, seems to be unavailable. 
  2. Personally, I have never been so delighted to see my team’s opponents kick a field goal in my entire life. I am not even going to break out Brian Burke’s fourth down calculator and check to see what the baseline percentages for going for it are. Remember that earlier 49ers goal line stand? Remember how when the 49ers offense took over the ball on their own half yard line, they were so concerned about a safety/blocked punt/etc that they ran a quarterback sneak on first and ten? Remember on when Colin Kaepernick almost threw an interception inside his ten yard line? Remember when Andy Lee punted after the three and out and Ted Ginn Jr. returned the ball to the 49er thirty-one yard line, and the Panthers scored a touchdown on the next play? Remember how seven points is more than twice as many as three? Even if the Panthers had not converted yet again, they would still have been in great shape. 
  3. There were some questionable calls by the referees. They seemingly missed catching the 49ers with 12 men in the huddle; however, apparently they did notice this, but as they had not marked the ball as “ready to play” this did not warrant a penalty. More outrageously, they did not call Anquan Boldin for a headbutt, despite calling Carolina’s Captain Munnerlyn4 for one earlier. And there was also a questionable unnecessary roughness call on the 49ers’ first drive. But then, there was also one on a terrific Dan Skuta sack of Cam Newton. And they let four extra seconds run off the clock on Vernon Davis’ end-zone-catch-eventually-ruled-touchdown, which would have robbed the 49ers of a final chance at a touchdown if the call had gone the other way, so… maybe this is not the big conspiracy theory Panthers fans have been calling it? 
  4. Inception footnotes! Captain Munnerlyn is his given name. He is not one of the Panthers’ captains. 

The final game of the 2013-14 NFL Wildcard Round ended about 46 hours ago. I returned back to Chicago from my day trip to Green Bay about 42 hours ago. That is not enough time for me to process and properly express just How. Freaking. Awesome. going to that game was. But likely there will never be enough time, so here I go.

Road to Lambeau

the view from my apartment’s front door, 9 a.m. 1/5/14

After a plan to leave at 8 a.m, and a contingency plan to leave at 8:30, we left a little after 9, after five Mexicans helped get the car out of the snow. Just don’t ask. Then we were on the road…

four (!) snow plows lead the way north up Lake Shore Drive; slower, but safer?

four (!) snow plows lead the way north up Lake Shore Drive; slower, but safer?

…Where eventually much friendlier road conditions welcomed us in Wisconsin. At least their manifestation of the polar vortex1 didn’t involve roads covered in ice and swirling in snow.

the view after crossing into Wisconsin, realm of Mars Cheese Castle

the view after crossing into Wisconsin, realm of Mars Cheese Castle

We stopped at a Walmart in Sheboygan to change into our battle gear (five upper body layers for me, three for my legs, the thickest wool socks, boots, a gaiter, hat and gloves). Like every other entity (living and otherwise) in the region, the Walmart seemed to be supporting the Packers.

IMG_4331

an entire section devoted to Green Bay Packer slippers

Now ready, Green Bay was on the horizon!

whoot whoot

are we there yet? almost…

And it turned out, I would not be the only 49ers fan at this game! An Alex Smith jersey! Alright!

fans head to the game on S Aneida St

fans head to the game on S Aneida St

And then we were there!

Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI

Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI

After paying a Green Bay homeowner $20 to let us park in their driveway (what all the cool kids do on game days), this was the scene at the gate:

Curly Lambeau wants YOU! to root for the Packers

Curly Lambeau wants YOU! to root for the Packers

Note the open containers in the bottom left corner (small and blurry as they are). They were everywhere. Right before taking this picture two guys shouted out “ANYONE WANT A BEER?”. I would have taken more pictures but doing so required un-gloving my hands, which became unpleasant after five seconds and alarmingly cold after one minute.

Lambeau Field, brought to you by Miller Lite

Lambeau Field, brought to you by Miller Lite

But before I had time to really be cold, this was happening:

national anthem selfie!

national anthem selfie!

And then this:

sdf

first play from scrimmage

AAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUGGGGGHHHHHHH!

The Atmosphere

Goodness. I’ve written before about the lack of momentum in sports, and coaches’ flawed decision-making, etc. The inefficiencies of the game. Well like most things, it’s one thing to talk about that in the abstract and a whole different thing to believe it on the field. I still do “believe” in numbers on the field, but wow, is it hard. I’m guessing it’s because I know and understand these things as scientific truths, what probability means and how it works, that home field advantage manifests itself by the fans affecting the referees, not the players2, that Aaron Rodgers isn’t more likely to throw for a touchdown on this drive just because he did on the last one3, etc. I know those things are true, scientifically. But damn, the game is something of an art form, too. Having been there, it’s amazing to me that the 49ers won.

It’s LOUD. There is no yellow line on the field indicating a first down, no live aerial view of the defense. Breathe, and your exhaust poofs in front of your face, impairing your vision. There are well-to-do mothers of four, ‘F’-ing soccer moms, screaming they want you dead, along with 70,000 other people, many of whom are drunk, who’ve spent hundreds of dollars and hours of time to see you lose, and every time you succeed, they get angry. Oh, and you’re supposed to play football in a windchill of negative 10. Just another hum-drum road game in Lambeau Field. Duh, of course all that’s going on! It goes on all the time, in pretty much every road game in professional sports. It’s amazing, and easy to forget, just hearing the general roar on television. But it isn’t general. It’s personal. This is Green Bay. This is where the Packers play football, and where they win football.

The 49ers (as well as the Packers) are pros. By and large they were focused, by and large they executed. And they won. And they weren’t the only road team to do so last weekend, joining the Saints and the Chargers. It’s crazy that professional athletes can do that. Imagine doing your job, or public speaking, in that environment. I would probably bail within five minutes. No wonder these guys make millions.

The Fans

I certainly haven’t been around the block in terms of professional sports games, but Packers fans must have a strong case for being the best. From what I could tell, there were two other 49ers fans in our section, one of whom was a few seats down from me wearing a 49ers beanie (like a jack@#%, in my opinion). While refraining from physical violence, nearby fans addressed him as “@#%hat”. And there I was, with my 49ers throw wrapped around my chest, tightly secured underneath two jackets lest it slip out and reveal my true identity.4

Despite my preparation, I had not adequately readied behavior. How many team-unspecific cheers are there? I should have had a ready list. Mostly I used “Focus!”, “Fight!” and just “Go team!”. These were good because even my intensity did not give me away; if it’s particularly important for one team to focus, it usually is for the other team, too. But what was I to do when offered a high-five after a good Packers play? Slap away, of course! In my own way, I was pretty much celebrating the same thing: f^!%ing awesomeness. The Packers made some awesome plays, the 49ers made some awesome plays, the game was freaking awesome, Green Bay is freaking awesome, football is freaking awesome, and a United States of America where all this can happen, just for fun, is, well… awesome.

Ultimately, what might have given me away to those close by was my frequent use of “you guys” when addressing Chaia, my friend and certified coolest person I’ve ever known, who took me to the game. “You guys are playing well.” “You guys have gotten some favorable calls.” “You guys have Aaron Rodgers.” “I can’t believe you guys have Aaron Rodgers.” “You guys don’t even need an offensive line, you have Aaron Rodgers.” You get the idea. And a few people next to us might have as well, but they kept their peace. Point is, you’re the best, Packers fans. I know you’ll be back next year, maybe with a little less bad injury luck.

The Game

The game happened, people watched it, it was incredible, blah-blah. Seriously it was phenomenal. And not actually that cold, avoiding record-setting temperatures with five whole degrees above zero at kickoff (something like -10 with the windchill). It was physical, despite on account of the referees, who let a bunch of stuff go. Before the 49ers’ second field goal, Davon House interfered Michael Crabtree in the end zone, no call. On the Packers’ first touchdown David Bakhtiari wrapped his arms around a rushing Aldon Smith,  no call. Both were right in front of me. Without specifics, I know some of these went the 49ers way as well. And on Rodgers’ miracle fourth down conversion, Evan Dietrich-Smith went for Ray McDonald’s neck to keep him at bay. Of course in the end, as before, it was Kaepernick’s fleet feet that stood out the most, personally at least. And here we were at the final play of the game:

Dawson sets to kick field goal on final play

Dawson sets to kick field goal on final play

49ers 23 – Packers 20. Helluva game.

Additional Photos

the teams get set

the teams get set

excitement!

excitement!

Phil Dawson stands alone...

Phil Dawson stands alone…

not alone!

not alone!

My toes got cold with 8:00 left in the first quarter. I stuffed hand warmers in my boots at half time. Worked for maybe 10 minutes.

My toes got cold with 8:00 left in the first quarter. I stuffed hand warmers in my boots at half time. Worked for maybe 10 minutes.

the end zone

the end zone

Chaia Huff!

Chaia Huff!

9ers win! 9ers win!

9ers win! 9ers win!

... aaaaand, it's still a little chilly outside.

… aaaaand, it was still a little chilly outside.


  1. After going with “Arctic blast,” and then “Arctic outbreak”, the weather people eventually declared it a “polar vortex”. As I understand it, a “polar vortex” is when everyone not wearing at least three layers dies instantly. It doesn’t even matter if you’re inside. Polar vortexes are not to be trifled with. 
  2. See Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won, by Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim, “So What Is Driving the Home Field Advantage?” 
  3. He might be because he figured out the defense, or defensive players were injured and came off the field, etc. That would make him more likely to score on each remaining drive. But the act of scoring on the previous drive, in of itself, is independent of the chances of scoring on the next drive. See here
  4. My plan was to rep my 9ers pride if and only if we lost. Rubbing that in after a win, especially a win like that, is unspeakably low. Plus, if we were in San Francisco, I would want to think that we had filled Candlestick with 49ers fans only, so in Lambeau I deemed it polite to create the analogue. 
%d bloggers like this: