49ers in London: The Storylines
It’s been an interesting season so far for the San Francisco 49ers, as their 5-2 record has been met with many twists, turns and storylines. It has only gotten more interesting, with their foray into Old Blighty for the second game in this year’s NFL International Series, against the winless Jacksonville Jaguars.
As the Niners prepare for their game at famed Wembley Stadium – their first in London since 2010, when they played the Denver Broncos – there will be a number of interesting storylines to follow, despite the Niners being heavily favored to blow out a team still searching for their first win of the season (0-7). For example:
1) Bradley, We Meet Again. No matter how easy the matchup looks or the 49ers, they cannot take the Jaguars lightly, and it has nothing to do with the “Any Given Sunday” credo. With Jacksonville, they will face a formidable nemesis, that had plagued them all last year on offense – new Jaguars head coach, and former defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, Gus Bradley. Under Bradley, Seattle’s defense limited San Francisco’s offense to a mere 13 points in both meetings, including the December debacle at Qwest Field, in which the Niners were blown out by 29 points. While the defensive unit is not nearly as talented this time around (28th in total defense), the 49ers cannot take any chances, as his defensive schemes could play a role in the effectiveness of San Francisco’s resurgent offense.
2) The 49ers’ European Connection. The way this report tells it, the 49ers are rock stars, in their own right, in Jolly Ol’ England. The staff takes two notable figures that resonate with the locals, in different ways. Defensive Line coach Jim Tomsula made a name for himself in the now-defunct NFL Europe, as head coach of the Rhein Fire, based in Germany, in 2006. He compiled a 6-4 record while with the team. Former British Olympic track star Lawrence Okoye, meanwhile, is a bonafide celebrity as a member of the 49ers, despite not even starting for the team. In both cases, the team may have a number of European fans backing their efforts on Sunday.
3) Another litmus test for European interest in the NFL. This will be the second game played at Wembley – the first time multiple games will be played overseas during the regular season. In the first, on September 29, 83,518 spectators were witness to an exciting matchup between Pittsburgh and Minnesota – a game in which the Vikings stopped a last-minute, potential game-tying drive by the Steelers to win 34-27. In fact, other than two games featuring high-powered Patriots teams against over-matched opponents, many matchups played at Wembley were close ones. With this one expected to be lopsided, it may provide a better picture as to how interested a European audience may be in the NFL. To be fair, attendance has averaged over 82,000 spectators per game, but there are no statistics for foreign vs. native spectators to speak of.
Big Time Timmy Jim Stays in San Francisco
After Giants star RF Hunter Pence was rewarded for a productive two seasons in San Francisco – including serving as the catalyst for a World Series title run in 2012 – with a 5-year, $90 million contract extension, word was going around the rumor mills that another star player’s days were numbered in the City By The Bay.
Turns out that those rumors were greatly exaggerated.
Despite going 10-14 on the season with a 4.37 ERA, fan favorite SP Tim Lincecum received a 2-year, $35 million contract, with a full no-trade clause from the Giants. The move will no doubt appease fans who were lamenting his possible departure after his final start of the 2013 season. It was likely that, had he not signed with the Giants, he may have gone to a low-risk team like his hometown Seattle Mariners, or he could have followed fellow Giants defectors Juan Uribe and Brian Wilson to Los Angeles.
The hope for Lincecum is two-fold – either he will be able to pitch his way back to World Series form and receive a long-term extension from the Giants to end his career in San Francisco; or he will show other teams that he will be worth big money once he returns to the free agent market in 2015.
In any case, any productivity coming out of Lincecum will be a bonus for the Giants, who will no doubt be looking to compete again in the NL West next season, with a revamped pitching staff and the possibility of new talent coming out of this year’s free agent market. It didn’t hurt Lincecum’s value that he threw a 148-pitch no-hitter in July, showing he still had the stuff of an ace pitcher.
Was the deal overpriced? Considering the season Lincecum had just come off of (regardless of his no-hitter), all signs point to yes. Then again, it was a short-term deal that benefited both sides, which is all a fanbase could ask of its team for talent they want to keep. Perhaps it was a hometown penance for the past six years – two Cy Young seasons, as well as playing a major role in two World Series championships, will definitely help a pitcher’s case, despite his recent struggles.
Now, however, Lincecum will most likely view this contract as a two-year audition, for any team willing to spend big money on a long-term deal. It will, at the very least, ensure we will get the very best out of The Freak – no matter what that may look like in the coming seasons.
Clippers to Anaheim: An MSR “What If”
The Clippers have recently made headlines that had everything to do with new head coach Doc Rivers – but not the way that you might have thought.
Then again, when it comes to their “big brother” Lakers, it’s always going to be a headline.
With the new NBA season upon us, the Clippers are already making noise within their own Los Angeles community. According to a recent report, Rivers made the decision to cover up the Lakers’ championship banners that hang above Staples Center during Clippers home games. He explained in a subsequent statement that “it’s our arena when we’re here”:
The culture is changing, and we want to be a winner. To do that, we have to make changes, and the one at Staples Center is one that I thought we needed to make. We don’t leave the Lakers floor down, do we? And they don’t play on the Clippers floor; they take it up. That’s all. […] It’s no disrespect. I have an amazing amount of respect for the Lakers. Having said that, I work for the Clippers, and when we play, it should be the Clippers’ arena. I would say they probably feel the same way when they play. That’s all it is.
This no doubt caused ire in Laker Nation, and droves of Lakers fans were outraged. After all, Rivers was denying Lakers history by covering the banners with blown-up pictures of Clippers players. Now, while I believe Rivers has every right to do so, as he is trying to change the culture, as well as a losing history, for the Clippers, it’s practically a lose-lose situation for the perceived “little brother” in LA.
With that, it did get me thinking: Why should they have to put up with it?
After all, no other teams share an arena – not even the Kings and Warriors, who share an area that only separates the two teams by 80 miles. Furthermore, the Clippers have always had to play second fiddle to the Lakers, ever since they moved from San Diego in 1984, subsequently moving into the Lakers’ home arena in 1999. Before then, the Clippers were playing in venues like the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, and Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim.
Which brings me to my query – why don’t the Clippers just get out of the baggage-filled venue at the Staples Center, and move somewhere else for home games?
Say, the Honda Center in Anaheim?
It would make good sense for a franchise potentially in search for a rebranding. A new city (albeit close to Los Angeles main), and a new stadium that they can solely call their own, could do wonders for the Clippers. It would also benefit the city of Anaheim, who were clamoring for a franchise when the Sacramento Kings were ripe for a relocation in 2011. They would most likely welcome the Clippers – and their local fanbase – with open arms. Then, think of the tie-ins with the city’s history – especially being home to Disneyland. The marketing possibilities would be ridiculous.
However, it does seem like a bit of a pipe dream, considering the franchise is fine where it is – especially with its worldwide visibility in the heart of Hollywood.
Though, considering the drama the team has garnered by simply trying to make themselves at home as a certified roommate to the Lakers, it may serve them best if they move out and strike their own image, by getting their own place.
After all these years under the Lakers’ shadow, it certainly couldn’t hurt.