Feschuk: Remember the fearsome 49ers? Neither do they

Illustration by Jason Schneider

Who’s excited about the new NFL season? Get those hands up in the air! Let’s show that we’re psyched for another—PUT THOSE HANDS DOWN, NINERS FANS.

It’s going to be a long year for your team. The Queen famously had an annus horribilis. The San Francisco 49ers are headed for an anus maximus. Translation: They are sooo going to get their asses kicked.

It was a brutal off-season. Justin Smith and Patrick Willis retired. A couple of players got arrested and cut loose. A bunch left through free agency. Several players fell down a well. I believe punter Andy Lee was traded for a lukewarm tostada platter.

ESPN calculates that the roster defections add up to 37 percent of the 49ers’ snaps from 2014—the most lost by any team. In fact, the Niners now retain only seven starters from the team that played in the Super Bowl just 30 months ago. That’s a lot of negative developments, for sure. But it’s not like the off-season was without its upside. For instance, several players learned that 15 minutes could save them 15 percent or more on car insurance.

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Actually, it gets worse. Coach Jim Harbaugh took his pressed khakis and future stress aneurysm to college. Most of his staff is gone, too. And the 49ers will host games at a stadium with a playing field built to handle all the wear and tear you’d expect from an afternoon of picnicking. The turf keeps ripping apart. New sod has been rolled down, only to come up in chunks. Not even the grass wants to be around to see this season unfold.

Could this all be an overreaction? Maybe some new players will step up, and the 49ers will sneak into the playoffs. Anything’s possible, right?

No. Take a look at the roster. Really look at it. Then try to think of anything comparably lousy in any other walk of life. It’s a tall order, unless Creed gets back together. Last season, the 49ers ranked 25th in scoring and 30th in passing yards—and that’s before their offensive line was comprised primarily of Japanese body pillows. In fact, it’s entirely possible the 49ers no longer qualify as a pro football team. At this point, they may just be a loose affiliation of men who enjoy spending time outdoors.

For the record, the most surprising off-season departure was rookie linebacker Chris Borland, who quit football to protect his head and his health. Lately, Borland has been talking to the press, and while it’s hard to criticize a guy for wanting his brain to remain a solid, his “new realizations” about the sport seem a little, um, odd: “It’s like a spectacle of violence, for entertainment, and you’re the actors in it.” Uh, yeah. That didn’t dawn on you in, like, college? Did you think those 80,000 fans were cheering your taste in trousers?

Anyway, you have to feel for new coach, Jim Tomsula, for years an assistant under Harbaugh. The guy finally gets the big promotion and, boom, his linebacker corps consists of NaVorro Bowman and a hologram of a moat. I’m telling you, by week five, Tomsula is going to be so desperate to avoid watching his team play that he’s going to chuck his red flag during the national anthem (“San Francisco is challenging the ruling on the field that the singer nailed the high F”).

Tomsula is trying his best. He’s shown a desire to take pressure off Colin Kaepernick, who regressed last season, and embrace a ground-and-pound approach. In other words, the offence will be so conservative that it’s going to get buzz as Donald Trump’s 2016 running mate.

There’s a killer anecdote in all the stories about the new coach. Back when he was trying to break into coaching, Tomsula lived out of his car for an extended period. He was essentially homeless for a year.

He will soon think of those as the glory days.

This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.

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