Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
For the San Francisco 49ers there was so much hope going into the 2018 season. Whether it was Jimmy Garoppolo having a full offseason in the offense or the addition of Jerick McKinnon and how Head Coach Kyle Shanahan would incorporate him into the offense, or even a young defense that looked like it was ascending fans had plenty of reasons to look forward to this season. That house of cards began to crumble with the unfortunate ACL tear that McKinnon suffered the weekend before the season began, it was further exasperated when WR Marquise Goodwin suffered a deep quad bruise week one against the Vikings and is still dealing with it more than a month later (Goodwin recently stated that fluid had to be drained in the area). The final blow was the ACL tear that Garoppolo endured when he tried to do too much against the Chiefs, that along with a defense that has struggled with the basic fundamentals of the game and is still missing key elements needed to succeed in today’s game sealed the season for the 49ers just five weeks into the season.
Now that’s not to say that the 49ers will not be a competitive team that can win a few games over the course of the rest of the season but the likelihood of them challenging for a playoff spot is effectively over, especially when you consider how tough the NFC will be this season. So the question becomes: How do fans find enjoyment in a season that many consider a lost one? Some will watch out of force of habit, some will hate watch in order to find reasons to bitch and complain, some will look towards the draft and free agency while others will look for positives from the current team that can be carried into 2019. Much like the stages of grief, every fan is subject to fall into this crowd throughout the season, throughout a week, hell even through the course of a game.
For the force of habit crowd watching games that “they can’t win” can be a difficult proposition to justify. As of right now the 49ers have the 4th toughest strength of schedule the rest of the season and if the injuries keep piling up the chances of them winning will become more and more unlikely. So why does this group continue to watch? Those that I have spoken with indicated that its out of love and tradition that this group continues to watch. It's been ingrained in them to wake up every Sunday or Monday or even Thursday ready to watch their beloved team regardless of their talent level, record or standing in the division. Doesn’t matter if it is in front of their TV or in the stands in Levi’s they root for them. When they watch the games they’ll often think back to the memories they had of the team when they were younger or the ones created with their friends and family. Their enjoyment comes from the legacy that they has been built.
Ah, the hate watch group, this is a really fascinating group to analyze because of their motivation for continuing to watch games during a down season. They’ll publicly state that they are “done with this team”, “done with this season” or “I have better things to do” but yet when its game day they are as vocal a crowd as there can be in a fanbase, especially one like the 49ers. The enjoyment for this group comes in being contrarians, in “being objective not homers”. They will criticize the players, the coaches, the front office, even the ownership group is subject to their wraith. They are looking for confirmation bias for the narrative that they have already built in their heads regardless of the player, position group or side of the ball. When they are proven right they will never shut up about it but when they are wrong you’ll never hear a peep out of them.
The “looking to the draft and free agency” is an interesting group of any fanbase, especially when one like the 49ers. With the advent of social media, especially Twitter this is a group that focuses as much on Saturday as they do on Sundays. They’ll retweet articles, video clips and gifs of players that they have fallen in love with and already envision on the team. The season extends beyond the regular season and are generally more focused on the All-star game circuit and when pro days happen than regular fans. They hit up Spotrac & OverTheCap to look at the contract structure of potential free agents, they will search various beat writers throughout the league to see what they are writing/saying about the future of these players. They enjoy the hope that the draft brings, what free agency will bring. The belief is that there will be that franchise level player that gets added and changes the course of things. That Twitter GM portion of the fanbase can be a intelligent group but they could also be an irrational one that is prone to emotional outbursts when the player they covet is either taken before the team picks or they get passed over.
The final group in this discussion centers around the group that tries to find the positives in a down season and looks to project whatever success they have now into the future. For the 49ers that comes in the group of young players that they are beginning to assemble, in the development of 3rd year DT DeForest Buckner into one of the elite 3 Techs in the league, in the possibility of TE George Kittle become the first TE in the history of the franchise to cross the 1,000 receiving yards mark. That so far into the season 1st round pick Mike McGlinchey is everything that they hoped he would be and looks like a franchise level Offensive Tackle. Fred Warner leading all Linebacker with a 14.8% run stop rate. They try to find some semblance of peace in the knowledge that players like Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon will return next season and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is even some cross over with the Twitter GM crowd in the belief that they will end up with a top five to ten pick in a draft class that is deep on EDGE rushers and wide receivers. They may look like an irrational group but their argument is that they are trying to find a way to coup with this season and that part of being a fan is finding a way to enjoy the on the field product.
Regardless of whatever group you may fall into (assuming that you don’t fall into multiple groups) the goal for the rest of the season is to find enjoyment in some aspect of this team. The point of being of a fan is to enjoy the thing you are a fan of, in this case the 49ers. Don’t give up on the season and stop watching; remember there is always next season.
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