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Twisted Allegiances: Reconciling College And Pro Fandom

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For so long, it was never an issue. Cal players just didn’t do much in the NFL. Sure, there were occasional exceptions. Your Doug Briens, your Joe Kapps, your Todd Steussies. But they were the rare exceptions, and there never seemed to be more than a few at a time. And of those few who made it to the NFL, a bona fide pro bowler was even rarer.

But since Tedford’s arrival, it’s become increasingly clear each year: Being a Cal fan and a 49er fan at the same time is hard. Amongst the highlights:

  • With the #1 pick in the draft, the 49ers passed up on Aaron Rodgers to select Alex Smith.* (Twist: NorCalNick, how could you forget that he went to the WORST.POSSIBLE.TEAM Brett Farrrrrrrrrrve’s Packers! Now, I have to root for the Packers???? What have I done to deserve this?)
  • Just a few years later the 49ers desperately needed a wide receiver. Twice San Francisco held late 1st round/early 2nd round picks with DeSean Jackson still on the board. Twice the 49ers passed, instead taking Kentwan Balmer (19 total tackles and 0 sacks in SF) and Chilo Rachal (U$C). This last season turned in part because only one passable WR was on the roster. (Twist: NorCalNick, the key moments from the NFC Championship game came stemmed from our punt returner not being quite so good.....if only Cal had the Wizard Of Returns!)
  • After a decade of irrelevance, the 49ers finally changed their fortunes, renewing the hope of thousands of 49er faithful . . . by hiring noted evil person Jim Harbaugh. [Twist: Why do you keep seeing half the story?? WE ALSO HAVE LAMICHAEL JAMES!!!!!!!!!! Did I murder a nunnery in a past lifetime or something?]

These days you can’t throw a stone without hitting a Golden Bear in the NFL. 40 Bears were in the NFL last year. 6 more were drafted this year. You could field an entire competitive team of Golden Bears that might end up with 6 or 7 pro bowlers! [Twist: And the Seahawks are going to do it or die trying!]

As of right now, 22 NFL franchises have at least one Cal player. One of the few teams without a Bear will likely again be San Francisco.

True, I suppose there’s a shot that Giorgio Tavecchio will supplant veteran David Akers as the field goal kicker. But I think Giorgio was brought on as an undrafted free agent just to provide injury insurance. I’m sure the 49ers will cut him, allowing Giorgio to sign on with the Seahawks. Like always.

Why do you hate Cal, 49ers? It’s not like they haven’t been good to you! Andre Carter was an excellent first round draft pick. Jeremy Newberry was a successful lineman until injuries cut his career short. Other than those two stalwarts Cal players have been few and far between. Tully Banta-Cain had a brief cameo in which it became clear that the 49ers didn’t know how to use him nearly as well as the Patriots did.

Meanwhile, teams I (used to?) hate continue to collect awesome former Bears. Green Bay gets gifted a franchise QB. The Broncos pick up Syd-God and Mikey-Mo. And Seattle keeps collecting Bears like they’re pokemon, and then our heroes get corrupted by Pete Carroll. When will the nightmare end?!

To make matters worse, it’s not like the 49ers have been afraid to fail with other Pac-12 players. Who can forget the immortal reign of Stanford’s Kwame Harris? UCLA’s J.J. Stokes? USC’s Taylor Mays, Chilo Rachal and Israel Ifeanyi? Yuck, Yuck, Yuck. And now that Harbaugh is involved, a steady stream of Stanford UFAs are arriving each year. There are three this year alone (Poor Giorgio)!

This over-long, over-wrought intro finally brings me to the central question: as a Cal fan, how much does your Cal fandom spill into your football fandom? Do you find yourself rooting for Seattle, Green Bay and Philadelphia as much as (if not more than) your original rooting interest? Or are you scandalized that I would even suggest that you should treat the Broncos with anything other than disgust even though two Big Game heroes ply their trade a mile high?**

Personally, the timing of San Francisco’s decade-long nadir and Cal’s decade-long talent boom couldn’t have come at a better or worse time. It was perfect because even though I continued to watch the 49ers get creamed each week, following the exploits of Cal alums kept me interested in the NFL once November and December rolled around. But the timing was awful for sustaining my passion for the 49ers, a transition highlighted by rooting for Green Bay over Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl about as hard as I’ve ever rooted for the 49ers.

Do you sympathize? Are you ashamed of me as a fellow sports fan? I still love my 49ers, flawed-Harbaugh-employing, The-Mike-loving, Rodgers-non-drafting team they may be. But these last few years have shown me how much love I have to give, even if that means occasionally rooting for Pete Carroll by proxy.

Twist: I totally forgot that I have to root for Pete Carroll now if I want to root for my fav Bear of all time, Marshawn! Also, half a dozen other Golden Bears. What cruel irony. What cruel fate. Here is an original soliloquy that I wrote about Pete Carroll that draws from no other source and I totally made it up myself right now:

To Pete, or not to Pete, that is the question:
Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
Or to take Arms against a SeaHawks of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand Natural BEASTMODE STIFF ARMS

In conclusion: Please, San Francisco, draft a Bear. Keep a local hero local. When Randy Moss flames out, give KA21 a shot in Santa Clara. When Justin Smith decides to hang ‘em up, give one of the countless Cal defensive linemen going pro a chance. There are too many great Bears in this league to pass up on!

*Yeah, I know. ‘The 49ers were dysfunctional, they would’ve broken Aaron either physically or emotionally.’ I’ve heard – even made - the argument. Aaron Rodgers is a bad ass who would’ve kicked butt anywhere. I’m tired of 49er fans trying to rationalize the pain away. If Alex Smith survived then Aaron Rodgers damned well would have too.

**I’m of the opinion that Denver needs to have a draft or two in which they take only Cal players, and even then I’m not sure if the Elway/John Lynch/Ed McCaffrey/Elway/More Elway/Additional Elway/An unending stream of Elway stench will wear off. But I’m petty that way.