As is almost always true, the Packer - 49er game this year is a big one. Not because these two teams are fighting it out for home field advantage in the playoffs. The 49ers are all done, and the Packers are one or two losses away from being in the same boat. But as long as there is a chance for the Packers, every game will be huge, as they fight to keep their playoff possibilities alive.
This game will be an interesting one, because it will tell us whether the newly-healthy right thumb is going to carry the Packers anywhere, or whether last week's victory against the Lions was just a fluke. This 49er team is absolutely awful, and if the Packers can't beat them now, you can forget about the playoffs in any event. The 49ers are at 3-7, with a 6 game losing streak going for them, and things have gotten so bad that the local media is not spending much time actually talking about Monday night's game. They know that the 49er season is over, whether the 49ers effectively end the Packers' season as well or not.
As this season has progressed, I have noticed that the 49er fans are dealing with their adversity better than the Packer fans. On the Packer mailing list, the teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing is enough to keep you awake all night long. The 49er fans are dealing with even more adversity, but they seem to be managing pretty well.
I think there are two reasons for this. First, the 49er fan base is the classic example of a fan base that is a mile wide and 2 inches deep. When I moved to the San Francisco area in 1980, they weren't even selling out the games. Then along came 1981, and all of a sudden everyone was on the Niner bandwagon. But now that the dynasty seems finally to have ended, they will move on and find something else to worry about. In other words, the majority of 49er fans just don't care about the team the way that most Packer fans do.
The other thing, of course, is that the circumstances are very different for the two teams. Favre has been injured all year, but presumably he will be healthy next year. Chmura will be back, Ron Wolf will draft some more people to fill more holes. Ray Rhodes may or may not be back, but as long as this team has Brett Favre, they will be a contender for a long time. In the case of the 49ers, there is no particular reason to hope for the future.
In all likelihood, Steve Young will never suit up again, and there is no heir apparent. Jerry Rice is all through as an impact player, and this will probably be his last year. And the salary cap, long deferred, has finally caught up with the 49ers. They had to cut something like $28 million in salaries this year just to meet the cap, and they have to cut something like another $18 million next year. So the 49er fans know that while they have had a long, unbelievable run, this time it is finally over.
That will be obvious Monday night, as the Packers roll to a 31-10 victory. By the end of the game, the only sound from the stands will be the sound of Packer fans (myself included) yelling GO PACK GO!