Return with me to an age long ago, when weed wasn’t legal in California and Oprah Winfrey was not a viable presidential candidate. Back, back, through the mists of time — to Oct. 29, 2017.
It’s an era that people now refer to simply as “The Bad Time.” Ask an old woman about The Bad Time, and she will drop her eyes and nervously shake her head. No one wants to talk about it, because NFL football in the Bay Area was a nightmare.
And now? Now spring has returned to the fields of Santa Clara and Oakland. Blades of grass are poking out of the turf, and the song of birds has returned to the air. You can say it has been only 2½ months. I say it’s a lifetime.
In a season filled with failures at both ends of I-880, Oct. 29 was a low point.
The 49ers played at Philadelphia that day, and it was ugly. The Eagles won 33-10 and physically pummeled the visitors, knocking at least six 49ers out of the game. Somehow, C.J. Beathard was not one of them. The rookie quarterback was sacked four times and hit repeatedly as the Niners fell to 0-8 for the first time in team history.
At the same time the 49ers sank to their new low, the Raiders were getting throttled in Buffalo. This was another in a series of “must wins” for Jack Del Rio’s team, but the players didn’t get the text. A week earlier the Raiders had appeared to save their season with a stirring, last-play victory against the Chiefs, but they were dreadful in the 34-14 loss to the Bills. They turned over the ball four times, watched the Bills score 27 consecutive points and moped home with a 3-5 record.
Think about where the teams stood at that point.
Yes, the 49ers had shown some life over those eight losses. Beathard looked under-resourced but tough, and people were warming up to the idea of his getting a shot at the starting job in 2018. There wasn’t a high degree of frustration among 49ers fans; we all knew the ’17 season would be a long and forgettable one.
But man, it was getting hard to watch. The roster was tattered by injuries. (Tight end Garrett Celek was one fallen comrade away from playing offensive tackle in that Eagles game.) And the 49ers were inert. After a string of close, competitive losses, they had been crushed by a cumulative score of 73-20 in back-to-back games against Dallas and Philadelphia.
Faith remained high in the ability of rookie head coach Kyle Shanahan, but not in the timetable. It was starting to look like the 49ers were years away from success.
In Alameda, things were even gloomier. Analysts were calling the Raiders the most disappointing NFL team of 2017, and the Buffalo game justified the insult. At the midway point of the season, reality had made its bitter return to Oakland. The Raiders would be leaving for Las Vegas in a couple of years, and the dream of one final Super Bowl for the original locals had become a taunt.
Then came Oct. 30, and the first rumblings of the tectonic shift to follow.