Barber: Bay Area football is a fumble this fall
The MVP of the 2018 Bay Area football season is Stephen Curry. We don’t need touchdowns at this point, we need diversions.
How did this happen? Sportswriters don’t like to admit to human emotions such as “enthusiasm,” but I was pretty damn excited for football this year. The Raiders had Jon Gruden, the coach everyone had wanted for most of a decade. The 49ers had Jimmy G and a bullet train of momentum. Stanford had somehow enticed the Heisman Trophy runner-up to return for his senior season. Cal, with its good young coach, got people murmuring with a 3-0 start.
Now we stand on a dusty 100-yard wasteland, holding a tattered pom-pom and looking for someone, anyone, who can win a football game.
The bandwagon didn’t all fall apart at once. No, it was a leaky water pump here, a dragging muffler there, a door handle that comes off in your hand. But the result is the same. The 2018 season in pretty much totaled.
If we had any delusions, they disappeared this weekend as the Cardinal and Golden Bears lost in quick succession on Saturday night, and the Raiders and 49ers did the same on Sunday afternoon — all against opponents they might have expected to beat. It had been nearly a decade since the Bay Area went 0-4 on a single football weekend. The last time was Nov. 8-10, 2008. Cal’s only point against USC that week were scored by Giorgio Tavecchio. The Raiders’ quarterback was Andrew Walter.
(Note: If you are a San Jose State alumnus, I do not mean to insult you here. I am trying to let you slip away quietly. The Spartans are currently 0-5.)
Again: How did this happen? How has a season that began with so much sparkle and intrigue become a blooper reel?
Maybe we should blame the Raiders. I believe they cursed the whole endeavor when they traded Khalil Mack to Chicago on Sept. 1. I mean, things were pretty rosy before then. Mack’s preseason holdout was a concern. But the Raiders were Grudening along, and the 49ers were primed to unveil Jimmy Garoppolo 2.0. Stanford was ranked No. 13 in the Associated Press poll.
Then the Raiders, with Gruden stamping the forms, went ahead and traded the greatest defensive player in the NFL. Fans of the other three teams on the list may be frustrated or even disgusted with the product. But Raiders fans are downright pissed. Their hopes weren’t scuttled by injuries and bad play-calling so much as by stubbornness.
Gruden’s hubris came back to bite him, of course. While Mack has been destroying offenses with the Bears, the Raiders have been torched for 404 yards and just under 30 points per game through Week 5.
And there was misfortune by osmosis. The day the Raiders shipped Mack, 49ers halfback Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL at practice. Little did we know, it wouldn’t be the most significant ligament of the season.
The Niners didn’t look amazing with Garoppolo at quarterback. But they were close enough to make you believe they could find the accelerator. Then came that fateful run with a little less than 6 minutes left at Arrowhead Stadium, the play that tore up Garoppolo’s knee and drove a stake in the 49ers’ season.