Ray Ratto

The Cult of Jimmy is already in full swing

cult_of_jimmy_usatsi.jpg

The Cult of Jimmy is already in full swing

It’s been two games and one series. It’s been 74:43 of playing time, 143 plays, 822 total yards, 643 passing yards, 48 points, three touchdowns, nine field goals, seven punts, 43 first downs and a rating of 92.7. Mostly, it’s been two wins in two weeks after two wins in the previous 64.

So yes, the Cult Of Jimmy is already in full swing.

San Francisco 49er fans have always been thus, going back four generations. They have wanted to love their quarterbacks instantly and fervently, until they decide to hate them. Frankly, it has a bit of creepy about it.

And now, based on those numbers over those two games and that one series, it is the Cult of Jimmy.

Yes, Garoppolo. As though you needed to ask.

People who are late to the Bay Area think this is logical fandom, applying simplistic notions like “Well, he’s better than the guy he replaced,” or “they haven’t been very good, and he represents hope.”

But that’s not it. It’s airborne, passed by dreamy-eyed ravings in taverns and at the office and the loading dock and the store floor. It’s pathological. It cannot be resisted. It’s aggressively peculiar to 49er fans in ways that no other fan base endures.

And the thing that makes it worse is the notion that Garoppolo is also considered by some of our more adamantly superficial citizens as handsome/pretty/borderline hot. That adds romanticism to the cult, which really does veer the whole movement toward the outskirts of Creepytown.

And yeah, it is exactly that, so don’t deny it. People did this with Colin Kaepernick, and Jeff Garcia, and Steve Young, and Joe Montana, and John Brodie and Frankie Albert too. It is a rite of passage for 49er fans, and the people in the middle of it don’t think it’s happening when it is in full bloom.

But here’s what changes it, when it can be changed at all: So-so performances in the next three weeks against Tennessee, Jacksonville and the Los Angeles Rams. Three clearly superior teams (though Tennessee doesn’t exactly fill the heart with the same dread as the other two) that can test the 49ers in ways that neither the Chicago Bears nor Houston Texans could.

If Garoppolo reverts to the NFL quarterbacking mean in those three games, then he will move from cult object to argument starter, the way Kaepernick and Alex Smith did. But if they win two of the three, and especially if one of the two wins comes against the Rams, the Cult of Jimmy will become a full-on Montana-level religion. It will take on its own life with its own costumery (49er jerseys with the number 10 will challenge Kaepernick and even Montana jerseys), and woe to anyone who argues against it by pointing out that just as two games is too small a sample size, so is five.

In short, the next three weeks may or may explain the 49ers to you, but they will certainly explain the full effects of the Cult of Jimmy. It is the 49er Way that no slogan or marketing campaign can ever capture.

Why the Sharks are about to be the NHL's biggest villains

Why the Sharks are about to be the NHL's biggest villains

Anything can happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, nothing is done until it’s done, the fourth win is the hardest, and blah-blah-blah-de-blah-blah. I’m still going to say this – the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Embryos are second-round opponents, and that’s the deal.
 
This means that for perhaps the first time since the Philadelphia Flyers’ terror cell known as the Broad Street Bullies of the mid-70s, there will be a clear, unambiguous and almost universal interest on one side of this equation.
 
And it isn’t going to be San Jose.
 
Vegas is Turbo-Cinderella, the expansion team that can’t be killed, a heartwarming tale of the meek kicking Earth’s ass. By winning more games by themselves than most full expansion classes in either hockey or basketball, the Knights have enveloped themselves in the admiration of the industry and even casual fans who know that expansion teams are required by federal and dominion law to stink. They are the perfect antidote to the inherent cynicism in any system. They are love in a world that runs on hate.
 
There, I think we’ve made the point.
 
On the other side is San Jose, a team who has succeeded on the periphery of the NHL diaspora. They have never been darlings outside the 408, and have been criticized more for losing consistently to the hump they should have gotten over by now. But essentially, they are good but inoffensive, and their fan base is loud but neither deep nor truly rabid. They have taken good and made it their base camp without venturing too far from it.
 
None of which matters in these circumstances, though. Everybody with an opinion wants Vegas because The Narrative, which means that nobody with an interest wants the Sharks. And when we say “nobody,” we mean “nobody except Sharks fans and the Vegas books,” which will be taking more bets on Vegas than they have taken on the last 15 Cup Finals combined.
 
But you get the point. Everyone wants Vegas. Vegas wants Vegas, the other 29 teams wants Vegas, the league office wants Vegas, television wants Vegas, radio wants Vegas, web sites and newspapers want Vegas. People who hate hockey want Vegas. The only entity with this kind of popular unanimity is Beyonce.
 
That means San Jose is the villain, and worse, a bland villain. They don’t play dirty, they don’t cheat, they don’t talk smack, they don’t have a great player anyone truly hates they haven’t inflated pucks or illegally filmed opponents’ practices, their coach isn’t a contemptuous jerk, their owner isn’t a notoriously financial predator, none of it. They will be hated simply for existing in the path of the Vegas Goodwill Train over the next two weeks. And fair has nothing to do with it.
 
So if you say “Go Sharks!” do it with a smile, and prepare to duck. You are swimming against a massive tide, and the only way to survive it is to ride the wave.
 
And if you cannot hold your temper and simply must get yours back, then just snarl, “I hope you get a Columbus-Winnipeg Cup Final,” and then walk away. It may not be much of a retort, but let’s face it, you’re not playing a strong hand. North America hates you. Deal with it.

The Warriors turned it on at will. Again.

The Warriors turned it on at will. Again.

Let’s put it this way. It took a lot longer for the San Antonio Spurs to feel the gravitational pull of the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 than Game 1. But it happened anyway, and now the last true adjustment in Gregg Popovich’s arsenal is the fact that Games 3 and 4 will be in Texas – the one place where the present Spurs are still the historical Spurs.

True, geography is a poor substitute for superior talent, roster depth or tactical wizardry, but tactical wizardry only works when the wizard has instruments within arm’s length to make those ideas come alive. Thus, San Antonio is left to rely Thursday and Sunday on the comforts of home – and friendlier rims, and more commodious backgrounds, and supportive fans.

If that’s your idea of an adjustment. And it probably isn’t.

Monday’s 116-101 choke-slam looked a lot like Saturday’s 113-92 throttling, only more condensed. The Spurs started Rudy Gay instead of Kyle Anderson, they double-teamed Kevin Durant and then Klay Thompson and then back again, and crowded whichever of the two wasn’t being doubled. They forced the Warriors into 11 first-half turnovers, and they got an inspired game from LaMarcus Aldridge.

And then the second half happened, just as the whole of Game 1 happened. The Warriors won the second half by precisely the same margin – 21 points – that they won all of Game 1, taking the Spurs’ best competitive instincts and reducing them to a single statistic.

14.3 percent, on 28 three-pointers, to Golden State’s 48.4 (15 of 31).

That 45-12 discrepancy wiped out San Antonio’s 53-47 halftime lead, neutralized the turnover imbalance and reduced San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich to a conciliatory tone that hinted at inevitability. He praised his team’s increased fight and attention to detail, spoke highly of Aldridge (34/12) and Gay, and then headed to the reason why Golden State looks so, well, Golden State-y.

“You gotta make shots,” he said. “It’s been like that all season on the road for whatever reason, and that makes it difficult.”

No, damned near impossible. The Warriors’ starters, which included JaVale McGee and Andre Iguodala again, shot 55 percent (34 of 62, 13 of 26 from afar), and the only real failings were 15 turnovers and David West’s tweaked ankle in the fourth quarter. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson were – well, 63 points’ worth on 39 shots, and metrics only embellish that central truth. The Warriors, if you’ll forgive the narrative whoring, turned it on at will. Again.

“We just met their level of physicality and force,” head coach Steve Kerr said, without referring to tactical changes at all. “They just took it to us the whole first half. They were tremendous defensively . . . so in the second half, we matched their effort level and we were able to get the upper hand.”

And, he omitted to add, close that hand at throat level, taking a worrisome first half for the customers and turning it into a Warriors-standard game.

All that said, the Spurs’ considerable limitations in this series do not preclude them from stealing a game in San Antonio, if such a thing can be said about a team that has won its last 11 home games. Golden State’s oppressive dominance may seem like a return to the good old days, but it still feels more like increased focus combined with a very favorable matchup.

But if we see this game again at AT&T Thursday and/or Sunday, the Warriors may get that smell in their nostrils again and use it as fuel in subsequent rounds. They may just be beating a depleted and inaccurate team whose best player has apparently returned to his home planet for repurposing and perhaps relocation, but the way they are doing it is as nostalgia-inducing as it is breathtaking.

And that has proven over most of the last three years to beat tactics every time.