Ray Ratto

Once be-all, end-all, Big Game now just friends-and-alumni-only party

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USATSI

Once be-all, end-all, Big Game now just friends-and-alumni-only party

The 97th Big Game is upon us, and that means you scratching your head and asking, “What? Already?”

Cal and Stanford meet for the 120th time, and as is their custom, only one of the two teams is good. Indeed, Stanford has owned this game for most of the last three and a half decades (they are 10-22-1 since 1984, and has won the last seven game in succession by an average score of 40-18).

Indeed, since 1975, the two teams have had winning records at the same time only five times, a yin-and-yang relationship that has no real logic to it.

But in a changing world and an increasingly professional-sports-driven region, the thing that truly reduced the Big Game from a big event to a friends-and-alumni-only party was the decision to move the game around to accommodate other scheduling issues. It used to be safe the week before Thanksgiving, only rarely straying from its comfortable pocket between November 17 and 23.

Once it had to adjust to demands like the Notre Dame game and the Pacific-12 Conference television demands, the Big Game became just part of the schedule rather than the be-all and end-all of the season. And while true believers like Stanford head coach David Shaw, who has proven after Stanford down to his last molecule by not entertaining NFL jobs, still find it an essential highlight of each season, the more casual fan has moved on to other pastimes.

This is partly due to the transient nature of the modern graduate, but also due to college football’s recent playoff-or-bust mentality, of which the only sniff the Bay Area is likely to have is next year’s championship game at Levi’s Stadium, The Stadium That Creature Comforts Forgot.

But enough about why the Big Game isn’t actually “big.” The truth is, it’s big enough for what it needs to be, and maybe that is its true historical value. The last time Cal and Stanford finished 1-2 in the conference was 1937, so maybe this game, in which Stanford is 7-3 and Cal is 5-5, is about what it is supposed to be.

Something fun for the folks already in the tent.

49ers learn a lesson after letting big lead slip in win over Lions

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AP

49ers learn a lesson after letting big lead slip in win over Lions

The 49ers now are 1-1, but to keep you hooked for next week, we can report that nothing of substance was revealed Sunday.
 
At least nothing that would make you have firm beliefs about who and what they are, what they have and what they lack.
 
In escaping the Detroit Lions, 30-27, the 49ers largely showed that they have the capability to dominate an inferior team but are not assured enough to finish them. Or, to quote Richard Sherman, which always is a good place to go, they need to learn “not to take a sigh when you’re up, 30-13.” In other words, to allow 182 yards and two scores once you take said lead, which is more a matter of player attention than scheme flaws.
 
They learned that teams still believe in Sherman enough to avoid throwing his way, and that means they will throw at Ahkello Witherspoon on the other side of the field until he makes them do otherwise.
 
They learned that Jimmy Garoppolo still holds the ball longer than safety would permit, and either he needs to be more decisive or his wide receivers need to be more forceful in separation.
 
(Cue Josh Gordon hysteria in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... )
 
They learned that Pierre Garcon will block all the way to the parking lot, as he did on Matt Breida’s 66-yard touchdown run, and that Garoppolo will make a tackle when the need is acute, as it was on Tracy Walker’s apparent game-winning interception -- “just a flashback to my linebacking days, I guess,” the QB said, minimizing the monumental error he helped commit to make that tackle momentarily necessary.
 
But mostly, they found out that they have miles to go before they can feel confident about their institutional knowledge about putting games away, because they did allow the Lions, who had been routed by the New York Jets a week ago, to scare them within an off-the-ball holding call that negated Walker’s interception and saved the 49ers' defense from having to make a desperate stand.
 
How desperate? A number of 49ers referred to it as a pick-six, which it wasn’t, no matter how it might have felt.
 
“A win’s a win,” coach Kyle Shanahan said with the precision of a Football Outsiders staffer, “but I’m extra frustrated that we couldn’t finish ‘em off. We have to learn to put those games away.”
 
The problem, of course, is that the 49ers are not yet at that stage of their development and are just seven games from being one of the most forlorn teams in the National Football League. Like everyone else, they would seem to be prone to recency bias – in this case, thinking the Lions were ready to Vontae Davis the rest of their season based on seven quarters of uninspiring football.
 
More to the point, it is hard to gauge them off a decisive loss to a superior team and a narrow win over an inferior one. As one of the many teams stuck in the amorphous middle of the league, the 49ers will be prone to the performance swings between weeks and within games.
 
Shanahan, for example, made a point of saying how much better he felt about his team’s red-zone performance in Week 1 at Minnesota than he did Sunday, even though they scored twice. Three sacks of Garoppolo and just 8 yards gained in 20 plays inspired that analysis.
 
Shanahan also answered the Gordon issue by saying how much loves the players he has but always is looking to improve the roster, a noncommittal answer to a question inspired only by the receiver’s reportedly stated interest in coming. The 49ers presumably would be more efficient and effervescent offensively when Marquise Goodwin returns from his thigh bruise, but that, like Gordon’s desirability, remains only speculative.
 
This is about the known, and the known is pretty minimal. The 49ers are exactly what we all expected them to be after two weeks -- a work in progress and in regress. Their next two games against dynamic offenses in Kansas City (oh God) and Los Angeles (the Chargers can score, but they remain goofy), and then they return to face the wholly inert Cardinals before drawing the Packers at Lambeau and the Rams in L.A.
 
In other words, this will get harder before it gets easier. But a win’s a win, and it’s better that they try to keep the short view for now. There are plenty of people available to take the long view for them.

Where Erik Karlsson trade ranks in greatest Bay Area sports acquisitions

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USATSI/AP

Where Erik Karlsson trade ranks in greatest Bay Area sports acquisitions

The Erik Karlsson trade is very clearly the second-biggest deal in San Jose Sharks history, and that only because nothing is going to beat the Joe Thornton trade almost 13 years ago.
 
That turned out to be a massive swindle for the Sharks, fueled in part by Boston’s zeal to solve its Thornton problem (he didn’t win six Stanley Cups in his five seasons as a Bruin). The Karlsson deal seems to resemble that deal in that Ottawa wanted Karlsson gone as part of its ritual franchise-gutting, and Doug Wilson had already removed their issues with Mike Hoffman earlier in the season.
 
But for non-hockey fans, this still ranks among the biggest acquisitions in Bay Area history regardless of sport – if and only if he gives what the trades implies, a clear path to the Stanley Cup.
 
For the moment, Karlsson represents hope rather than deeds. He was an indisputably great player in Ottawa, still has plenty of tread on the tires, and changes the Cup equation for every contender.
 
But without the advantage of the advanced hindsight that actual Stanley Cup parades can provide, he must be placed behind the following:
 
-- Barry Bonds (no title, but he is unmatched for talent, impact, stadium construction or controversy).
 
-- Kevin Durant (took the Warriors from merely great to generational, and helps with social media).
 
-- Steve Young, Fred Dean or Deion Sanders (each helped the 49ers win a Super Bowl, though Young was clearly most impactful, and two of the three got network gigs afterward).
 
-- Ted Hendricks, Willie Brown and Jim Plunkett (helped the Raiders do the same).
 
-- The re-acquisition of Rick Barry (the Warriors’ title in 1975 was largely his doing, though the Warriors’ greater strength was its ensemble quality).
 
-- Andre Iguodala (the first free agent to actively choose Golden State and the 2015 NBA Finals MVP).
 
-- Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley (pillars of the A’s 1989 World Series, and icons since).
 
There are others if you want to delve deeper (and hey, you’re the only who knows your work schedule), but this gives you an idea of the bar that needs clearing for the momentary enthusiasm of getting Erik Karlsson to become an enduring achievement in the annals of Bay Area talent grabs.
 
At the moment, Karlsson is probably closer to Chris Webber going to Sacramento in 1998, taking a bad team and making it a factor in a league that has shunned it before and after. The Sharks haven’t been shunned as much as they have been pandered to as the team that can’t win the big prize and has only gotten to play for it once. In other words, they’re not the Kings.
 
But the Sharks are the new hot flavor in the NHL in the way that Golden State was in 2013 and 2014. A parade permit is the limit and the expectation, and when that happens, Karlsson’s name can go on the above list.