It's been enough to make a person (gasp) go outside on a weekend day. February is known as the slowest sports period of the year, but in reality the hugest void is the period between the AFC/NFC Championship Games and the Super Bowl. And with the Warriors playing like a 35-win team, the Sharks on break and all the men's college hoops teams treading water, there really isn't a lot to capture the imagination locally unless you're content to stare at a countdown to when pitchers and catchers report for the Giants and A's.
The 49ers and Raiders were nowhere near Super Bowl contention for the eighth straight season, but that doesn't mean this Sunday's "big game" (as it's required to be called in most commercials) is meaningless for those who root with Bay Area interests in mind. Here's three reasons why there's more riding on this game than what kind of beer you drink or how many hot links you ingest on Sunday afternoon.
1. Green Bay is stocked with locals.
You all know Aaron Rodgers went to Cal (I promise, no Alex Smith comments) after growing up in Chico and dominating at Butte College for a year after no Division I team offered him a scholarship. But there's more.
Linebacker Desmond Bishop was born in San Francisco, and went to Fairfield High, City College of San Francisco and Cal. The Packers' defense is littered with big names (Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, A.J. Hawk, B.J. Raji), but Bishop was second to Hawk in tackles in the regular season and leads the team in postseason tackles.
James Jones not only went to San Jose St. where he dominated as a receiver, he also starred at QB at Gunderson High. While Jones has been known to drop a pass or two, but he leads the Packers in TD catches this postseason (2).
The Steelers have two guys who went to Bay Area high schools before playing at Oregon, Dennis Dixon or Ra'Shon Harris, but neither player will see the field on Super Bowl Sunday.
2. Pittsburgh's Super Bowl dominance must be stopped.
Raiders fans don't have to be convinced to hate the Steelers*. But for 49ers fans who are struggling with the idea of rooting for the team that gave them so much trouble in the late 1990's and early 2000's, or just hate cheeseheads in general (I'm guilty of this), think about the Super Bowl race. The Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl just two years ago over the Arizona Cardinals (yes, that actually happened). For San Francisco fans who've had very little to take pride in for the last decade, their 5-0 Super Bowl record is the only thing keeping them going. While the 49ers will be the winningest undefeated Super Bowl squad for the foreseeable future (every other squad that's won at least two Super Bowls has also lost in the big game at least once), nobody who bleeds red and gold wants to be two rings behind the Steel Curtain.
*The Raiders, 3-2 all-time in Super Bowls, might disagree slightly with this paragraph since Green Bay would move to 4-1 with a win over the Steelers. However, I could be wrong, but I don't think Raiders backers care anywhere near as much about all-time Super Bowl win totals as 49ers fans, who are a little obsessive about the subject. And the Raiders hate the Steelers, which is one of the reasons why Tom Cable didn't stand a chance after a season that included a 35-3 loss in Pittsburgh.
3. All Bays must stick together.
This is the time when one Bay needs to back another. Green Bay deserves our support in their battle against the Pittsburgh Steelers, just as Tampa Bay would in the same situation. Sorry, I admit that's a stretch. But think about it. Green Bay loves cheese and beer. The San Francisco Bay Area loves cheese and wine ... and beer. From Mike Holmgren to Mike McCarthy, former 49ers offensive coordinators have led Green Bay back to the prominence they enjoyed back in the 1960's with Vince Lombardi. The West Coast offense that the 49ers are finally going back to and Raiders fans wish Al Davis was aware of? It's alive and well in Green Bay. Now it's up to the local QB who used to be a 49ers fan to play like the quarterback whose likeness was on the t-shirt Rodgers wore under his uniform when he played at Cal, Joe Montana.
Monta's All-Star Candidacy Goes Down In Flames
- To say it's been a tough week for Monta "I'm a Warriors" Ellis is putting it mildly. His 3-shot foul on Stephen Jackson which led to an extremely painful overtime loss at home to Charlotte was pretty bad, considering he also went 6-for-24 from the field. Then in a 96-81 win over the reeling Utah Jazz (who were without Deron Williams), Ellis scored only 2 points and went 1-for-9 from the field.
- The minutes are probably getting to Monta. Not only did he suffer an ankle sprain against the Clippers on Jan. 22 that's probably still bothering him, he only shot 42.4% in the month of January after making 47.5% of his field goals through December.
- Jeremy Lin's still in the D-League.
- From fans to beat writers, it seemed like everyone was crying for Andris Biedrins to be replaced in the starting lineup by Ekpe Udoh. Then Biedrins dropped consecutive double-doubles on Charlotte and Utah, and the cries have died down -- even though Charlotte's frontcourt has been decimated by injuries and Utah's bigs (Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap aren't exactly defensive wizards).
- Keith Smart has a lot invested in Biedrins (even removing every Warrior from a drill except Biedrins, Ellis and Stephen Curry during practice last week), so unless Biedrins has another couple games where he scores 2 points combined anytime soon, he's probably going to remain the starter.
- The Sacramento Kings have decided to push the Cleveland Cavaliers further behind the pack with a surprising 3-wins-in-4-games stretch. Even more surprising than the fact that the Kings went from 9 wins to 12 in less than a week was the fact that their wins were in games at Portland and at the Lakers, and a home win against New Orleans that stopped the Hornets' 10-game win streak.
- Leading the way for the Kings: DeMarcus Cousins, who capped off his best month as a pro (17.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 46% shooting in 16 games).
- The Sharks were off for All-Star weekend. Danny Boyle had an assist in the game, which his squad (Team Staal) lost 11-10 to Team Lidstrom. Sharks rookie Logan Couture, who was named a rookie captain for the SuperSkills competition along with Taylor Hall, lost in his "Accuracy Shooting" round to the New York Rangers' Derek Stepan.
- Cal's sports program should find out in the coming days whether their baseball, rugby, men's and women's gymnastics and women's lacrosse teams will get the axe. The deadline to find out whether the programs would indeed by eliminated was supposed to be Jan. 31, but in the wake of $16 million being raised by "Save Cal Sports," Cal AD Sandy Barbour said in a letter to Cal backers that they "expect to have a final decision within the next 10 days."