But in San Francisco, last season’s World Series title has created a shift in what was most definitely a football city. It’s fair to say that the reign of Alex Smith has destroyed any semblance of the golden years for the 49ers. And the reign of Tim Lincecum — and before that Barry Bonds — has given the Bay Area a sense of unbridled success that none of the five other professional sports teams has provided in a long time.
It’s hard to characterize it completely, but with the 49ers’ playoff drought so long and the depths of its porous play so low, you’d think the fervor over the red and gold would waver. That’s not the case. But the overriding feeling is that the 49ers have become a hopeless franchise — one that is habitually one or two pieces away from being complete. However, for the Giants — who havn’t been stacked with talent through the lineup in generations — the fervor over the G-Men has risen past the dominating football fandom. Casual baseball fans now count themselves among the diehards. Transplants to the city now claim the Giants as their team. It’s all topsy turvy in a city that has a changing culture and changing demographics.
Nothing about San Francisco sports is the same as it was 10 years ago. Steve Mariucci was still in town. Terrell Owens, too. The Warriors didn’t have an identifiable league star. The Raiders were Super Bowl contenders. The Giants were on the cusp of the playoffs. But everything revolved around the 49ers. Not until 2002 did the Giants steal a bit of the limelight with its first World Series trip since with Bay Bridge series in 1989. Barry Bonds followed that up with the home run chase.
The only blip on the Bay Area sports timeline that surpassed the interest of the 49ers and Giants in that time was the Warriors’ 2007 playoff run. The excitement over their series win over the Dallas Mavericks reverberated throughout Northern California — speaking volumes about the need for a viable basketball team. But it was quickly forgotten with the dismantling of the team, starting with one of its core players in Jason Richardson.
(On a side note: Remember Monta Ellis being a super sixth man on that team? Good times.)
The last time the 49ers went to the playoffs was 2002. Their last Super Bowl win was in 1994. For the diehards, it has been an eternity. For the casual fan, it’s been an opportunity to divert their attention to the region’s better team: The Giants.
A whole generation of young fans in the Bay are growing up on the success of the Giants and will know nothing of the 49ers’ glory years. Specifically the kids, who are always the lifeblood of new fans, don’t know that in the last 30 years the 49ers went to the playoffs 18 times. That’s because those playoff trips were within a 22-year time span starting in 1980. (Before last year’s World Series win, the Giants’ previous playoff trip was in 2003. They’ve been to the playoffs 7 times in the last 23 years.) That generational shift in fan favor, coupled with the casual observers and the transplants to boot, are painting a new picture in San Francisco. A picture in black and orange.
So while pessimism and angst are sorely ingrained in the conversation about the 49ers — who are expected to do well in San Francisco — optimism and cheer reverberate around the Giants. The two are polar opposites of where they were just a decade ago.