This is my Saturday column.
Do the 49ers have a face?
They certainly used to. They had Jim Harbaugh, hands down the face of the franchise the past few seasons.
Who made the Niners nationally relevant for the first time since the ‘90s’?
Who made them winners again?
Who made it possible for the Niners to build a new stadium?
Who did the cameras constantly cut to during telecasts of 49ers games?
Who spoke daily for the franchise, spoke for CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke, spoke about matters he shouldn’t have had to speak about like grass or Ray McDonald’s various arrests?
He was bigger than the team. With Harbaugh, the 49ers weren’t the 49ers — they were Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers, like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The Niners were Harbaugh’s backup band.
Before Harbaugh, the Niners had Steve Young, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Bill Walsh and Eddie DeBartolo Jr. Each was a face of the franchise. Each was a face of the NFL.
Do the Niners have a face anymore?
Maybe. I can think of two candidates.
The first one is general manager Trent Baalke, the NFL’s executive of the year in 2011. The man who drafted NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Colin Kaepernick. One of the shrewdest general managers in the NFL. An unorthodox thinker. A trend-setter when it comes to signing and drafting players. A maverick.
Even with all of his good qualities, Baalke shouldn’t be the face of the 49ers. If the face of a franchise is the GM, that franchise suffers from “Billy Beane Syndrome.”
That’s when a team’s roster and coaching staff is in flux, and the one constant is the guy who’s constantly hiring, firing and trading people. Some of the moves might make sense or seem clever or even brilliant, but they never add up to a championship.
When a franchise suffers from Beane Syndrome, you can’t help but wonder if the GM keeps trading or cutting people because secretly he wants to be the face of the franchise, wants all the credit and fame for himself.
Clearly the A’s suffer from Beane Syndrome. Let’s give the Niners the benefit of the doubt and say they don’t.
In that case — if Baalke’s isn’t the face of the franchise — who is?
Colin Kaepernick, right?
He’s the quarterback, he won playoff games, he played in a Super Bowl and he’s famous — non-football fans know who he is.
The past few years he couldn’t have been the face of the franchise because he lived in Harbaugh’s shadow. Kaepernick was Harbaugh’s pet project. Kaepernick even talked like Harbaugh at times during press conferences.
Is Kaepernick ready to step out of Harbaugh’s shadow and replace him as The Man on the Niners?
Consider what he did on Instagram this Tuesday.
He posted a picture of cars submerged under water in the Houston flood, and he wrote the following caption under the picture: “I warned you the #7tormsComing !!! #Houston”.
Let me try to explain what he wrote. This offseason, Kaepernick has tagged his twitter posts and Instagram posts with “#7tormsComing,” because he’s No. 7 and he intends to take the NFL by storm next season. Or something. He intends the “7” to be an “s.”
So when the floods hit Houston, Kaepernick’s initial reaction was to make a joke, to imply that he was the 7torm.
He didn’t realize the 7torm killed 15 people. Two hours later, he tweeted the following apology: “I’m so sorry about my insensitive post earlier today. I didn’t fully understand how many people are struggling in Houston right now and I feel horrible. My prayers are with everyone there.”
All credit to Kaepernick for apologizing. Maybe he realized what he had done, or maybe someone explained to him the mistake he had made.
Either way, his initial comment was immature — that’s the nicest thing you can say about it. If you want to be harsh, you’d say his comment way babyish. Making fun of a natural disaster and spelling “storm” with a “7” instead of an “s”? That’s middle school stuff.
The face of the franchise has to be a grownup, and Kaepernick isn’t one quite yet. It’s not clear if, as a player, he’s even good enough to be the face.
Right now, the 49ers are faceless. They need to find a face in the upcoming season. Will they? Who will it be?
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.