The confetti cannons rained blue, white and yellow strips of tissue paper down on Market St. in downtown San Francisco. The Golden State Warriors championship celebration didn’t officially start until a few minutes after 11:30, but the atmosphere in the Financial District where the parade route ran was electric hours before Jonathan Kuminga and Andre Iguodala’s bus pulled down the street and opened the festivities .
It was hard not to wonder when the 49ers, a team so close to winning a championship in two of the last three seasons, might have their own party through the City (or perhaps through an industrial park in Santa Clara, idk).
The nature of the NBA and basketball in general allows more opportunities for sustained success, so setting the bar for the 49ers at a Warriors-type dynasty with four titles in eight seasons is probably unrealistic. And given that the team that dominated the 80s and early 90s hasn’t hoisted a Lombardi Trophy since 1994, it’s probably wise to start with one and cross the dynasty bridge if / when they ever get near it.
While Golden State’s run this season was mostly improbable, they went into the year with the pieces to make a run. San Francisco in 2022 finds itself in a similar spot.
The 49ers have the pieces, but a run to the championship is improbable because they’re rolling out a first-time starter at quarterback – the most important position on the field.
Perhaps Trey Lance’s talent is so overwhelming that he offers an immediate upgrade over veteran Jimmy Garoppolo and San Francisco makes the leap they were hoping they’d make with Lance when they traded three first-round picks to acquire him in the 2021 draft. The Warriors got by with their young players mostly absent from the rotation. The 49ers won’t get that luxury. Kuminga, Moses Moody and James Wiseman were mostly spectators in the biggest moments of the year. Lance will be front and center.
The good news for San Francisco is that they’re close. In 2019 they were 10 minutes from red and gold confetti on Market St. (or our unspecified South Bay industrial park). Last year they were a dropped interception away from making a trip back to the Super Bowl.
That’s where the bad news comes in. Winning championships is hard in any sport. It might be hardest in the NFL where the margins of error are so unbelievably slim. They’re so slim that the 49ers are moving on from a quarterback that twice got them so close to the NFL mountaintop. They made they decision that Garoppolo was ultimately keeping them from reaching the game’s pinnacle. It’s a razor thin line between good and great, and the 49ers are doing everything they can to cross it.
More needs to go right than just Lance being good. Health is a factor. Continued All-Pro and Pro Bowl performances from their top players will play a role. They have three starting jobs on the offensive line and two in the secondary that need filled. There are certainly hurdles to clear, but they’re close.
The 49ers’ proximity to a championship makes it hard not to envision Fred Warner instead of Gary Payton II firing a super soaker into a crowd of red and gold clad fans while a confetti cannon over yonder welcomes a bus with Deebo Samuel and George Kittle to the fray instead of one with Draymond Green and Juan Toscano-Anderson.
Until they cross that ever-so-thin threshold that separates good and great though, that parade exists in imagination only. They’re very close, but that last push to the top of the mountain is the hardest, and no current team in the NFL knows that more than the 49ers.