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There once was a team long steeped in mystique,

Who had fallen upon quite a dismal streak,

A decade of losing, a terrible trend,

Looking at times that it ne’er would end.

But then from on high a savior there came,

Who looked to be poised to restore their good name.

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A sterling track record and high pedigree,

Had the man from the school whose mascot’s a tree.

Results came quickly, the turn-around swift,

It seemed Mr. Harbaugh brought a paradigm shift.

But after coming so close to winning it all,

His team could do nothing but stumble and fall.

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No reason was there for this doleful plight,

The roster was teeming with talent and might,

But week in and week out they found themselves trailing,

Continually faltering, fumbling, and failing.

So no question should remain in San Fran as to why,

The time has come to say “Goodbye.”

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Goodbye, Jim Harbaugh, you exuberant goon,

We’re sick of you acting like such a buffoon.

Goodbye as well to your buddy Greg Roman,

Let us hope his departure a positive omen.

Goodbye to the man most people call Kaep,

We certainly won’t miss putting up with your crap.

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Goodbye, Vernon Davis, you’ve come a long way,

But you’ve been a non-factor each recent Sunday.

Goodbye, Michael Crabtree, you NFL bust,

With key drops a-plenty your departure’s a must.

Goodbye to the hot-head they call Anquan Boldin,

Your time by the Bay has been anything but golden.

Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis

Goodbye to the “stalwarts” of the offensive line,

Who simply can’t block under any design.

And Goodbye, Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, and Frank Gore,

You’ve made strong contributions and could likely make more,

But given this franchise’s degree of discord,

Lingering remnants we just can’t afford.

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For after getting embarrassed tough decisions must follow,

Or in sullen mediocrity the team will continue to wallow.

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Masahiro Tanaka
The 2014 season has not gone according to plan for the New York Yankees. After failing to send off legendary closer Mariano Rivera with as much as measly playoff appearance in 2013, the Yankees threw their uncharacteristic financial concerns aside during the offseason¬—spending nearly a half-billion dollars to bolster the roster with most of the best available talent on the market. The last time the Yankees went on such an offseason spending spree, they signed CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Mark Teixeira—all of whom proved critical in helping the Yankees christen New Yankee Stadium with their 27th World Series Championship.

Thus far, it seems it will take a miracle if 2014 is to end in the same way as 2009 did for the Bronx Bombers.

The Yankees spared no expense in bringing in established veteran stars Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann, but all of them have battled significant injuries through the first half of the season and/or struggled to adjust to pressure associated with playing in New York. For a combined investment of $53 million for the 2014 season alone, the trio has produced a batting average of .243 and a combined 25 home runs and 108 RBI. Should this “production” continue over the course of the second half of the year, that projects to three players each batting below .250 while producing fewer than 17 home runs each, and driving in fewer than 75 runs—hardly worth an average salary of $17.7 million. This, of course, assumes the trio can remain healthy for the second half of the season—an assumption which ought to at best be highly questioned based on their collective track record to this point.

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The one bright spot among the Yankees’ offseason acquisitions had been Japanese rookie starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. After going 24-0 with a microscopic ERA in 2013 for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Tanaka incited a bidding war among no fewer than a half-dozen serious Major League suitors this past offseason. In the end, the Yankees were able to secure his services for the meager investment of $155 million over seven seasons.

Initially, Tanaka seemed worth every penny. Despite surrendering a home run to the first batter he faced in a regular season Major League game (ironically to former Yankee phenom Melky Cabrera), he started the season with a jaw-dropping 11-1 record and a sub-1.5 ERA. His strike-out-to-walk ratio was equally impressive and he was considered a strong candidate for both the AL Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards. Despite a sudden decline over his last four starts, he was selected to the All-Star Game. Soon after, it was revealed that he had experienced elbow discomfort in his last start on July 8.

Tanaka was immediately placed on the 15-day Disabled List and sent to Seattle to see multiple doctors who were attending a conference there. On Thursday, it was revealed that Tanaka had suffered a partially-torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament and had opted for rehab as opposed to Tommy John’s Surgery. On Friday, Tanaka released a public apology to the Yankees, his teammates, and the team’s fans.

One of Tanaka’s greatest assets through his stellar first half of 2014 has been his competitiveness. He does not throw overly hard, but even when he lacks his characteristic pin-point control, his competitive drive generally helps him keep his team in the game long enough to afford them the opportunity to win. Nobody can question Tanaka’s drive and toughness, but these qualities may wind up tainting his perspective on his injury and lead him to make a decision which ultimately hurts his team.

Tanaka’s decision to attempt to rehab his throwing elbow is brazenly foolish, immature, and frankly rather selfish. Had his MRIs and examinations revealed no concrete damage, rehab might be preferable to surgery. However, given that he knows he has sustained significant damage to his UCL, his decision seems more based on bravado than logic—thinking that his characteristic work ethic and toughness and help him avoid the heavy downtime associated with surgical repairs and put him in a position to continue his rookie campaign with the Yankees.

In reality, there seems to be nearly no chance that this decision will work out in either his or the Yankees’ collective favor. The attempt at rehab can only go a limited number of ways, none of which would seem desirable outcomes. The best-case scenario for Tanaka and the team would actually be for the injury to prove totally unresponsive to the rehab, or better-yet, worsen early and cause him to cut the attempt short. This would force Tanaka to surrender to the inevitability of Tommy John’s surgery in the relatively near future—meaning that the delay versus immediately opting for the surgical route would not be significant, and he could probably be ready to contribute early in 2016.

Were Tanaka’s symptoms to improve significantly enough over the course of his rehab to embolden an attempt at returning sometime later this season, it will likely do little more than put a large tract of the 2016 season in serious jeopardy. The elbow discomfort may improve with rest and rehab, but without proper surgical intervention, it is nearly impossible that the ligament will actually heal properly on its own. Were Tanaka to return later this season and try to pitch through this problem, his effectiveness would likely decline and he could wind up doing even more damage to his already weakened throwing arm. This could require a more extensive surgical procedure and drive the return timetable even further back—perhaps causing him to miss most of even all of 2016 as well. That’s a high price to pay for a chance at a few extra second-half wins for a team that enters the All-Star Break with a wholly mediocre record.

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The worst case scenario for both Tanaka and the Yankees would be to see him push too hard in his bid to rehab his arm and wind up doing irreparable damage. It is doubtful that the Yankees’ doctors and trainers would allow such a debacle to transpire, but with Tanaka planning to continue using the arm rather than immediately getting it repaired, such a scenario is far from an impossibility.

If Tanaka truly wants to do the best thing he can by his employers, his teammates, and his fans, he should grow up and face the music. He needs to put his toughness and personal pride aside and understand that he should not be toying with both his livelihood and the Yankees’ serious financial investment in him. The Yankees will certainly feel the loss of Tanaka for the remainder and 2014 and most or all of 2015 should he opt for Tommy John’s, but it’s vastly preferable to losing him for a longer span or perhaps losing him entirely.

It remains to be seen whether CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda will ever recover sufficiently to pitch again for the Yankees, let alone pitch effectively. Ivan Nova has always been mercurial and his potential effectiveness after returning from Tommy John’s is anyone’s guess. The Yankees may be near the .500 mark as they enter the All-Star Break and still within striking distance of the division lead, but their chances of making waves in 2014 are rather bleak. Tanaka should realize this and make the right decision, so as not to set their chances back in future years. If he does not, there may be a much more dire apology to come.

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Thursday saw the first game to feature an NBA Finals rematch since the Chicago Bulls dispatched the Utah Jazz for the second straight year in 1998. However, Thursday’s game did not go according to plan for the defending champion Miami Heat.

After losing to the Heat in seven games in last year’s NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs opened at home with a shot at redemption. The game was competitive through three quarters, with the Spurs leading by five points at the half before yielding a four point margin to the Heat as the fourth quarter began.

Then came one of the more interesting circumstances in the history of NBA competition.

The Spurs’ arena had been experiencing an air conditioning problem through out the game, and temperatures on the court soared to over 90 degrees as the game dragged on into the final period of play. While the Spurs found a way to cope with the adverse circumstances, the same could not be said for the leader of the Heat: LeBron James.

James began to suffer from severe dehydration and cramps as the fourth quarter pressed on: ultimately having to leave the game with more than four minutes remaining after drawing the game within striking range. The Spurs went on to dominate the fourth quarter and win Game 1 running away 110-95.

As the head coach of the Spurs aptly pointed out following the game, the air conditioning malfunction proved an equal obstacle to both teams. James seemed to be the only key player unable to adequately cope. One might recall past performances where Michael Jordan battled through flu-like symptoms to lead his team to victory.

James, however, couldn’t seem to handle adversity that would seem far less daunting.

Michael Jordan beat the flu, but apparently LeBron James couldn’t beat the heat. . . The Spurs, however, had no such issue.

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The San Francisco 49ers ended months of rampant speculation Wednesday, signing quarterback Colin Kaepernick to a six-year contract extension that could net him more than $110 million. The year-by-year salary puts Kaepernick in the among the top 10 signal callers in the league—befitting of his potential if not his track record to date—but the $61 million in guaranteed money is the most of any current contract in the NFL.

Kaepernick has achieved substantial notoriety since taking over for the much-maligned Alex Smith mid-way through the 2012 season, though not all of it has been positive. Kaepernick possesses an electrifying combination of speed, size, grit, and arm strength, but thus far these accolades have not translated into stellar on-field production. Overall, Kaepernick’s performance has mirrored the team’s success during the Jim Harbaugh Era—exciting, but as of yet ultimately lack-luster.

The 49ers experienced a great renaissance in 2011 as Harbaugh took over for the legendary Mike Singletary, who found little success in his first opportunity as an NFL head coach. Yet, despite leading his team to three consecutive appearances in the NFC Championship Game, Harbaugh has not delivered results in the one department that—above all others—he was hired to improve: the floundering 49ers offense.

The 49ers defense has been solid if not stellar for some time, and that trait has remained and perhaps even gained steam under Harbaugh’s tutelage. However, the supposed offensive guru and former All-Pro quarterback has yet to produce an offense that has ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in his first three seasons, and the passing game has consistently ranked near the bottom of the NFL. In fact, despite possessing a vastly superior set of tools and traits, Kaepernick’s overall passing numbers have been comparable to Smith’s production during his time under Harbaugh. This implies that the team’s poor passing production may be predicated more on problems with packages than with personnel.

The question is: will this continue?

Kaepernick’s new contract is clearly not a reward for accomplishments to date; rather it reflects an investment for the 49ers in the potential upside Kaepernick represents. The terms of the contract, both in length and value, imply the 49ers agree with most experts that Kaepernick represents nearly limitless untapped potential. Hopefully, this signing will make the 49ers more intent to realize return on their substantial investment.  

It is possible that the size of the contract could lead to a more protective posture, which could cause the game plan to become even more conservative. However, it is very unlikely that the 49ers would have offered such a contract to Kaepernick unless they were dedicated to the idea of him making more significant contributions. The 49ers substantially improved their receiving corps this offseason, and this new contract for Kaepernick could reflect a newly redoubled commitment to improving the passing game. If the 49ers commit to more creativity in their offensive schemes, and a more even balance between the passing and running attacks, they could become a daunting force in the NFL.

Let us hope Kaepernick’s new contract reflects a new direction in the 49ers’ offensive schemes. 

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The 2014 season stands to be a big one for the San Francisco 49ers. They certainly realize that.

As the 49ers get set to open a brand new billion-dollar stadium, they will also face the hefty challenge of trying to build on three consecutive NFC Championship Game appearances and finally take that last step to win the team’s first Super Bowl title in two decades. After coming up short twice in the NFC title game and once in the Super Bowl over the last three seasons, the offensive and defensive faces of the franchise—Vernon Davis and Patrick Willis, respectively—have already gone on record as saying the 49ers “must” win Super Bowl XLIX (details about ramifications of failure have yet to be discussed, however, so this declaration seems a bit hollow).

Of course it would only be fitting to see the 49ers win the 49th Super Bowl ever played (though not all of them were called “Super Bowls”), and it would leave fans buzzing about the possibility of a back-to-back bid in Super Bowl L in February 2016 to be held in the 49ers’ own Levi’s Stadium. Unless the Arizona Cardinals spoil the party by winning the Super Bowl in Glendale this coming winter, such a prospect would afford the 49ers the chance to become the first team ever to win a Super Bowl on their own field (interestingly, they came the closest of any team to date, beating the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX in 1985 at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto).

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If you believe the talking heads this past weekend on ESPN and NFL Network (and the torrent of amateur experts to chime in since) a title for the 49ers in Super Bowl XLIX is little more than a formality. Many contend that the vaunted Seattle Seahawks have lost significant prowess through free agency following their first ever world title, and to a man nearly everyone lauded unanimous praise on each and every move the 49ers made on draft weekend. Even experts as normally critical as Mel Kiper, Jr. and Todd McShay had little more to say on the 49ers’ choices than “WOW!” The entire cadre of draft experts could leverage nary a criticism against any move Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh made all weekend.

The 49ers practically stole veteran wide receiver Stevie Johnson from the Buffalo Bills, giving them another crafty receiving option to pair with Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, and recently-reacquired veteran Brandon Lloyd. The 49ers then proceeded to address the perceived weak points of the secondary and pass rush after losing most of their starting defensive backs to the free agent market and seeing all-world pass rusher Aldon Smith run afoul of the law once again. It all seemed the perfect coup, but was it really?

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It is undeniable that the Harbaalke braintrust did a tremendous job finding prospects with incredible upside. The surprising first-round selection of Jimmie Ward—a man seemingly on the radar of few other teams at least as far as the first round was concerned—appears to have landed them another smart, hard-hitting, play-making defensive back to pair with sophomore stalwart Eric Reid in what could become a modern adaptation of Dwight Hicks and the Hot Licks. Ultimately, if Ward becomes the caliber of player many expect him to be, he would more than warrant a late-first-round pick, but one must question whether the 49ers could have swung a deal for their valuable top choice and acquired more assets (picks or other veteran role players) yet still had him waiting for them in the second round.

From Carlos Hyde to Bruce Ellington to Aaron Lynch all the way to Trey Millard, the purported experts were surely not short on superlatives while simultaneously singing the praises of each subsequent 49ers selection. However, a truly objective observer might look upon these picks more particularly.

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Carlos Hyde is a stout bruiser of a running back, a potential bell-cow touted by many as the heir apparent to an aging Frank Gore. Gore certainly isn’t getting any younger, but it’s not inconceivable that he could continue to turn in solid seasons for several more years. During this time Hyde will compete for carries with Gore, Kendall Hunter, a recovering Marcus Lattimore, and potentially LaMichael James. Lattimore offers perhaps a bit more explosiveness in the running game than the Gore-Hunter-Hyde trilogy, but James is truly the only “change of pace” style back on the roster. He can also contribute in the return game, something none of the rest of the backs can claim.

James has been the subject of heavy trade speculation thus far this offseason; the presence of yet another big bruising back can only stand to further ostracize the former Oregon stand-out. A dogged commitment to heavy traditional run formations was hugely detrimental at times last season to an offense that drastically underperformed its talent. If the 49ers force James out of town by falling in love with their new stable of similarly-suited backs, they may find themselves forced to become even less creative in the run game than they already were.

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Bruce Ellington joins a receiving corps now seemingly flush with talent after losing Mario Manningham back to the New York Giants and facing the uncertainty of Michael Crabtree entering a contract year. The additions of Ellington, Lloyd, and Johnson certainly stand to infuse new excitement into Colin Kaepernick’s stable of weapons, but Ellington’s lack of size raises some questions. With the exception of Jon Baldwin, who was largely ineffectual last year following a bust-for-bust trade that sent AJ Jenkins to Kansas City, the only legitimate receiving threat with a combination of size, strength, and speed is Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis. Boldin shows considerable power for his size, but ultimately he, Crabtree, Ellington, Lloyd, Johnson, and Quinton Patton are all essentially possession receivers. Unless Baldwin assumes a much more prominent role on the offense this season, the 49ers will still lack a tall, physical receiver to complement (or possibly even spell) Davis. Perhaps the other receivers offer enough variation to give Kaepernick options and keep opposing defenses honest, but loading up on so many similar receivers seems a suspect strategy to say the least.

Aaron Lynch was perhaps the only selection on whom the experts seemed to consistently offer real concern. Everyone agreed that his raw talent gives him tremendous upside, but his performance and production dropped precipitously after his transfer from Notre Dame to South Florida, leading many to question his focus and effort. Baalke and Harbaugh implied that they felt his physical prowess made him a reasonable risk—and if you believe the consensus assessment of the rest of their draft, they were certainly entitled to take a chance with one pick. However, one must worry that a player thusly skilled could only fall as far as Lynch did due to significant bust potential. This could leave the prospect of Lynch as an insurance policy against further Aldon Smith strife on dubious grounds. Additionally, Smith and Chris Culliver’s recent off-field issues should serve as warning that even an environment as disciplined as Harbaugh’s leaves room for players to find trouble if they are so inclined.

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Nobody can question the fact that the 49ers added substantial talent to their roster through free agency, trades, and the draft, but that doesn’t mean there are no questions entering 2014. If the 49ers hope to overcome the disappointment of the last three postseasons, there is substantial work to be done before the first kickoffs at their new digs. Make no mistake that they should be in strong position to continue fighting for their sixth title, but reasonable fans should temper their enthusiasm, at least for the time being.

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The San Jose Sharks have only been playing hockey for a little under 25 years, but in that brief time they have already managed to give their fans more than a century’s worth of painful playoff disappointment.

The Sharks have been among the most successful teams in the NHL since the turn of the century, yet year after year they have found unique ways to stumble when the stakes were highest. The Sharks have made the playoffs every year since 2004, appeared in three Western Conference Finals series, and logged an impressive slate of exciting playoff moments along the way.

The Sharks finally got past the vaunted Colorado Avalanche in 2004 to reach their first WCF. They turned away the Red Wings in multiple memorable series, overcame a 4-0 deficit on the road in LA to win the game and ultimately the series, and recorded their first ever playoff series sweep last season—disposing of the favored Vancouver Canucks in four games in the first round. Unfortunately, for each of these notable accomplishments, there was a complementary pitfall that saw the team fall short of their ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup.

Certainly no disappointment was more pronounced than 2014’s first-round collapse against the in-state rival LA Kings. The Sharks cemented their status as perennial playoff underperformers by becoming just the fourth team in NHL history to surrender a 3-0 lead in a 7-game series—losing the opening round series 4-3 despite enjoying home ice advantage. As the Sharks were etching this dubious distinction onto their dismal playoff resume, I experienced a significant milestone as a fan as well.

During my time following the Sharks, I have come to realize that the natural progression of being a Sharks fan mirrors the grieving process. Ultimately this seems wholly appropriate for a team that gives their fans nothing but grief once the regular season concludes. Players and coaches may come and go, but whether the team is guided by Ron Wilson’s “formula” or Todd McLellan’s “process” (pronounced PROH-cess, of course), the outcome never seems to change. Thus all Sharks fans eventually go through this five-stage metamorphosis,  provided they remain masochistic enough to stay around that long.

Stage 1: Denial

This is the stage in which the vast majority of Sharks fans find themselves. People are generally attracted to the team because of their impressive talent and regular season prowess, thus it is quite easy for new fans to brush off even several playoff stumbles as minor bumps in a road that must ultimately lead to a Stanley Cup title.

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These fans are characterized by their undying optimism, psyching themselves up into believing that every new season is “the year” that everything falls in line for the Sharks. The Sharks’ commitment to “reloading over rebuilding” feeds this type of mentality as it entrenches stars like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau as cornerstones of the franchise and makes fans believe that eventual success must come sooner or later. This attitude also erodes accountability as most of the fanbase is satisfied simply with competing and are all too willing to forgive big stars for annual underwhelming postseasons.

The even-keel franchise mentality exhibited by Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Todd McLellan, and Doug Wilson also does nothing to discourage such thinking. Gushing fans are all too ready to forgive and forget and believe the team leaders when they calmly claim (year in and year out) “We’ll get ’em next year.” This lack of accountability only serves to perpetuate the problem by preventing new blood and new fervor from joining the fold.

Stage 2: Anger

After a fan has sat through enough postseason disappointments, he or she may finally stop believing that winning is inevitable and recognize the need for change. However, this fan will be in for a rude awakening once he or she sees the infrastructure insulating the problematic parties from accountability.

This leads to the knee-jerk reaction of calling for complete turnover after every inevitable playoff exit. I myself went through this stage—calling for a complete roster turnover and dismissal of every coach, scout, trainer, announcer, and arena usher for several seasons while seething from yet another playoff ousting. In actuality, the Sharks do have some viable talent on the roster that isn’t doomed by the “power” of positive thinking and misplaced self-confidence, but such is a natural reaction once one realizes the Sharks’ approach cannot work. It is the first step toward becoming a true Sharks fan—leaving the hopelessly optimistic hordes behind and daring to hold the team accountable for their many shortcomings.

Stage 3: Bargaining

Stage 2 leads directly into Stage 3, once the realization sets in that major changes come at a cost. A team cannot hope to remain in such regular contention once they make a commitment to rebuild. Such a prospect does not bother the Stage 3 Sharks Fan, however. 

Once a fan reaches this point, they begin to think that even a decade out of the playoffs would be acceptable if the Sharks had a legitimate shot at winning thereafter. After all, what good is going to the playoffs every year if you’re ultimately just going to go home empty-handed?

Stage 4: Depression

Once a fan ponders the prospect of major change long enough, they come to the realization that a rebuild will never happen. The Sharks are plagued be a plethora of impediments preventing the possibility of major change.

Remember, the majority of the fanbase remains hopelessly committed to the team core and couldn’t bear the thought of bidding farewell to a Thornton or a Marleau—despite the fact that they are among the biggest the reasons the Sharks continue to come up short. Furthermore, the Sharks are owned by a largely-disinterested billionaire who cares more about continuing to make money than seeing the team succeed. Ownership will not be willing to accept the potential hit to ticket sales that will come with multiple years out of the playoffs should the Sharks commit to rebuilding the team, therefore there will never be major accountability for shortcomings as long as the team remains economically successful.

Changing the team’s mentality is the only way they can ever hope to get over the hump, but with the current circumstances that simply won’t happen. This realization hits hard, driving the odd fan who makes it this far in the progression to abandon hope that the Sharks can ever improve and simply lament their predicament.

Stage 5: Acceptance

One cannot grieve forever, nor can a Sharks fan mope forever. Eventually a fan will either give up completely and stop following their team, or swallow their pride and accept the team’s place in the league. Few fans ever reach this final stage in the process—I have rarely met another personally—but if one remains a Sharks fan long enough, this is the only place he or she will ultimately land.

ImageThese fans fully understand the complications discussed heretofore, and simply accept that it is nearly impossible that the Sharks will ever reach that ultimate goal. It takes a lot of fortitude to come to this conclusion and decide to continue following and supporting the team, but that’s what loyalty is all about. These fans hold open the possibility that things may eventually change, but they don’t continue to hold out childish hope that every year will be their year.

If the Sharks ever want to win the Stanley Cup, more people need to go through this progression and realize that the current approach is completely futile. The team needs more fire, more passion, and more desire. Believing blindly in a process doesn’t work if the process is broken. Until more people realize this, the Sharks will always be the team of next year.

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The San Francisco 49ers will open 2014 by christening Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara as their new home, riding a wave of momentum fed by three consecutive trips to the NFC Championship Game. However, their hopes to continue that streak in the first year in their new digs and keep pace with the division rival and defending World Champion Seattle Sea hawks took a major hit on Sunday.

Word broke Sunday morning that the LAPD had detained a 25-year-old San Jose resident who became agitated when forced to succumb to additional security screening prior to boarding a flight. The man apparently walked away from the security checkpoint claiming he had a bomb in his possession before being detained by the LAPD at the gate and taken in for booking.

Afternoon reports confirmed what many early reports had rumored, citing eye-witness identification made by those present for the incident: the man in question was embattled 49ers linebacker and ace pass-rusher Aldon Smith.

For Smith—who actually will not turn 25 until September—this marks the latest chapter in a string of troubling episodes that have left him as the antithesis of head coach Jim Harbaugh’s model player. Smith was arrested for suspicion of DUI last season following an early-morning single-car accident in which the car he was driving struck a tree. He ultimately spent five weeks away from the team while undergoing substance abuse treatment. He also faces three as-yet-unresolved felony counts of possessing illegal assault rifles stemming from a party at his San Jose home in summer 2012, wherein he and several others were injured in what may have been a gang-related altercation.

Smith has been a critical component in a stifling 49ers defense since joining the team in 2011. He has recorded 42 sacks over 43 games in three years since the 49ers selected him in the first round out of Missouri. He also made a serious run at Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record two seasons ago before cooling off significantly in the final weeks. Smith forms a formidable tandem with his namesake Justin Smith on the defensive line, helping make the 49ers’ defense the type of unit that has kept the team in serious competition for a Super Bowl title throughout Harbaugh’s tenure, despite an offense that has at times been laughably anemic. However, this latest run-in with the law could see him finally fall totally out of favor with the 49ers, even if he ultimately faces no criminal or NFL sanctions.

Harbaugh responded defiantly to news of the rival Seahawks’ numerous conduct infractions last offseason, saying that he wanted to run a team whose conduct and character were “above reproach.” How many more chances can Harbaugh thus offer to a player who continues to run seriously afoul of the law—supremely talented though he may be?

Smith isn’t the only one creating unwanted off-field headlines this offseason.  Cornerback Chris Culliver, one of the few hold-overs in a secondary decimated by salary cap casualties and attrition, faces legal action related to a late-March hit-and-run and illegal weapons possession while star quarterback Colin Kaepernick is being investigated in relation to an alleged recent sexual assault incident in Miami. Considering the reputability of the accusations against Kaepernick (or lack thereof) it seems likely his case will go down as a false alarm similar to the allegations leveraged on Michael Crabtree during the 2013 playoffs. The Culliver and Smith situations, however, are cause for serious concern.

Even if neither player faces prison time or league suspensions as a result of their recent debacles, Harbaugh may be forced to consider voluntary team-imposed sanctions. Allowing them to continue playing with no ramifications would surely undermine his earlier assertions and he is nothing if not a strong-willed man of principle.

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If Culliver and especially Smith miss any significant time in 2014—and at this point it seems a likely prospect—the ramifications for the 49ers defensive performance could be dire. The defense has already lost Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers, and Donte Whitner this offseason, leaving Culliver, Tramaine Brock, Craig Dahl, Perrish Cox, and sophomore-Safety-to-be Eric Reid as the only remaining members of the secondary experienced with Vic Fangio’s defense. The 49ers struggled mightily at times last year putting consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Missing their top pass-rushing threat for any period of time could put heavy pressure on an already-depleted secondary trying to gel with newcomers like Chris Cook and Antoine Bethea.

The 49ers overcame significant adversity last season to come within inches of making back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, so it is far from absurd to think they could find a way to still contend in 2014. Nonetheless, another poor decision by a long-troubled beleaguered star has put his team in a very unenviable position before the year even begins. It is a shame to again see an utter lack of maturity and self-discipline derailing a promising talent. We may well be witnessing the end of Smith’s tenure as a budding NFL star, and perhaps as a 49er.