For various reasons — sociological, chronological, historical — NFL training camp reporting dates will never carry the (sometimes overwrought) romance of the magic words “pitchers and catchers report.”
Football fans don’t care.
They’re ready for some football.
In particular, 49ers fans are ready for some football. And when’s the last time you can say that?
I know the last time you could say that. It involved khakis and grown men shouting “WHO’S GOT IT BETTER THAN US?”
But Jim Harbaugh came and went. Colin Kaepernick came and went. And, thank the football gods, Trent Baalke came and went.
As training camp starts in Santa Clara — only two weeks until the exhibition opener vs Dallas! — the 49ers are in the best place they’ve been in since the names reporting included Justin Smith and Frank Gore and Patrick Willis.
Now the names 49ers fans are loving are Kyle Shanahan and DeForest Buckner and Reuben Foster and George Kittle and…what was that other guy’s name again?…I forget…
Oh, yeah. I remember.
James Garoppolo, the 49ers quarterback of the present and future, is a one-man hope machine. But perhaps as important is the street cred of his coach, Shanahan, and his general manager, John Lynch. Those two men have, in one year, given the 49ers’ building the sheen of adulthood and competence.
And, with a five-game win streak to end 2017, the sheen of playoff hope.
Now, as camp dawns, we have our assignment as 49ers fans and observers.
Be excited by the structure and the roster (rookie tackle Mike McGlinchey, rookie wide receiver Dante Pettis, veteran cornerback Richard Sherman to name a few) and the general feeling of optimism.
But also understand what Shanahan took pains to spell out in his camp-opening press conference on Wednesday: It’s a new season. There are targets on the backs of the handsome young QB and the intelligent second-year coach. Press clippings and talk-radio hype only have fueled the 49ers’ opponents desire to put a licking on the NFL’s trendiest playoff pick. The Rams won the NFC West last year, and by all accounts (welcome Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Ndamokong Suh) have an even better roster this year.
The 49ers, like their fans, have to guard against the downside of hype: expectations.
Shanahan illustrated the theme in his comments. It seems incredible to think for a team that was 1-10 at one point last year, but he actually said, “if I felt guys were coasting … but I don’t feel that at all with our team.” The 49ers and “coasting” should, of course, never be in the same sentence. They have not been in the playoffs since 2013.
But times have changed. A quarterback is here. A coach is here. A GM is forming a roster in a functional building, free of insidious leaks.
It’s almost as romantic as the sound of a baseball popping a glove on a spring training morning. Instead, the sounds of pads crunching and whistles blowing will have to serve as a strong stand-in.