Bill Walsh defined winning with class. He was humble in victory and civil in defeat. He never ran up the score on an opponent, except when making a necessary point. Ronnie Lott never beat his chest, Jerry Rice didn’t dance in the end zone and the most animated Joe Montana ever got was lifting his arms in the air to signal a touchdown—though he once, uncharacteristically but completely spontaneously, threw in a fist pump.
Walsh would laud the opponent after a victory, regardless of the score. He was introspective after a loss, congratulating the other team and opining on how the San Francisco 49ers needed to improve.
A lot has changed since those simpler times. The current 49ers, whose legacy is still to be defined, are on the threshold of becoming Super Bowl champions. If they execute they should win the game against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. The best team usually wins.
From an organizational standpoint, Jed York has set the tone to return class to the storied franchise. He has focused on continuing the long, distinguished legacy of the 49ers, which includes honoring his uncle, Eddie DeBartolo; the 49ers hall of fame and, especially, the new stadium. He has brought the true standard of success back to the team. As a 33-year season ticket holder, that standard had never been simply making the playoffs.
It is and always has been a Super Bowl victory. Anything less is a failed season. That is the harsh reality. Nothing less than a Super Bowl victory is required for a true 49er faithful.
Recognizing that one must go through tough times and lean years is disappointing. But the journey is worth the effort. A Super Bowl victory, like winning the World Series, erases a whole lot of bad years.
What should never change is the class of an organization, win or lose. Class manifests itself in different ways. Nobody would have ever heard Joe Montana or Jerry Rice proclaim they were the greatest ever. They never had to—their championships speak for them. Those who know the game speak for them. Ask John Madden who are the greatest quarterback and receiver in the history of the game—he knows.
Note to Randy Moss: I met Jerry Rice. I watched him play. Great as you are, Mr. Moss, you are no Jerry Rice.
But if Randy wins a championship he will be part of the best ever, for that year. Nobody will argue the point.
As for the new 49er fans, learn the game. Quiet on offense, loud on defense. Violence in the stands is idiotic. Opposing fans should be welcomed, their team beaten on the field and their trip to city of San Francisco or Santa Clara a highlight of their travels.
Finally, this team does remind me of the 1980 team: young, talented, a great coach and a young owner. The 49ers’ legacy will be defined by the totality of their character. Win on Sunday and they have taken the first step, but never forget that humility and civility are values they can pass on to the next generation of great players, as the great Niners of years past have done for them.
Then and only then will they deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice and the other great Niners who lived up to the standard insisted upon by the greatest coach ever, Bill Walsh.
And by the way, humble in victory, civil in defeat should also be the standard for local politics.
Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley.