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The Front Row with MARK NELKE December 12, 2010

| December 12, 2010 8:00 PM

A mysterious package arrived in the Press sports department the other day.

Sadly, it did not smell like bacon.

However, it did smell a little fishy.

Inside the package was a tape, with a note from a former Denver Broncos employee.

"Here's some secret practice footage of the San Francisco 49ers that I shot before our game with them in London. I thought it would help us beat them, but all it did was get me in trouble and the coach eventually was fired. Since I hear you are a 49ers fan, you are now free to do with this tape what you will."

SO, HAVING watched the 49ers' feeble attempt at offensive football in recent years, I did the only sensible thing.

I took the tape home ... and taped right over it. Can't remember what is now on that tape - Diners, Drive-ins and Dives? ... an episode of Dastardly and Muttley? ... Happy Days?

Besides, what kind of key secrets could have possibly been on this tape?

Anybody who has watched San Francisco play in recent years knows their offense resembles the offense of the L.A. Rams of the 1970s, in which their slogan was, "Hey, diddle diddle, McCutcheon up the middle."

So, if the 49ers' practices look anything like their games do, what was on the tape probably looked like this:

First down, handoff up the middle to Frank Gore (he hadn't fractured his hip by then) for little to no gain.

Second down, handoff up the middle to Gore for a similarly minimal gain.

Third down, quarterback is flushed out of the pocket from the moment he takes the snap, and heaves the ball way out of bounds.

SO, WHY the need to try to detect any secrets? The scouting report has been faxed around the league, and it looks something like this:

First down: Put 8 or 9 in the box - or what the heck, put all 11 in there - and stuff the run.

Second down: Repeat first down.

Third down: Blitz a linebacker and a cornerback and force the QB to run for his life and throw the ball out of bounds in a panic.

Gore is out for the season now with that hip injury, but the game plan is the same in defending his backups. One insists on doing some sort of dance at the line of scrimmage, rather than charging straight ahead. And the other is only one more good shot to the head away from calling it a career.

The guy that was supposed to be Gore’s backup, Glen Coffee, decided that joining the clergy was a higher calling than attempting to fruitlessly barrel through the line of scrimmage while carrying a football.

The 49ers have gone from Alex Smith to Troy Smith and now back to Alex Smith in search of a starting quarterback. If that fails, perhaps Akili Smith could be next in line, or they could try to convert Justin Smith, who is their standout defensive tackle, to quarterback.

WHICH BRINGS us to today’s monumental showdown in S.F. between the 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks.

Seahawk fans are much more delighted with their team’s 6-6 record than 49er fans are with their club’s 4-8 start, which tells you something about the relative expectations of the two teams’ fan bases.

The optimist would say the 49ers are one victory away from being right back in contention for the division title. The realist would contend that, win or not, the 49ers are not going to win the division, and there will be wholesale changes from the top on down before next season.

San Francisco pranced into Seattle for the season opener all full of swagger, forgetting that they’re really not that good of a football team. The Seahawks reminded them with a 31-6 spanking at Qwest Field.

If the 49ers’ memory fails them once again, the beatings will continue.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via e-mail at mnelke@cdapress.com.

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