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Sunday, August 12, 2007


Last of the 49ers struck it rich as a pioneer
Scott Ostler - SF Chroncle
Saturday, August 11, 2007

BILL WALSH MEMORIAL SERVICE - Last of the 49ers struck it rich a...

They came to the old football stadium Friday, fans and players and friends, to say goodbye to Bill Walsh, the last of the true 49ers.
Walsh wasn't the last of the football 49ers, but the last of the 49ers who began migrating to San Francisco 150 years ago because their dreams were too big to fit anywhere else in America.
They were wild, restless, desperate and a little bit crazy, and the spirit of those 49ers may have seen its last spark in a gray-haired football coach who struck gold without getting his hands dirty.
Walsh's story is the last great gold-rush saga. A window into what he achieved and the impact he had on so many lives was opened up at the public memorial service Friday at Candlestick.
It was what you might call a West Coast service - innovative, entertaining and choreographed by Bill Walsh. While he was slowly dying of leukemia, Walsh planned his own services, down to the music piped into the stadium speakers as the 8,000 or so fans filed in, a river of 49er red.
It was mostly country music - Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr., Johnny Cash, Little Jimmy Dickens.
The music had a wistful thread. "Always on My Mind." "All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)." "Hello, Walls." "(You'll Always Find Me Here at) Closing Time."
But you can't plan everything, and Walsh surely would have appreciated the man who stood up in the grandstands early in the service and recited a poem about the 49ers.
The emcee, Chris "Boomer" Berman, is a Bay Area guy who knows about the Beat poets, so he let the man do his thing, then said admiringly, " There's a 49er fan."
The rest of the program went pretty much as scripted. The previous day's private service at Stanford was mostly about Walsh the man, while Friday's event was more about what Walsh created here. It was an amazing machine and all he did was select the parts, assemble them by his own blueprint, teach, coach, inspire and lead.
"The man who brought it all together," Steve Young said.
And the man who held it all together for a decade. Who else but Walsh could have pulled off that miracle? As Ronnie Lott observed after the service, "Abraham Lincoln said, 'We are all copies.' Bill is not a copy, he's an original."
For sure, nobody but Walsh could have built such a marvelous contraption from the ground up, and made it soar. Former team owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., who had many bitter battles with Walsh, went poetic on us, likening the 49ers' glory days to Camelot.
"Bill Walsh was our King Arthur and this stadium was our castle," Eddie D said.
It was DeBartolo who hired Walsh when the 47-year-old's window of opportunity as an NFL head coach had just about slammed closed. DeBartolo was either incredibly lucky or a true visionary, because that hiring had a major lasting impact on San Francisco's culture, self-image and world reputation.
DeBartolo's longtime sidekick Carmen Policy took us back to the beginning, when DeBartolo's father advised Eddie Jr. not to hire Walsh because trusted NFL insiders had convinced the senior DeBartolo that while Walsh was a smart guy, he wasn't head-coach material.
So true. Walsh was way overqualified for the job. But instead of dumbing down his system to the league's level, Walsh lifted his players and assistant coaches.
So Eddie DeBartolo Sr. was strongly opposed to his son hiring Walsh?
"That's Carmen," DeBartolo Jr. said after the service, in a tone indicating that Policy's speech had been overly dramatic. "(My dad) was just a little concerned about the salary. He wanted to pay Bill $45,000. Bill wanted two-something ($200,000-plus)."
So how much did Walsh get?
"Two-something," DeBartolo said.
For his dough, DeBartolo got a genius who had the kind of plan and faith and determination that gets Golden Gate Bridges built.
Joe Montana explained after the service how the West Coast offense had been a new way of thinking. Opposing defenses hated to give up four yards on a running play, but a four-yard pass? No biggie.
"In their mind," Montana said, "they were saying, 'It's only four yards (gain on the pass play), we stopped 'em.' "
Four yards and a cloud of Jerry Rice's cologne.
Four yards at a time, Walsh's 49ers won three Super Bowls. Critics disparaged Walsh's schemes, but couldn't stop them.
The bad guys, Walsh didn't dink-'n'-dunk 'em as much as he out-thunk 'em.
Along the way, he berated his men and he praised them, made them cry and laugh, tore them down and built them up, made them hate him and, in the end, love him.
Walsh swung a mean pick, and no 49er ever struck it richer.

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