This week-plus between the end of the Super Bowl and beginning of spring training offers a rare breather for Bay Area sports fans.
Nothing to affect the 49ers or Giants in the standings. The Sharks are safely atop their conference, and the Warriors safely at the bottom of theirs.
So let’s pause our sports merry-go-round, which has offered us one of its wilder rides over the past year, and measure just how much has changed — and how much hasn’t — over the past year.
We have to begin with Pablo Sandoval erupting off the pages of potential into one of the National League’s best hitters. Meanwhile, Alex Smith has made a pretty spectacular return from the dead.
I know Smith has yet to prove what he’ll make of the Niners quarterback spot, but it’s safe to say plenty more is expected from him today than a year ago.
Traveling in the other direction — through a hyperspace never before seen actually — has been Tiger Woods, who has fallen from unquestioned idol status to that of another flawed superstar with an unquenchable thirst.
Remember, a year ago at this time, Woods was a champion who’d won the U.S. Open on one leg coming off knee surgery.
A year ago, nobody could have imagined Mark McGwire back in baseball. Or the New Orleans Saints as champions of football.
All is not quiet on the sports front for the first time in several years, with the distant rumbles of labor strife poised on the National Football League’s horizon.
Compared to a year ago, Mike Montgomery looks less out of place on the Cal bench, while Don Nelson looks a whole more out of place on the Warriors’ bench.
Tim Lincecum has to be given some kind of a consistency award to go along with his second consecutive Cy Young Award. Even his marijuana bust has barely rocked the boat filled by his fans.
The Raiders have to be mentioned for a consolation prize for consistency. No franchise in any sport marches to its own drum like the Raiders.
Also in the consistency category has to be that forever-faithful group of Cal football fans, who face another year in the perpetual shadow of whoever leads the Pac-10.
Can’t tell you if the A’s are on the rise or faking it. Or if Stanford football has a chance to roll down Jim Harbaugh’s national championship road.
One question, however, lingers just as it did a year ago at this time: What does Barry Bonds do all day?
Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at email@example.com.