It feels like an old friend left town.
A week after the 49ers’ season ended, there’s definitely something missing around The City. The discussions around town, between strangers, in the sports bars, the restaurants, in buses and the taxis. By the end, The City was just like it was in the good old days of Montana, Rice and Young.
The fairy-tale season of the 2011 49ers, which unfolded in a way that made everyone who jumped on board this team’s bandwagon think it had to end in a fairy-tale-like fashion, came to a crushing, unfulfilling end. Leaving everyone involved wondering how the end could come as it did.
The win over the New Orleans Saints in the divisional playoffs was one for the ages, one that ranked up with any win in team history, short of those that came in a Super Bowl.
To reach that pinnacle after where this team began is an almost impossible climb. But these 49ers did it.
About the only good thing to come out of the painful ending is the look about this team, one that makes the Faithful feel like it is just the beginning.
All the pieces look to be in place. The coaching staff. A defense that was the best in the NFL by the end of the season.
The quarterback back from the dead. The running back and tight end. Add some wide receivers and some secondary help in the draft or in free agency, and it feels like there’s nowhere to go but up.
And imagine what the 49ers could do with a real offseason, refining everything that coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff installed on the fly in 2011.
Especially now that Alex Smith has figured out how to play quarterback at a high level, now that Vernon Davis has emerged as one of the game’s best tight ends.
This offseason will be one of dreams and what could be for the fans of the 49ers, who will have an entirely different set of circumstances to play with next year — expectations.
This year was the one that caught everybody by surprise, charmed everyone along the way, paid off with an epic jump-on-the-couch, yell-at-the-radio, hug-whoever-you-were-with win over New Orleans.
Next year? The Bay Area will expect them to win. There will be disappointments. There will be complaints after performances that a year ago would have been tolerated.
Next year will have to build on this year, so the Niners will have to play close to a 13-3, regular-season pace, and advance to the conference championship for 2012 to be considered a success. The chances of next year being as fun as this year are slim and none.
Nonetheless, everything about this year makes the Niner fan believe that next year could be better.
And the great thing about this team, right now, is that it just might.
Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. Email him at email@example.com.