Liotta: Don’t write off the Niners as Super Bowl contenders 

Sometimes it takes a little imagination to be a real fan. Especially as National Football League training camps gather speed during their first week of two-a-day workouts.

The defense that looked suspect a year ago has to be trusted to come up with the big stop.

The offense that sputtered and came up short in key moments last year must be counted on for the key third-down conversion this year.

The special teams that were non-descript a year ago have to be seen as game-changing units this year.

Looking back at the last three Super Bowl winners — the New Orleans Saints last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers two years ago, and the New York Giants three years back — each were surprises based on preseason predictions, and had totaled eight or 10 victories the season before their championship.

The year before their Super Bowl victory last February — back in 2008 — the New Orleans Saints went 8-8, went 2-6 on the road and ranked 23rd in the league in total defense, giving up 24.6 points per game.

In the year before their most recent Super Bowl victory, the Pittsburgh Steelers posted a 10-6 record, were a sub-.500 team on the road, and ranked 17th in the league in total offense.

In the year before their Super Bowl victory three seasons back, the New York Giants went 8-8, and ranked 25th in the league in total offense.

What this says is that in the year prior to winning a championship, these teams had plenty of warts, plenty of disappointments that had to be ironed out in order for the franchise to reach a level that allowed it to take home the Lombardi Trophy.

The 49ers come off a season filled with plenty of warts. They finished last season at 8-8 and ranked 15th in the league in total offense.

And Alex Smith did not do enough to silence the critics regarding his ability to lead a team to a championship, finishing 19th in the league with an 81.5 quarterback rating, throwing 18 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions.

In 2006, the year before he quarterbacked the N.Y. Giants to a Super Bowl championship, Eli Manning ranked 18th in the league with a 77.0 quarterback rating, throwing 24 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions.

At this point of the preseason, Smith and the 49ers have plenty to prove — to themselves and their fans. That’s why we’re all interested. To see how this turns out.

Look, if enough things break the wrong way for this year’s 49ers, there’s a 4-12 season looking them right in the face.
But with a little imagination …

Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at

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