Dennis Brown is in grand position to gauge the pulse of San Francisco 49er fans. With his football playing days with the Washington Huskies (1986-89) and San Francisco 49ers (1990-1996) behind him, he now lives in the Bay Area and remains active with his former NFL team, with whom he won a Super Bowl championship in 1995. Two of his duties include co-hosting the 49ers Central show on Thursday nights, and the Post Game Show after home games. He sees things up close and talks to lots of people.
"Last week's loss to the Seahawks was a tough one," Brown said, in assessing San Francisco's 42-13 loss to Seattle last Sunday night on ESPN. "The Seahawks are hard to play at home. We came off the beating Tom Brady in New England thing the previous week, so everyone on the team was really high from that.
"But in looking at the numbers, people forget that the 49ers have won two and lost one, won two and lost one, won two and tied. So they haven't put three games together the entire season. Going up to Seattle, during the show I was saying these are the Seahawks. I've been in Seattle, and I know how much the people there love the Seahawks and the Huskies. It's going to be tough to play there. Russell Wilson is a quarterback that will cause us lots of problems.
"From the first series, we went three and out, and I was like, 'this is going to be a long day.' I wasn't surprised by the loss. But I was surprised by the score. It was quickly 14-0, and then they blocked the field goal and ran it back to make it 21-0, and I was like `wow'. Everybody in the Bay Area is still talking about it. This rivalry is here to stay."
By no means is Brown an old man, and yet when he played there was no Century Link Field nor Seahawks-49ers rivalry. Back then, the Seahawks number one target was the Oakland/LA Raiders. But now that the Seahawks are in the NFC West and suddenly riding high with coach Pete Carroll, Seattle is dead center on San Francisco's radar.
"All that everyone talks about here is the Seattle Seahawks," Brown said. "It's become a rivalry because of the personalities of the coaches and the teams being similar. I'm familiar with Pete Carroll because he used to be my defensive coordinator here (in San Francisco). There's an intense rivalry between Coach Carroll and (current San Fran coach) Jim Harbaugh. Their history goes back to college. Back to when Coach Carroll was at USC and Harbaugh was at Stanford. They've had some great battles."
Brown cited the similarities between the two teams as to why the rivalry will sustain itself.
"Seattle's QB, Russell Wilson, and our quarterback Colin Kaepernick, both play alike.," Brown said. "They're both mobile and can make things happen. They're both going to be around for awhile. Secondly, both defenses are physical and fly around."
Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, San Francisco is 10-4-1 with a half game lead over the Seahawks for the NFC West Division Crown. Ironically though, many 49er fans believe this season is being sacrificed for the sake of future glory. The promotion of rookie Colin Kaepernick to starting quarterback over veteran Alex Smith has people shaking their heads.
"I don't understand the decision because where it came from," Brown said. "Now, if it was the beginning of the year and you say `Alex Smith is no longer our quarterback', okay, I can understand it. But well into the season, Alex Smith was playing lights out football. He had one of the highest ratings of any quarterback in the NFL. He got a concussion and Kaepernick came in and played well. But your starter lost his position when he was healthy. He never had a chance to get back in there and do anything else. I didn't understand the way it was done.
"But having been here in the Bay Area for the last six years, people were ready for Alex to go," Brown said. "At the same time, Alex took us to within one play of going to the Super Bowl last. He was playing good football. But Coach Harbaugh decided that Kaepernick is his guy and the starter. I'm not the head coach and don't understand how those decisions happen. But as a player, I would be like whoa. Alex has been our guy, he's been in our huddle, we hear his voice, he's our captain and he's lost his job. But that's the NFL."
So far this season, Kaepernick has thrown for 1,538 yards and 8 touchdowns with only 3 interceptions. Hs QB rating is a respectable 95.7. Like Seattle's Russell Wilson, he adds a running dimension, with 410 yards and 5 TDs.
"There has to be something in Kaepernick that makes Harbaugh think this is my guy," Brown said. "I think he's done with Alex and believes he's reached his highest potential. And he thinks the ceiling for Kaepernick is wide open and limitless.
"But that's where the fans wonder `hey, are we giving up on this season in order to give him experience?' For a lot of fans, the Super Bowl is not in our mind for this season, because it looks like Harbaugh is banking on the future. But here in San Francisco, because of the history of the 49ers, the fans want Super Bowls. So that's where the fans are looking at Harbaugh and are going, `What are we doing here?'
"There's something Harbaugh has seen in him that makes him think it's going to work. I haven't really bought into the Colin Kaepernick thing, but I trust Harbaugh and have bought into him."
In comparing Kaepernick with Seattle's own rookie quarterback, Russell WIlson, Brown likes what he sees.
"Russell Wilson, he's not a tall guy and not a big guy," Brown said. "But he's one of those quarterbacks that upsets defensive linemen. There were a couple plays there (last Sunday night) where he scrambled around and it was like he was toying the defensive linemen. He was like, `Alright, here comes a d-lineman, let me step over here... here comes another one, let me step over there...' Mobility like that kills defensive linemen. At that point it was like, geez, the Seahawks own this game. It was a tough game and everybody in San Francisco is still talking about it.
"But we've got Arizona at home this weekend," Brown said. "Hopefully we can rebound."