This weekend the Colts face off with with the San Francisco 49ers at home to close out their 2017 NFC West schedule. There are few reasons for Colts and 49ers fans to ever really give a great deal of thought about each other. The only way the two teams will ever meet is in the Super Bowl, they are no where close to one another in proximity, and they will only play each other once every four years.
Despite this fact, it’s possible that no two fan bases are more similarly situated in terms of the recent and current state of their franchise. The 49ers have a proud winning heritage that goes back to the days of Joe Montana and Steve Young, as the Colts have history with Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning.
These fan bases know enough about the taste of winning that they have very high expectations for their teams every year and will not put up with mediocrity. Both of these teams were recently relevant in the playoffs, with appearances in the AFC and NFC championship game — the 49ers even made it to the Super Bowl.
San Francisco has undergone a house cleaning that saw a bitter break up between Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers front office, a replacement in Chip Kelly that didn’t pan out and left the team somehow in an even worse position, and the team finally hit the reset button with a new GM and new head coach.
The Indianapolis Colts had a great deal of success under Bill Polian, Tony Dungy, and Jim Caldwell but moved on to a failed project with Ryan Grigson and, to this point, Chuck Pagano. Still, the franchise is in the middle of a massive reset that includes an almost entirely new defense, a little bit more patience from fans who realize that it will take a year or two to complete the change, and some budding promise about the direction the franchise is heading.
We spoke with David Fucillo of Niners Nation to get his thoughts on how the 49ers fan base is coping with an environment that is not too different from the one the Colts fan community is navigating.
It's been a mess for 49ers fans. The fan base has not reacted well to the last three years of losing in part because of how it came to be. The 49ers went to the NFC title game following the 2011 season, the Super Bowl following 2012, and the NFC title game following 2013. Whispers of some discord started to emerge, and 2014 was played under the shadow of a feud featuring head coach Jim Harbaugh on one side, and GM Trent Baalke and owner Jed York on the other side. It eventually ended with a "mutual parting" between Harbaugh and the 49ers.
That was followed by defensive line coach Jim Tomsula taking over and things going further south. His hiring coincided with numerous notable retirements and free agency departures. Tomsula was fired after one year when it became entirely clear he was in over his head. The 49ers then hired Chip Kelly in a bit of a shotgun marriage with Baalke. There was some semblance of excitement, but that turned south quickly as it became clear the roster lacked talent in numerous areas.
Fans remained pissed off, but this offseason seems like the kind of reset the franchise needed. John Lynch was a shocking hire as GM, while Kyle Shanahan was one of the favorites to land a HC job. The duo has brought a semblance of competence this offseason, and just Lynch's rapport with the media, compared to Baalke, is a breath of fresh air. The fan base recognized the talent deficiencies on the roster, and is patient with the rebuild now that we see a management structure that seems to be moving in the right direction. Getting rid of a GM who struggled in the draft replenished the patience of the fan base.
There is a whole lot going on in Indianapolis this weekend harking back to the golden days with Peyton Manning and the not too distant history of dominating the division and always being in the hunt for playoff relevance. Interestingly enough, 49ers fans will be able to relate.
These two teams are going to give each other their very best shot, of that we can be sure. Somehow though, these two fan communities will have a bond that they might not even realize in terms of how they feel about their team, the direction, and how frustrated they are about what has recently occurred to see their beloved franchises fall out of favor.