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Knock Wood When You Say That.
Posted Wednesday, September 29, 2004

by Bill Hogan


I came down with a cold the other day. Don't know how I caught it, and I don't know how long it's going to last. But I do know why I now have a runny nose, scratchy throat and body aches. Because I happened to mention how good I've been feeling lately.

While golfing recently, a friend pointed out - on the 12th hole – that he hadn't lost a ball all day. He promptly put two brand new Titleists into the ravine that guards the right side of the fairway on 13. Apparently, he had spoken too soon.


In his football column for SI.com last week, sportswriter B. Duane Cross noted in passing that the San Francisco "49ers have now scored in 420 consecutive games, dating to Oct. 9, 1977." At 49erswebzone.com this past Friday, John Hunt reminded his readers that the 49ers' NFL record of 420 consecutive games without being shut out is "more than 200 games longer than the next-longest streak."

Also published last Friday, two days before the 49ers played the Seattle Seahawks, was a column in the San Jose Mercury News titled "The 49ers have not been shut out since '77," written by Daniel Brown. Brown is quick to add "Ordinarily, there would be no need to say a word. The streak grows each week with all the drama of a pregame coin toss."

To my knowledge, none of these writers bothered to knock wood as they typed the words that would lead to a lopsided 34-0 Seahawks win. For the first time in 27 years, the 49ers failed to score a single point.

It's ok to talk about positive streaks, like the New England Patriots current winning streak. But it is now and has always been taboo to mention any streak that begins with the word "not." Like not getting sick or not losing a golf ball; or not being shut out in 27 years. Mention these things out loud and something bad is bound to happen.

Brown should have heeded his own commentary, there certainly was "no need to say a word" about the streak. It's one thing to think to yourself "wow, I haven't had a piano fall on my head for almost a year," but another altogether to actually express that revelation publicly. Once said aloud, it would be best to DUCK!

Brown was on the money when he said "The streak grows each week with all the drama of a pregame coin toss." In the NFL, success is measured by wins and losses, not how many point you score – or don't score.

The 49ers extended their "streak" through the 1978 and 1979 seasons to 42 games without being shut out and, in the process, won just four times. I bet the Niners coaching staff would have traded a couple of donuts on the scoreboard for a couple of more notches in the win column.

San Francisco went 13-3 in the regular season in 1981 on their way to their first Super Bowl. Had they been shut out in any of the three losses, would anyone remember? Would anyone really care? A 34-0 loss counts against a team just as much as a 34-33 loss.

It seems to me that not being shut out ranks right up there with not biting your tongue and not stubbing your toe. It's great, but it really doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot in the grander scheme of things. I can live with a stubbed toe, the Niners, at 0-3, can't survive with too many more losses – no matter how many points they score in defeat.

Not being shut out sounds more like a consolation prize than an achievement. Something I might say to my son after a Pop Warner game. "Hey, at least you didn't get shut out – this time."

The San Diego Chargers were the worst team in the NFL in 2003, finishing the season with a 4-12 record. But, hey, they scored in all 16 games. I don't remember Marty Schottenheimer starting off the end of season press conference with "at least we didn't get shut out."

There's no doubt that all the press leading up to the Seahawks game touting the 420 consecutive games without being shut out streak cost the 49ers a field goal on Sunday. But really, does 34-3 sound any better?


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