THE FINAL 49:
During the final 49 weeks until Kickoff 2013, we will take a moment each week to look at various aspects of the football program.
Dec. 29, 2012
By Tom Whitestone
It's the final week of 2012. A memorable year is coming to a close. A historic year is about to begin.
To close the year, I took a trip to the football stadium yesterday and, as expected, saw two couples park their car, wander towards the gate and peer in. They stood and looked for a few minutes at the green turf, the yellow goal posts, and the stands surrounding McColl-Richardson Field. Maybe they came to imagine all that would come in 2013. Or, maybe they came to see all that had taken place in 2012.
A great sight, either way.
With the year coming to a close, though, it's fitting to look back at some of the top stories of 2012, these coming at you in chronological order. Cue "Auld Lang Syne".
- 1.) The First Class. At 7:02 a.m., Feb. 1, 2012, the National Letter of Intent of Will Thomas came across the fax machine in the 49ers football office and the 49ers had their first football player. By the time the day ended, 23 more high school seniors would officially sign with the 49ers. With the addition of its first players, the Charlotte 49ers football program was now becoming a football team.
- 2.) Conference USA: On May 4, the 49ers made an amazing announcement. Before holding even their first practice, the upstart 49ers announced that they had been invited and would be joining a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) league. The 49ers would play the requisite two years in the FCS as an independent and then take the fast track to the FBS level as a member of Conference USA in 2015.
- 3.) The Helmet: The first part of the 49ers game day uniform was made public July 25 when head coach Brad Lambert unveiled a white helmet with 49ers green speckles - a favorite among 49ers recruits. He unveiled the helmet at a media and fan gathering overlooking the 49ers football stadium construction site.
- 4.) The Goal Posts: Part of the 49ers "The Rush is On" Campaign was a billboard, sitting atop a yellow painted pole and complete with yellow uprights that boasted "Our Fans are Putting Goal Posts Up." On Aug. 11, reality hit and the yellow goal posts at the 49ers Football Stadium were installed.
- 5.) Firsts: So many firsts, this fall. On Aug. 16, the players first reported to campus. On Aug. 17, the 49ers held their first team meeting. On Aug. 27, the 49ers held their first workout session on the practice fields.
- 6.) First Practice in Pads: While the fall was filled with many firsts - the first practice in pads, Sept. 21, 2012 was a day so many coaches, players and fans had yearned for, as cornerback Tank Norman appropriately summed up: "We woke up pumped up. Early this morning we were talking at breakfast at seven o'clock this morning. We've been amped up all day."
- 7.) Oct. 31, 2012: For many this Wednesday came and went like so many others. But this day brought the official completion of construction of the 49ers football stadium. The certificate of occupancy was signed over to the university. Seeing administrators sign papers isn't nearly as exciting as seeing players take the field for the first time - but this still has juice. The 49ers football stadium was now complete.
- 8.) Oct. 31, 2012: For many, this Wednesday was like no other. After papers were signed and the stadium was officially turned over to the university, head coach Brad Lambert had just one question. "So can we practice on it, today?" "Have at it" was the response - and so he did. Players took to the stadium field for the first time. Some paused at the end of the tunnel. Some raced through it. Some rolled around on the turf like children. Peter Fields dunked a football over the crossbar. "I feel like a kid. This is awesome."
- 9.) Stadium Scrimmage: 1500 fans turned out on Nov. 3 to watch the 49ers first scrimmage activities inside the stadium. Running back Alan Barnwell carried for four hard yards on the first play from scrimmage. Barnwell would later record the first touchdown in the "CHARLOTTE" logo-ed endzone, breaking through on a one-yard carry. As the team gathered after completing windsprints to close practice, a fan yelled out: "You're making history, guys." And so they are.
- 10.) Fall Finale: On Nov. 17, the 49ers closed their first fall of workouts and practices with a "Fall Finale" in front of nearly 2500 fans. FSL owners were given a tour of the Rose Football Center. Concessions were sold. And five touchdowns were scored to the delight of the crowd. "We have some playmakers in all the rights spots," Lambert said afterwards, with a nod to the touchdowns as well as the turnovers created.
These are just some of the great moments in 2012. Personally, that Aug. 27th date, when the players first gathered in the hall outside their locker room - with media cameras on them - ready to run up the ramp and out to the practice fields for their first workouts, that is still my favorite day of this year. Surreal, one player called it.
You may have your favorite, as well. And it may not even be highlighted above. There were so many to choose from - including more coaching hires, more games being scheduled and more players being added to the roster. Maybe your big moment lives in those practices and drills. Or in an early morning weight room session. Or talking in town about that football program that's right around the corner. Or unwrapping a 49ers jersey. Or seeing your kid's face light up when you first stepped inside the stadium.
The moments of 2012 are many and varied and can be very personal. And they all point in the same direction: 2013.
So here's to 2012. A memorable year just past. A historic year approaching.
Happy New Year.