Roger Craig: 49ers Will Make Playoffs
While he practiced delivering a stirring "Gentlemen, start your engines!" commandment as the event's Grand Marshal, Craig also made a bold prediction about the NFL team that drafted him in 1983 out of Nebraska.
"The 49ers will be a playoff team this season. I'm making that prediction," said Craig, a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2010. "They were 8-8 last season. You saw what happened.
"They should have beaten Minnesota (Week 3; 27-24 loss; Brett Favre led his 40th game-winning comeback drive), they should have beaten the Colts (Week 8; 18-14 loss; Joseph Addai threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne), they should have beaten the Texans (Week 7; 24-21 loss; backup quarterback Alex Smith intercepted by Texans free safety Eugene Williams with 36 seconds remaining), they should have beaten Seattle (Week 13; 20-17 loss; Smith passed for 310 yards and two touchdowns, Seahawks kicked the game-winning field goal).
"So that's 12-4 right there. Those four games could have changed the season around. They were that close. I think they're going to be very strong contenders this year."
Why is Craig so optimistic about his former team, which hasn't been to the postseason since 2002?
"You think about the division -- Kurt Warner isn't with Arizona anymore, so they're going to rebuilding, and Anquan Boldin is gone," Craig explained. "And [coach] Pete Carroll is going to have a tough time [in Seattle] the first year. He's not going to come out of the gate really dominating the West.
"So the 49ers are the perfect team to annihilate the NFC West. And they've got the right ingredients right now."
Craig raved about the 49ers' decision to select two big offensive linemen in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft, tackle Anthony Davis of Rutgers and guard Mike Iupati from Iowa.
"They must have listened to [me]," Craig said with a laugh. "I said they should draft linemen and they drafted the biggest guys on the planet! And then they drafted [former USC safety] Taylor Mays, another steal of the draft. I can't wait until he plays against Seattle, because I know his horns will be out and he'll be ready to take some heads off."
Craig, 49, remains a Bay Area sports icon and a fanatical fitness buff -- he just finished the San Diego half marathon in 1 hour, 45 minutes and will run the Chicago Marathon in August, with an eye toward qualifying for the Boston Marathon.
He watched the 49ers' recent victory at the polls in Santa Clara, Calif. with great interest. The team received voter approval in that city to begin construction of a 68,500-seat stadium to replace aging Candlestick Park. The new park, which will be located about 45 miles south of San Francisco, is scheduled to be ready for the 2014 season.
Now the 49ers' greater challenge may be in securing financing for the proposed $937 million stadium complex. Construction is set to begin in 2012.
The move away south from crumbling Candlestick Park, Craig said, is a good thing -- and a huge victory for the 49ers' young team president and CEO Jed York, who spearheaded the multi-million dollar campaign to convince Santa Clara voters to allow the team to build a stadium complex just north of San Jose.
"If you think about it, most of our fans are based in Santa Clara down to Gilroy [Calif.]; another 35 percent are in Stockton [Central Valley] all the way to Reno," Craig said. "Only five percent [of the fanbase] is in San Francisco. I know we've got a lot of history being in San Francisco -- five Super Bowls. But the name is still going to stay the same. It's not going to be the Santa Clara 49ers.
"I think it's great, and Jed York did a good job lobbying and getting this thing passed. It still has a long way to go."