Gil LeBreton

These 49ers are nothing like team that was so hated, so feared

The line to dance on the San Francisco 49ers’ grave was once a long one.

You don’t need to remind any Dallas Cowboys fans of that.

The Niners burst into NFL prominence just as the star dimmed on the Tom Landry era Cowboys. The cosmic collision, known hereabouts as “The Catch” — though fans in Texas have always considered it “The Throwaway” — sent one franchise on to two decades of pro football greatness.

The other, not so much.

Five Super Bowl victories later, however, the 49ers were back again.

New owners. A brash new coach. A rebel quarterback sleeved in tattoos, who excelled at what we thought was going to be the NFL’s game plan of the decades.

But when the lights went out at Super Bowl XLVII, and San Francisco eventually lost to the Baltimore Ravens, the meteor dimmed as well.

The 49ers were 8-8 last season, and not a very good 8-8 at that. They failed to make the playoffs.

That feisty coach? Jim Harbaugh reportedly rubbed owner Jed York the wrong way, and he is gone, replaced by somebody named Jim Tomsula.

Harbaugh returned to his college alma mater, Michigan. The exodus followed — Frank Gore to the Colts, Michael Crabtree to the Raiders, guard Mike Iupati to the Cardinals.

Chris Borland and Justin Smith retired with concussion concerns. Great linebacker Patrick Willis was never able to find himself after a toe injury. Troubled linebacker Aldon Smith was released after a fifth run-in with the law.

When they were winning under Harbaugh — 41 games from 2011-13 — the 49ers’ defensive swagger clearly got under the skin of some NFL folks. Remember Richard Sherman’s postgame rant?

Their place has been superseded by cocky Pete Carroll and the Adderall-enhanced Seattle Seahawks. But the 49ers shouldn’t expect any sympathy cards.

What happened to this team by the bay?

Hard to say, really. It is implausible to think it was all a house of cards —not with that defense.

But injuries happen. The San Francisco offensive line was cast into flux. They couldn’t crack that intense Seattle home-field advantage.

And there was the aforementioned quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, whose 2014 season was a staggering step in arrears.

As the Cowboys prepare to come to town for an exhibition game Sunday, 15 49ers who started at least one game last season are gone. The two coordinators, Greg Roman and Vic Fangio, are also gone.

In all, 17 of the 24 49ers starters from Super Bowl XLVII are no longer with the team.

The franchise just doesn’t seem the same. Even the bane of the 49ers, Candlestick Park, is no more.

Most in the NFL have applauded that news. The team moved to Santa Clara and gleaming Levi’s Stadium a year ago, leaving the league’s worst clump of concrete and ill-rooted turf behind.

San Francisco fans think the move has cost the team its mojo.

The Cowboys will be in Santa Clara for the first time, promising what is always a spirited reunion.

And once again, though it’s only an exhibition game, the two franchises appear to be moving in opposite directions.

Or so the Cowboys think.

As Owner Jones’ team knows, things can change in a hurry.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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