Jarryd Hayne fans
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images Sport

This is a story from 49aus reader and contributor Renee Wright that mirrors so many others from Australia who jumped aboard the Hayne Plane and the 49ers. Enjoy, and be sure to follow Renee on Twitter @21writingwright and hashtag us with #aussiefaithful. There is more of us than you think.

The 2015 NFL regular season is almost done.  With one game to go, I wanted to pull together some thoughts on my first season as an active NFL and Hayne Plane fan, and my first season as a fan of the legendary San Francisco 49ers.

Hayne Plane – The beginning

As I’ve written about before, the 2015 season started off optimistic enough with the signing of our boy, Jarryd Hayne, the Hayne Plane, and his subsequent elevation to the 53.

He almost scored a touchdown (yes, I’m actually claiming that), put in the longest punt return of the season (37 yards), and secured the team’s best punt return average of 9.5 (which is still better than the best punt returner on 19 other teams).

But Hayne was raw, operating on athletic instincts rather than playbook knowledge.  Suffice to say, after six games Hayne was dropped from the 53 to supposedly allow for the elevation of Kendall “Power back” Gaskins.  Once he cleared waivers, Hayne was re-signed to the practice squad to “learn to play the game of football”.

These were dark times.  I felt the 49ers had miss-handled Hayne’s development and spent two months wandering about in a cloud of anger, confusion and bitter disappointment.

On more than one occasion, I wanted to grab my #38 jersey and shove it up…..well, you get the picture.  There was even that one time when I feared the end was nigh for Jarryd’s NFL career.  Dark days indeed.

But then, like a Fijian falcon soaring in to make a kill, Hayne was back!  And with him, grasped so tightly it could not be stripped from behind, was a hefty reality check.

My opinion on the 49ers management of Hayne changed

This is my new take:

  1. In the pre-season, Hayne exceeded expectations, putting the 49ers in a position where they had to sign him to the 53 or lose him. Too much potential, an irresistible good-news story, a fortune to be made in merchandise, and a significant boost in exposure (for whatever team took him), meant Hayne was a tempting commodity.
  1. Once on the 53, the 49ers had to play him. The hype was OTT by this stage.  After his stellar pre-season performance, the coaches had no good reason not to give him a run.  Kid gloves were not used.  In an NFL Season, the gently-gently approach is just not an option.  You get on the 53, you should be capable of performing at that level.Since he’d never played a real season game of NFL before, it was not surprising he made rookie mistakes.  None of these errors cost the 49ers a point, but they did give the coaching staff the excuse they needed to drop him back to the practice squad.  This was after six games mind you—a far greater shot than they gave a lot of the other running backs pushed through the 49ers turnstile after Carlos Hyde’s injury.
  1. He needed to be on the Practice Squad. If he hadn’t flashed his raw awesomeness in the pre-season, he would probably have stayed on the practice squad until this point in the 2015 season.  Since the Detroit Lions game, I have come to understand the coaches decision to drop Hayne was the right one.  He needed to learn and his potential needed to be fostered and protected.By Hayne’s own admission (here and here), he has come a long way in his understanding of the NFL— on and off the field.  While I still have suspicions about the 49ers plans for Hayne, I concede my anger during those dark days, had sprung from a lack of understanding of the game of NFL, and a blind desperation to just see the guy play.
  1. I did understand the coaches’ irritation at the distraction caused by Hayne’s “story”.
  1. The whole situation became awkward and was exacerbated by the embarrassingly juvenile Australian reporters who persisted in asking the coaches, and Hayne himself, one stupid question after another.
  1. I did not like the way the 49ers coaches publicly criticized Hayne (something they rarely did to any other player – especially not the rookies). But did they do this out of irritation?  In my little Hayne Plane fan world, I like to think they threw some shade on Hayne to ensure the disinterest of the other teams so no one tried to nab him off the practice squad.  Just like waiving him the way they did – and recalling him just in time to secure their rights to his 2016 contract.

So that brings us back to now.  Called up for the second last game of the season, Jarryd Hayne was rewarded for his PS efforts with a start as the San Francisco 49ers running back.  Surely a dream come true for any aspiring NFL player.

On one hand, it was immediately clear that Hayne was more comfortable on the field than he had been in his previous games months before.  On the other hand, *cue the reality check* Hayne appeared — and I never thought I’d write this — underwhelming.

As it turned out, my expectations were so high that nothing shy of a field long sprint to the red zone, full of crafty dodging and weaving, would have averted the feeling of deflated disappointment that assailed me after that game.

Meanwhile, the fact was, other than missing the 4th-and-3 play in the fourth quarter, Hayne had a good game.  (Greater NFL experts than I could pull his game apart further, but I’ll leave it at that.)

He didn’t get a turn at returning punts but, in his role at running back, there were no fumbles or huge mistakes.  While he didn’t score any points, he didn’t cost his team any either.  Most importantly, he was entrusted with significant game time.  Ever generous with his praise, even Tomsula agreed Hayne “represented himself well” and extended on that further here.

But back to that hefty reality check…

When cashed, it revealed more than over-inflated expectations for Hayne’s performance in the Detroit game.  Turns out my high flying dreams for the Hayne Plane’s potential within the NFL itself, might have encroached on a No Fly Zone.

Plenty of people have cautioned and criticized the one-eyed faith people have in Jarryd Hayne.  I have brushed their words off because I wasn’t ready to hear them.  No one was going to drag me off the Hayne Plane (this has NOT changed), however, I have now accepted the fact that Jarryd Hayne may not ever (the optimist in me cannot bring myself to write “never”), be a legendary NFL player.  *Drops head in shame*

I can hear laughter from all the armchair experts who are no doubt saying “I could have told you that months ago”.  Half these “experts” just wanted the man to fail, the other half genuinely thought he wasn’t good enough.  Neither opinion has mattered to me.

Hayne’s a gifted athlete with complete faith in his ability that he backs with a seriously dedicated work ethic.  And the guy’s no fool.  He knows time is not on his side.  He’s had this year, and will potentially have the next two, to forge a regular position for himself on a team —or it’s all over.

He has to remain a freak athlete, and flash that freak ability with freakish regularity, or he’ll be sent packing.  Like I’ve heard a million times this season, rostering on NFL teams is all about “what have you done for me lately”.  This game is cut throat.  I thought I understood that.  Apparently I hadn’t fully grasped it until I was forced to endure that two-month detour through the land of uncertainty.

I hope Jarryd Hayne continues to consistently improve until he becomes a permanent fixture on the 49ers (or another) NFL team.  This dream is attainable and I firmly believe it will happen.  There is something about Jarryd and his story that contains a bit of magic – laugh if you will.  His journey appeals to anyone who loves to see an individual embark on a near-impossible dream and slowly, day by day, turn that dream into his new reality.

49ers fans were a revelation

While the 49ers might have performed dismally on the field, the 49ers fans were a revelation and the absolute best part about the whole NFL season for me.

NFL fans are a fantastic community of individual characters, diehard in their devotion to their team and the game itself.  Yes, they are brutal at times, never hesitating to hold the team/coaches/owner accountable for their failings.  And fair enough too.  This is the mighty San Francisco 49ers after all, and the teams fall from lofty heights has been swift and brutal.

That’s hard for any fan to cop week in week out.

Despite the dramas around Jarryd Hayne’s development, I have thoroughly enjoyed the season.  In fact, it has flown by.  A season of NFL is basically a 24/7 sports fest.  A total emersion experience.  If there weren’t games on, there were podcast (The best was The ButtFumble Show  / @ButtFumbleShow) , constant chatter on Twitter, and a never-ending flow of online news about every leak, whisper, injury and on-field (and off-field) drama.

Kaepernick, Greg Hardy, Odell Beckham Jnr, the Concussion movie, poor officiating, the dumping of coaches – it was all there to be hungrily digested and—err—expelled out,  by millions of armchair experts.  Glorious!

And, as with all good sport—race, nationality, gender, politics, time-zones—were rendered completely irrelevant.  The only criteria for inclusion into the NFL fan fold was a passion for the game.  I particularly loved being able to connect with American’s in real time and share their sport.  And I gotta say, everyone was friendly, welcoming, accommodating and patient—which made the whole newbie thing a positive experience for me.

Sure, there were truths along the way I’d rather not have heard but looking back, I think the 49ers US fans and media were very gentle on Jarryd Hayne.  Whether that was born from a love of the game and a will to share it, a love of a good story, or for more selfish reasons like merchandise sales, click bait, and international exposure, I’m grateful they, at least, donned kid-gloves for the truly green.

Over the course of the season, a few things became evident:

  • “Journeymen” exist and can be loosely defined as a guy who’s not good enough to get a long-term spot on a team but can fill a gap when needed.  Job security: Nil. These “journeymen” were a particular favorite of the 49ers.
  • That old phrase I’ve been saying for years, “carted off”, is actually a real thing in the NFL.
  • A Fumble is not good.  At all.  But some fumbles are more forgivable than others.
  • There are stadiums with heated fields so players can see the yard lines no matter what the weather. (My mind was a little bit blown by this fact).
  • Apparently the only inclement weather severe enough to halt or postpone an NFL game is when player’s lives are in imminent threat of death (e.g. tornado, lightning), otherwise, it’s game on!
  • The commentators in this game are near unwatchable but the sports reporters online are entertaining and informative, and the Twitter feeds downright hilarious at times.
  • Nowhere in sport is a press conference—or should I say, “presser”—such a happy hunting ground for the fashion police.
  • Post-game pressers are pointless and full of canned answers and useless platitudes whose sole purpose is to provide a forum for us all to watch players and coaches squirm. But maybe that’s different for winning teams.  Can’t imagine Tom Brady’s pressers being such morbid affairs.
  • I need a second team and I’ve decided the Denver Broncos are it.

With one game to go, I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed the rollercoaster ride that is an NFL season.  I can see how this sport could become a serious addiction and me for one will be back for more.  Hell, I don’t even know if it ends!  Is there an off-season? Sure the games might stop but I can’t see the NFL fever doing anything other than abating into a mild hubris.  There is no cure.

So with a bit of perspective delivered by a Fijian Falcon, I concede the 49ers may not have been quite as inept as I imagined them to be in their handling of Jarryd Hayne.  In fact, if they wanted him, the hand they played was probably a near perfect game.

Tomsulery indeed.

Bring on 2016!

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