The Niners' 2--0 record won't convince everyone that the team has turned around. Skeptics will point out that the Cardinals, who had three receivers surpass 1,000 yards last season, were down to only one healthy wideout (Larry Fitzgerald) when the teams met in the opener. And Seattle, which kicked off on Sunday without six projected starters, lost four more to injury during the game: quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (ribs), linebacker Lofa Tatupu (hamstring), cornerback Josh Wilson (ankle) and right tackle Sean Locklear (ankle).
San Francisco also began the 2007 season 2--0 before losing eight straight games. While the Niners' upcoming schedule is not a murderers' row, it does begin with a trip to Minnesota this weekend to play the undefeated Vikings, who have led the league in run defense in each of the past three seasons and are certain to target Gore.
None of this matters to Singletary. When he put his team through a strenuous minicamp in March, his objective was to persuade the players that even when they feel they have nothing left to give, there's more in reserve. And that as they push themselves, they should bring along a teammate, because on Sundays the only support they have on the field is one another.
"If they're not taking us seriously, that's O.K.," Singletary says of other NFL teams. "They can keep doing that. We're going to continue to take ourselves seriously. We're going to continue to make steps each day. The most important thing for us is to go out each day and get better. If we can get a little bit better each day, we're going to get done what we need to."
Singletary's mission undoubtedly would be aided by the presence of Michael Crabtree, the record-setting Texas Tech wide receiver whom the Niners selected 10th in the draft last April. But the two sides have been unable to come to terms on a contract, and Crabtree is said to be prepared to sit out the season and reenter the draft next year.
"I think this young man is really misconstrued," Singletary says of Crabtree, who is seeking a contract comparable to the five-year, $23.5 million deal Oakland gave to the seventh pick, wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey from Maryland. "I had a chance to see his heart when we met before the draft and in the first minicamp, when he was trying to run routes and he shouldn't have been because of his [surgically repaired left] foot. He was standing over there about to cry because I wouldn't let him run routes. The guy is a competitor. I would love to have Michael Crabtree, but I want him the right way. If he's meant to be here, he'll be here."
People within the 49ers' organization say that one of Singletary's strengths is his commitment to helping his players succeed beyond the football field. He preaches the importance of character and judges people based on what he sees, not what he has heard.
Davis is a case in point. The No. 6 pick, out of Maryland, in 2006, he quickly developed a reputation as a hothead and me-first player whose performance didn't match his self-image. But Davis has matured so much in the 11 months since Singletary sent him to the showers—no more fights in practice, no more look-at-me first-down signals, no more costly penalties—that earlier this month Singletary named him a team captain.
"Mike Singletary is a very emotional guy," says Davis. "He cares. I had to learn about him, and he had to learn about me. We had to get on the same page. I wanted to win and I wanted to be good, and he wanted to win and he wanted us to be a team. He didn't want any individuals. He made me realize and accept the simple fact that there are no individuals on a team."
Says Singletary, "In my life, I've always wanted to get a group of men together who have a common thought, common goal. I don't care who they are. But if those men can come together, check their egos at the door and honestly care about each other for more than what they do on the field, I think something very special can be created."