Wednesday, January 23, 2013


If you're a 49er fan of a certain age, that term is fondly tucked away in your memory. Cooked up by the team's publicity department prior to the 1980 season, it took most of a year to marinate before the rest of the world got a real good taste (see above).  And there were certainly ups and downs along the way. We remember a day at Candlestick in October of 1980, in the middle of what turned out to be an eight-game losing streak, where a large banner stretched across the wall of the north end zone read, "ROAR FORWARD NOT BACKWARD!"

Well, "roaring back" is exactly what the 49ers did at the Georgia Dome Sunday afternoon last, and the end result is that Colin Kaepernick's tenth start for the team will be in Super Bowl XLVII. And yes, we love young "Kap" and the tremendous ability he brings to the game, but to focus excessively on him and what he can do would be to make the same mistake the Atlanta Falcons made that day. And look where it got them.

Y'all know about 'deja vu', but how about 'presque vu'?  We get that on occasion, and we got it a few minutes into Sunday's tilt as Matt Ryan capably and confidently passed his Falcons up to midfield. As the teams walked back to the huddle and we pondered why 'Matty Ice' was getting all day to throw, in our mind's eye we saw, plain as day, Julio Jones wide open and hauling in a perfect rainbow pass, over-the-shoulder for a long touchdown. We kept silent, so as not to disturb the fainthearted, and were not at all surprised when about a hundred seconds later, Ryan and Jones connected on exactly such a play for the signature touchdown of Atlanta's early 17-0 barrage.

It also reminded us, unaccountably or so it seemed, of another championship-game-opening stunner of a touchdown bomb-- that 65-yard strike from Steve Young to Jerry Rice in the 1992 NFC title game against Dallas. Don't bother looking for it in the game stats-- the play was called back due to a holding penalty, and thus had no lasting impact on the game. Though few would have called it at the time, the Ryan-Jones hookup, real as it was, had ultimately the same effect. Look elsewhere for back-breaking plays, because despite their chronic issues with pass coverage against the big Atlanta receivers, the 49er defenders kept their heads, continued with their physical style of play, and finally won the battle.

How many would have figured Ryan would pass for almost 400 yards and his team still lose? We predicted three things would happen in this game: the 49ers would outrush the Falcons, Kaepernick would match Ryan in passing yards, and Ryan would throw one more interception than would CK. Well, two out of three ain't bad, and we hope Ryan will get some much-needed respect for, among other things, giving his team a real chance to come back themselves and win at the very end.  But the 49ers seized this victory thanks to a patient coaching staff, a tremendous offensive line, and a defense that, despite its issues, held that excellent Falcon team scoreless over the final thirty minutes.

Sure, you could also say the 49ers were handed this game thanks to a butterfingered quarterback and a receiver who fell down at the worst possible time, but that's sour grapes. A goal-line fumble and a missed chip-shot field goal more than make up for those lapses, and Douglas didn't catch that ball anyway. Besides, Crabtree's fumble just inches from a go-ahead score led to the key series of the game-- the Falcons' subsequent three-and-out, followed by Ted Ginn's great punt return, followed by that punishing, run-heavy drive that ended with Frank Gore's second TD. Five minutes ran off the clock between fumble and score, five minutes which left Atlanta with only one chance to get the lead back. Fourteen plays, 70 yards, and seven minutes later, it was over-- the 49ers' first postseason road win since January 1989.      

Conference championship games have not been noted for big comebacks. Typically they fall into two categories: back-and-forth battles that go down to the final seconds, or whistle-to-whistle domination of one team by the other. There are a few exceptions: Joe Montana's brilliant-but-doomed 21-point rally in the 1983 NFC showdown at Washington, Bernie Kosar and the Browns rallying from 18 points down in 1987 and then betrayed by "The Fumble," even Troy Aikman passing Dallas over Green Bay in the final minutes of the 1995 game. But the closest match to this one is, of course, the Indianapolis Colts' 38-34 victory over New England in 2006, with Peyton Manning rallying his team from a 21-6 halftime deficit to beat Tom Brady & Co. for the AFC crown. The 49ers' 28-7 comeback now has officially topped that one for the best in conference championship history, and if you're thinking Kaepernick-versus-Ryan lacks the gravitas of Manning-Brady, well, it may only be a matter of time.We see every chance for these two teams, and these two quarterbacks, to battle it out for NFC supremacy over the remainder of this decade. The great game we just saw may be only the beginning of a great rivalry.

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