The NFL’s 32 teams open their training camps in the heat of summer and finish the endurance test that is the regular season in the cold of winter with one team being declared the best as it hoists the Lombardi trophy for winning the Super Bowl.
All any faithful follower of a football franchise can ask for is if their team makes it to the league’s version of the Final Four. Only one team can be declared the best of the best, but it’s a successful season if your team is involved in the conversation.
My team is, and no matter the outcome when the San Francisco 49ers meet the Atlanta Falcons for the right to challenge the Patriots or the Ravens for the ultimate in bragging rights, it has been a very successful season for the Niners.
For the 49ers to come this close to breaking the 18-year drought of Super Bowl appearances leaves me with both anticipation and dread. Anticipation that the Niners will beat the Falcons and advance. Dread that they will lose and fall short (again). It’s cool to get to the NFC championship round, but it’s better to actually win it.
I always run scared when it comes to predicting how the 49ers will fare in a meaningful game, but between Jim Harbaugh’s coaching prowess, their nasty smash-you-in-your-mouth-and-step-on-your-throat defense, and now the wild card of Colin Kapernick at quarterback, I feel confident the Niners will show up and acquit themselves admirably.
Or I could say I really believe the Niners are going to put their foot up the ass of the Falcons, but playing on the road in a dome against a team looking for the respect they feel nobody’s given them all season is a recipe for possible disaster, so I’m not going to say anything like that. But you can’t kill me for thinking it.
Win or lose (please win), unless he plays like shit, Kaepernick will solidify his hold on the starting QB job as he provides a degree of leadership meshed with talent not seen in the Bay Area since (dare I say it?) the glory days of Joe Montana and Steve Young.
Is that being a wee bit premature? Not really, because after last week’s ridiculous offensive explosion against the Green Bay Packers where he accounted for 444 yards of offensive and four touchdowns (five, if you count the interception he threw early in the game), the word is out. This kid is not a fluke and not a one-trick pony. Colin Kaepernick is good. He is Real Good. C.K. is money. Runs like a gazelle. Flings the ball around like it’s rocket-propelled. Can make a mistake and not let it screw up his entire day. These are qualities one rarely sees in a single player and Kaepernick (so far) has demonstrated all of them.
A little hyperbole isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Young was forced into early retirement by a concussion from a vicious hit by Arizona Cardinals cornerback Aeneas Williams (I was never mad at Williams for his hard, but legal hit on Young. I’m not quite so ready to forgive Lawrence Phillips, the woman-beating, law-breaking asshole who missed the block on Williams). What came next was nearly 20 seasons of has beens, warm bodies, and busted picks such as Jeff Garcia, Steve Stenstrom, Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, Cody Pickett, Trent Dilfer, Shaun Hill, Chris Weinke, J. T. Sullivan, Troy Smith and finally Alex Smith, the overall Number One draft pick the Niners chose instead of Aaron “Discount Double Reality Check” Rodgers.
So you can understand if Niner fans go into tomorrow’s game with a hope in one hand and apprehension in the other. We’ve been here before and last January it was the Giants and Kyle Williams’ bad luck that ended a great season one game too soon.
Fans tend to exaggerate their importance in how their team does in a big game. We have no importance, but all the same I’ll gear up, ready proper and necessary amounts of food to nourish and drink to steady myself during the particularly tense moments when fortune favors the other team as I yell like hell when something good happens and sit there sullenly as something bad follows.
Against the Saints last year, Alex Smith played about as good as any elite QB in the league. He shook the title of “game manager.” He won’t be back with the 49ers next season, but he’ll be playing and starting for someone else. With Smith you had a quarterback who made good and solid plays if not quite exceptional. With Kapernick, how high his ceiling is remains to be seen. He seems to be on the cusp of greatness, but he has to win two more games to achieve it.
The hope is there. Whether the glory is as well remains to be seen.
- Kaepernick Fever: So Hot the Road Team Is Favored Over the Top-Seeded Home Team (blogs.sfweekly.com)
- NFC Championship Game 2013: The importance of Tarell Brown for the 49ers (ninersnation.com)
- KCBS Sports Fans: Kaepernick Leads The New Look Niners (sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com)
- NFL Conference Championship Predictions (shivuonsports.wordpress.com)