A Gold Rush in the Big Easy

The Quest is nearly over.

When you’ve waited nearly two decades between Super Bowl appearances, my first instinct is just to be happy the San Francisco 49ers have the opportunity to play for the championship of professional football.

After happiness passes, what’s left is nervousness.   Fans get too worked up and involved in the fortunes of their favorite sports franchise.  It leads to alcoholism, needless anxiety, panic attacks and early baldness.

I think the 49ers will win, but I can’t say complete certainty.   That’s what an 18-year absence from the Super Bowl does for your confidence.  It makes you run scared.

Everybody’s got a guess.  The experts can go down a list of every player on both the 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens and tell you with total confidence this will be the contributing factor that tilts victory to one side or the other.  They’ve crunched the numbers.  They’ve watched the tape.  They’ve consulted with the wisest of wise men.

But all they’re doing is giving their best guess.   They know all the reasons why the Niners or the Ravens will win.   What they don’t know is who will.

My nature is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.    The Niners have a great defense, playmakers on both sides of the ball and in Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick I trust.   But everything the 49ers have, the Ravens have too including a Harbaugh of their own.   It’s hard to have any swagger when each team has it own share of Unmovable Objects and Irresistible Forces.

Make way for a new Lord of the Rings?

There have been some signs of the Niners not handling the media attention well.   Reserve cornerback Chris Culliver’s anti-gay remarks made him look dumb and revealed how poorly the 49ers front office prepped the players to deal with the extra attention.   The former Howard Stern sidekick Artie Lange is no journalist and he baited Culliver with a leading question, but Culliver put his own feet in his mouth and swallowed.

There’s no undue pressure on either team.  This is the the second  Super Bowl appearance for the Ravens and the sixth for the Niners, but that doesn’t mean there’s no expectations for the 49ers.   They’re challenging the Pittsburgh Steelers for a sixth ring, but unlike the Steelers, the Niners have a perfect record:  They’ve won every Super Bowl they’ve been.

That’s where the heavy hand of history falls squarely on the shoulders of the 49ers.

In the big picture of the carnival that is Super Bowl week, the Culliver controversy isn’t all that big of a deal.  He isn’t going to be star of the game.   More likely it will be someone named Lewis, Willis, Flacco, Rice, Crabtree or Gore (and if you don’t know who those guys are, you’re better off watching The Puppy Bowl or the Lingerie Bowl).

I will tune in at 6:30 ready for three or four hours of hype, commercials, celebrities, and oh yeah, a football game.  I expect big hits, edge of the seat excitement, good company and hopefully—HOPEFULLY, a sixth ring for San Francisco.

And I’ll hope most of all it doesn’t come down to a last second field goal from David Akers because the only thing I’ve been able to depend on Akers’ kicking is that I can’t depend on it.

Since Super Bowl 47 is taking place in New Orleans:  Laissez les bons temps rouler, Geaux Niners.

Got the Hope, Looking For the Glory

Tebowing is so 2012. “Kaepernicking” is the rage.

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.

Down.  Out.  Finished.  Bye-bye.

Down. Out. Finished. Bye-bye.

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.

A young man in a hurry to be great.

 

Black QB Sports Tats. White Hack Attacks.

kapernick-tats

There is a great deal of buzz and most of it overwhelmingly negative to a column (and I use that in the most liberal sense of the word) written by David Whitley of the AOL Fanhouse where he rips into San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for the tattoos on his body.

Excerpts:

“San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick is going to be a big-time NFL quarterback. That must make the guys in San Quentin happy.

Approximately 98.7 percent of the inmates at California’s state prison have tattoos. I don’t know that as fact, but I’ve watched enough “Lockup” to know it’s close to accurate.

I’m also pretty sure less than 1.3 percent of NFL quarterbacks have tattoos. There’s a reason for that.

NFL quarterback is the ultimate position of influence and responsibility. He is the CEO of a high-profile organization, and you don’t want your CEO to look like he just got paroled.”

Whitley continues:

“For dinosaurs like me, NFL quarterbacks were our little Dutch boys. The original hero stuck his finger in the dyke to save Holland. Pro QBs were the last line of defense against the raging sea of ink. When our kids said they wanted a tattoo, we could always point to the Manning brothers.”

My guess is Archie would have made Peyton throw an extra 1,000 passes before dinner if he’d come home with a tattoo. The old man knew QBs are different.”Did Sammy Baugh, Johnny Unitas, Doug Williams or Joe Montana have arms covered in ink? Do Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers? The world will end when Tim Tebow shows up a tattoo parlor.

Then, Whitley goes for the money shot:

It’s not just a white thing, I hope. When the Panthers interviewed Cam Newton, owner Jerry Richardson popped the question.

This is David Whitley.  He doesn't like quarterbacks with tats.

This is David Whitley. He doesn’t like quarterbacks with tats.

Do you have any tattoos?” he asked.

No, sir,” Newton said. “I don’t have any.”

We want to keep it that way,” Richardson said.

He was OK with body art on other players, including the human canvas that is Jeremy Shockey. But Newton would be the face, arms and legs of the franchise. The boss didn’t want them covered in ink lines.

Let’s keep it that way,” he told Newton.

In Whitley’s world, if you can’t be a White QB sans tats, the next best thing is to be a Black QB sans tats. Cam Newton: good Black quarterback. Colin Kapernick: bad Black quarterback.

I can only guess where Robert Griffith III with his dreads fall on the continuum.

A few thoughts: In the NFL the only God that is worshiped is the God of Money. A player can gun down the mother of his child, drive to the stadium, confront the coach and general manager and blow his own brains out as they watch in horror and the league will offer grief counselors for the traumatized team, but the game scheduled for Sunday goes on. Next man up.

No athlete in any sport is more disposable than a professional football player. Their contracts are not guaranteed unlike their counterparts in baseball and basketball. Blow out a knee today and you’re out on the street tomorrow. Literally.

If a football player’s body betrays him, if it breaks down, if it becomes too beat-up and battered to make a Jerry Richardson and owners like him money, he will get rid of the tattoo free Cam Newton like yesterday’s breakfast. The NFL uses up young men and discards them. Whose business is it they want a one tat or decide to turn their entire body into a canvas. Their bodies are all they own. They should be free to do with it as they will even if it pisses Jerry Richardson and David Whitley.

Colin is a young Black man who was adopted by Rick and Teresa Kaepernick and while they are proud of their son’s success as an NFL QB, they weren’t happy with Whitley comparing him to convicts, as they explained to USA Today.

“It annoyed me,” Teresa said. “You are categorizing this kid on something like tattoos? Really? Saying other guys are role models because they don’t have them? Really? Some of these other guys don’t have crystal clear reputations. That’s how you’re going to define this kid? It’s pretty irritating, but it is what it is.”

This David Whitley's boss.  What's HIS problem?

This is David Whitley’s boss. What’s HIS problem?

“This guy has probably never talked to Colin,” Rick said. “Instead of saying that Colin does all these great things and donates his time to children, this guy is going to make him out like a gangster. Really? I guess you just have to roll with the punches.”

It’s this kind of crap vomited up by hacks like David Whitley that feeds into the stereotype of Young Black Men as Thugs/Gangsta Wannabees and it isn’t a vast leap in logic to think this stereotype is what is rattling around in the mind of a George Zimmerman when he hunts down a hoodie-wearing Trayvon Martin or a Michael Dunn when he blows away a Justin Davis who was bumping his music too loud.

Isn’t it about time someone shot Whitley, Bill O’Reilly and every other White man jonesing for the good old days with a tranquilizer dart, implanted a microchip in their asses and shipped them back to The Fifties where they and their “Traditional America” can live happily ever motherfucking after?

The overwhelmingly negative response to Whitley’s race-baiting rant should make it clear to Sporting News Editor-in-Chief Garry D. Howard that Whitley’s column was in atrociously bad taste at best and is insulting and offensive at worst.

Mr. Howard is an African-American. He might be sensitive to how poisonous it is to permit wretched stereotypes to go unchecked and unchallenged.

Real quarterbacks don't have tats.  Says who?

Real quarterbacks don’t have tats. Says who?

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I Got 49 Problems But the Saints Ain’t One

Get outta my way! I’m trying to keep this job!

The 49ers went down to N’awlins and came back with a 31-21 victory over the Saints.

I hate the Saints.   I hate the Cowboys and some other teams too, but the hate I have for the Saints burns hot, high and bright.  Not like I want anything bad to happen to Drew Brees or anyone on the team, but I hate the way those swaggering, thuggish, roguish mofos act like they are they are the most formidable offense in the NFL.   Let’s get this straight.  The Saints are only as good as Brees is on any given Sunday.  If he’s having a bad game, there is no “Plan B” to fall back on.

The Saints running backs are Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Mark Ingram and all of them are given a chance to tote the rock.   Whenever a team uses a running back by committee approach it means they don’t have one that’s good enough to deserve the majority of the carries.   Marcus Colston is a fine wide receiver, but he doesn’t dominate the way a Calvin Johnson.   The only guy who dominates is tight end Jimmy Graham, but his four receptions for 33 yards made no difference on the game’s outcome.

It’s Crunchtime in the Big Easy.

As for the Saints defense, as good as the offense is, the defense is just as bad.   No wonder head coach Sean Payton and ex-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams instituted their bounty program.   The stiffs they dress up in those ugly black-on-black and gold-trimmed uniforms are among some of the most talentless losers in the league.  I wouldn’t trade the worst player on the 49ers “D” for the best one on the Saints (and I can’t think of whom their best player might be).

As a 49ers fan, there was NOBODY I wanted them to beat more this season than the Saints. After the whole Bountygate mess from the playoffs, it’s an established fact the Saints are a dirty football team. Beating their butts in their own house in front of their fans only makes the win all the sweeter. Playoffs? Not for you, suckers!

The story for the sportswriters coming out of the game is the supposed “quarterback controversy” between Kapernick and Alex Smith.  Look, no offense to Smith.  He’s a good quarterback.  He’s good enough to win more games than he loses and he’s good enough to make enough plays to get the Niners into the playoffs.   As he showed against the Saints last January, he’s good enough to use his arm and his legs to win a big game,

But here’s the thing.   After beating the Saints in the playoffs, the only thing standing between the Niners and a return to the Super Bowl was the New York Giants.   The two fumbles by wide receiver Kyle Williams gave the game away to the G-Men and Smith had a solid, if unspectacular game (12-26, 196 yards, two TD’s), but only completed one pass to a wide receiver.

The Niners knew they had to upgrade their receivers and went out and signed Mario Manningham away from the Giants as a free agent, lured Randy Moss out of retirement and drafted A.J. Jenkins with their first pick in the draft.   Manningham has only been okay, Moss has had flashes of former brilliance and Jenkins hasn’t played a single down (but may have to now that Williams is out for the season with a torn ACL).

None of that mattered when the Giants returned to San Francisco in Week 6 and rolled out with a 26-3 win that was never close and Smith was terrible throwing three interceptions and no touchdowns.

The Niners and the Giants look like they’re on a collision course to meet again in the playoffs.   The Giants have beaten them two out of the last three games.   Given another shot, Smith might be able to redeem himself from the beat down the Giants served up, but when the book on the 2012 season is written, that might have been the moment when head coach Jim Harbaugh realized how low Smith’s ceiling is.

It’s all fun and games until someone loses their job.

When Smith suffered a concussion against the Rams it opened the door for Kapernick to stroll through as the starter.   The unspoken rule in the NFL is a veteran isn’t supposed to lose his job due to injury.  But ask Drew Bledsoe how Tom Brady made the most of his shot and never let it go.

In pro football the next man up is always one play away from starting.   Maybe he’s only enjoying a few fleeting moments of glory before he crashes and burns but Kapernick is going to make the most of his chance.   I’m a little conflicted about how he got that chance, but after seven seasons I already know what Alex Smith has to bring to the party.    In Kapernick, the 49ers have a shiny new toy to play with.   I’m curious to see how he handles the pressure.

Will San Francisco become Peyton’s Place?

The 49er faithful is dreaming this will be the reality

It’s hard to imagine Peyton Manning wearing any other uniform than the blue-and-white of the Indianapolis Colts.

BUT…

If by some twist of fate, stroke of luck (not the Andrew Luck kind), or divine intervention, the San Francisco 49ers beat out the Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos in the teams vying to sign the 35-year-old signal caller, the 49ers immediately become Super Bowl contenders.

At least that’s what the hype will be. In truth, no matter who the quarterback is next season, the 49ers will be on the short list of teams favored to be in the Super Bowl. If they land the biggest free agent prize since Reggie White, the Niners will become the prohibitive favorite.

Truth is, getting Manning in his mid-thirties is not like getting him in his early twenties, but even a older Manning is worth a look and the 49ers would be stupid not to at least kick the tires on Manning to see how many miles he has left. Whether it’s for two or three years, Peyton Manning on the downside of his career is still light years ahead of Alex Smith, last year’s incumbent.

Smith, the former Number One draft pick, showed marked improvement under coach Jim Harbaugh and he can play in the NFL, but Smith isn’t in Manning’s league. Despite the jeers from opponents that Smith is little more than a “game manager” who is basically told not to make mistakes and cost the Niners, Smith showed he can win a game with his arm and legs as he did when the Niners beat the New Orleans Saints 36-32 in the best game of the season.

The NFL has been rocked by the scandal involving the Saints’ system of setting bounties to deliberately injure opposing players. The league is extremely image conscious and for the Saints, a former Super Bowl champion and the kind of feel-good story that’s hard to pull against to deliberately trying to take guys out is indefensible. That’s why the “Where will Peyton play?” storyline is such a welcome distraction.

If Manning chooses the 49ers he’s going to have some questions he wants answered. Who is he going to throw the ball to? The Niners have an All-Pro in tight end Vernon Davis who is probably drooling at the prospect of being on the receiving end of Manning’s passes and Michael Crabtree, whose potential to become a great wide receiver exceeds his production. Then there’s Randy Moss, once the best wide-out in the game, but trying to revitalize his career after a year off. Manning-to-Moss could be the best tandem the Bay area since Steve Young was throwing to Jerry Rice.

Now THIS is something I could get used to.

What the Niners don’t have is a right guard to protect Manning. Last year’s starter, Adam Snyder split in free agency and his backup, Chilo Rachal probably won’t be resigned either. The team could use another threat at wide receiver other than the aging Moss and the streaky Crabtree. There are still a few left in free agency and if Niners don’t grab one they will probably look for a stud in the April draft.

My expectation is Manning will stay in the AFC with the Titans or Broncos than join the Niners in the NFC where he would at some point butt heads with the New York Giants and brother Eli, the owner of two Super Bowl rings to Peyton’s one and the team that beat the Niners in the NFC Championship.

Still, it’s nice to have these expectations. If Manning goes elsewhere, Smith is probably the second-best option for the 49ers. He’s a nice QB, but he’s no Manning and every Niner fan knows it.  Young agrees as he told Pro Football Talk, “I know Peyton Manning is looking for a team to join now and win a division now and go to the Super Bowl now,” Young said. “That team is the San Francisco 49ers.”

Which is true. All of the three teams can afford to pay Manning the multimillion dollar contract he can command. But which team gives him the best chance to get back to the Super Bowl? The Titans are in the same division as the Colts. If Manning doesn’t want to face off against his brother, does he really want to play his old team twice a year and the Titans are good, but not yet a contender. The Broncos made the playoffs with Tim Tebow, but they aren’t deep or skilled at a lot of key positions.

The Niners made their first priority to keep their defense together. Their biggest needs are on the offensive side of the ball, but Manning has to be intrigued at the possibility of playing with Davis, Crabtree, Frank Gore, and a motivated Randy Moss.

I’m not getting my hopes up. I’d love it if the Niners won the Manning lottery, but am I expecting they will? No.

Still, I’m going to be crossing my fingers anyway that this time next week the future Hall of Famer is sporting crimson and gold with a “SF” helmet and a big smile.

Got Peyton? No, but...

Dreaming Out of Season

One bad play does not a season make. But two...?

The ultimate high in the surprising 2011 San Francisco 49ers season came when QB Alex Smith threw a precisely timed pass to TE Vernon Davis for the winning touchdown with seconds left to beat the Saints was dubbed by the 49er faithful as “The Grab.”  It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in ancient Candlestick Park with sunshine, clear skies and a warm, pleasant light growing in the hearts of every long-suffering fan.

The rainy, foggy and cold Sunday where two critical mistakes by a stand-in punt returner brought an ignoble finish to the season will live in 49ers history as “The Fumbles.”

It took me a few days to swallow the disappointment of the 49ers losing to the Giants 20-17 in overtime, but I’ve digested it now. The Giants deserve to go to the Super Bowl. They made the plays and caught the breaks. The 49ers didn’t and that’s why their season is over.

Now let’s talk about Kyle Williams, the guy who lost the two fumbles that cost the 49ers dearly. The player who so enraged some idiots they rushed to Twitter to make threats on his life.

After the game, my wife asked me if the Niners would cut Williams loose. I replied, “No, they won’t and no, they shouldn’t.”

“It was just one of those situations where I caught the ball, tried to head upfield, tried to make a play and it ended up for the worse,” Williams said.


W
illiams will forever be known and reviled as the goat who cost the 49ers a trip to the Super Bowl. In part that is true and that is something Williams, a second year player from Stanford, will have to own for some time. But football is a team sport and the 49ers lost that game as a team. One or two plays can dramatically alter the outcome of a game but a loss can be attributed to an entire 60 minutes worth of poor execution.

The 49ers offense converted only 1 out of 13 third downs. That’s terrible.

The 49ers wide receivers combined for one catch for three yards in five quarters and almost four hours of football. That’s worse that terrible.  That’s pathetic.

Hero one day, goat the next. Welcome to the NFL, Kyle Williams

QB Alex Smith, who looked like a stud in the previous week’s shoot-out with the Saints looked pretty ordinary against the G-men. His two touchdown passes to TE Vernon Davis were things of beauty, but as Greg Cosell in his NFL Flims blog called out Smith for his “tentative and uncertain pocket play. “

Cosell said, “Smith was reluctant to let it loose on routes and throws that were not only well designed, but were open…One of the attributes that separates high level quarterback play in big games and critical moments is the willingness to make stick throws into smaller windows. Smith did that with confidence against the Saints. In the NFC Championship game, he was hesitant and cautious on throws that were clearly defined.  Simply put, Smith left a lot of plays on the field against the Giants. While Williams publicly shouldered the burden of defeat, it was his quarterback who failed to deliver on the promise he had shown a week earlier.”

In this season where a franchise that had once been the NFL’s Gold Standard of a successful football organization on and off the field, made an unexpected return to glory, no player benefited more from the coaching of Jim Harbaugh than Alex Smith. The former overall Number One pick looked destined to be a bust. Under the tutelage of Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, they made Smith an effective game manager who didn’t throw interceptions and didn’t make the critical mistake at the critical time.

Against the Saints, Smith proved he could not only manage a game, but with his feet and his arm, he could make crucial plays and win games as well. Smith didn’t throw any interceptions against the Giants, but he couldn’t get the 49ers in the end zone either when they needed to. Smith played it safe and the difference between his lack of comfort with his wide receivers and Eli Manning’s confidence with his group is like that between night and day.

I really believe Kyle Williams will make plays for the 49ers as he learns how to play the position. During the season Williams caught 20 passes for 211 yards and three td’s . Those aren’t flashy numbers, but Williams is fast and can stretch a defense vertically. I have no doubt as a slot receiver and in a four receiver package, Williams will eventually shine.

With this depressing loss the Niners become just another one out of 30 teams not good enough to get to the Super Bowl  with deficiencies and have needs that must be met.

No position needs upgrading more than wide receiver for the 49ers. Michael Crabtree, the first round pick three years ago is a solid Number Two receiver. He lacks the speed or big grab ability to be a consistent Number One. There will be free agent talent available that meets that need. Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, Marcus Colston, and DeSean Jackson may be available if the Niners want to bid for their services.

The Niners may not have the bank available to sign a big name free agent. They have several free agents of their own they need to resign including Smith. They may have to look past the premier group of receivers for some gems remaining after the initial buying spree or trade up in the NFL Draft hoping to grab a young and speedy receiver.

I like the place the 49ers are in going in to the off-season. After their first playoff appearance since 2003, they have holes to plug, but this year it’s going to be about adding talent, not blowing up the roster and starting over.

“Everyone in here told me to keep my head up, it’s not on me,” Williams said. “You hate to be the last guy that had the ball, to give it up in that fashion and lose a game of this magnitude. It is what it is. We’re going to move forward as a team. I couldn’t be happier with the teammates I have in here.”

I agree. For far too long after the 16th game the typical Niner fan had to sigh in disappointment and disgust, “Well, there’s always next season.” This year we can say “I can’t wait for next season.” Our Super Bowl dreams are merely delayed, not deferred.   We’re dreaming out of season.

At the risk of echoing Sarah Palin, the San Francisco 49ers don’t need to rebuild.  They need to reload.

Who's got it better than us? Well, there's the Giants...

Saving the Best for Last: The 49ers Shock the Saints

"I am a 49er. Hear me roar!"

The hero of the day in the San Francisco 49ers victory over the New Orleans Saints was tight end Vernon Davis who caught the game winning score from much maligned quarterback Alex Smith.  The 36-32 downing of the high-octane Saints gave the 49ers their first playoff win in nine years and punched their ticket for an appearance in the NFC Championship.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh and the front office deserve all the credit for making the 49ers this year’s most unlikely Super Bowl contender.  Some credit should go to Mike Singletary, the man Harbaugh replaced for being responsible for getting Davis to drop the diva act and tap into his incredible potential.

For a while Davis looked to be just another in long list of first round failures for the Niners.  Nobody questioned if Davis had the talent.  The question was whether he would ever pull his head out of his ass and tap into it..  Singletary was not a good coach.  What he was was an excellent motivator.  Davis was motivated by Singletary and Harbaugh coached him up.

While Smith-to-Davis isn’t a moment as iconic as Montana-to-Clark, give them time.  They had to endure a lot of crap to get to this moment of glory.

My wife and I are 49ers fans going back to “The Catch” which occurred 30 years ago this weekend.

Today we witnessed “The Catch II” or “The Grab” as some have dubbed Smith’s TD pass to Davis. Whatever the hell you want to call it after nearly nine years or wandering in the NFL wilderness, it feels really good to return to being a relevant team again..

I respect the Saints and I’m not going to lie: I expected them to win.  I felt the Niners had a chance to throw some blows and go toe-to-toe with the Saints’ explosive offense.  Drew Brees is crazy good, but I also thought if the Niners had to deal with the Saints, that was fine.  They had to deal with us too.

If this had been in the Superdome, I’m not sure the Niners would have won.  They worked hard to secure that home field advantage over the Saints and it paid off in full.

The cherry on top is how satisfying it is that this the Saints/49ers was merely supposed to be the opening act for the main event of Tom Brady vs. Tim “Touched By An Angel.”  Tebow in primetime.   Nobody pimped this game harder than ESPN. They have been riding Tebow’s dick even more than they were Brett Favre.  I didn’t think that was possible, but ESPN’s saturation coverage and endless hero worship proved it was.

Joke’s on you, ESPN.  There was only one football game that was Must See TV and it wasn’t in Foxboro.  Brady demolished Denver and sent Tebow packing until he can plan his resurrection next September.

I have nothing against Tim Tebow personally.  He seems like an earnest young man who loves playing football and giving the glory to Jesus Christ, but I watch football because I enjoy the sport.  I don’t want anyone’s religious beliefs up in my face.

Anyone remember Reggie White? He was religious, very conservative and after the game he would gather with players from both teams and pray. But White didn’t make a show of his faith. Tebow does and that’s annoying as hell.

It only took seven years for Alex Smith to get San Francisco to fall in love with him.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Reggie White was one of the greatest of all time at his position and a Hall of Famer. The only way Tebow gets in the Hall of Fame is if he waits in line and buys a ticket.

Enough about losers that are not longer relevant.  The Niners are moving on and the Saints and Broncos are cleaning out their lockers.  For the past nine years it’s been the other way around.   I don’t know who the Niners will match up against next Sunday, but I know they’re playing and that is something I haven’t been able to say since they were rolling up Super Bowl wins.

These 49ers are not the 49ers teams of Montana and Young.  They lean on playing stout defense, capitalizing on the other team’s mistakes while minimizing their own turnovers.   Frank Gore pounding the rock between the tackles is how Harbaugh prefers it instead of Alex Smith strafing secondaries with his arm.   It’s not glamorous and it sure ain’t sexy.  Sometimes it’s even a little bit boring.

But it’s damn efficient even if it runs counter to how the Packers, Patriots and the Saints do things.  Those teams were supposed to be contending for a Super Bowl ring.  The 49ers were supposed to be happy if they finished with a .500 record.  Nobody could have predicted this kind of success and nobody did.

Anyone who tell you they saw it coming is lying their ass off.

The 49ers Rush Back to Relevance.

Who's got it better than the 49ers? Well, there's the Packers...

It rained the day after the San Francisco 49ers clinched the NFC West to return to the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons, but for this particular long-suffering fan it felt like sunshine and rainbows.

The 49ers have won the NFC West and are back in the playoffs. Reunited and it feels so good! What a difference a real coach makes. Jim Harbaugh has taken Mike Singletary’s leftovers and turned it into fine cuisine.  It’s raining outside but it feels like sunshine and flowers.

It’s not easy being a 49ers fan east of the Mississippi River.   Why, just the other day, some kid was absolutely incredulous that someone could live in Ohio and be a fan of a football team in California.   Out of the mouths of babes.  They just don’t get it.  Geography has nothing to do with being a fan.

There was a point in the lost years of Dennis Erickson/Mike Nolan/Mike Singletary running the Niners into the ground where I just gave up.  Every bit of 49ers memorabilia, the T-shirts, the refrigerator magnets, the banners, the flag, the bumper stickers that were never placed on a bumper,  the Joe Montana and Jerry Rice action figures, all of that crap went into a bag and banished to a dark corner of the basement.

That’s the way love goes.  You can only have your heart ripped out and stomped on so many times before you stop caring or bleed to death.

Patrick Willis talks about whatever he wants.

The 49ers winning a division with stiffs like the Cardinals, Seahawks and Rams is no reason to thump your chest and throwing how bad they are in your face.   Considering the Seahawks “won” the NFC West last  year with a 7-9 record, hell yeah, the 49ers deserve to have a bit of swag in their step.

Opening up a can of whup-ass on the Rams was sad, but it was necessary.  They were standing in the way of the Niners clinching the division, so they had to be moved out of the way.   Blanking them 26-0 was just the cherry on top.

I’m happy for Frank Gore who became the 49ers all-time rushing leader and I’m happy for Alex Smith, the first round pick who will always be in the shadow of Aaron Rodgers.   I’m happy for Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree who are finally justifying their high draft pick status.  I’m happy for Patrick Willis, the best linebacker in the NFL, though he did suffer a hamstring injury that will sideline him for a few games.  I’m happy for obscure players like Larry Grant and Kevin Williams who have emerged in 2011.  I’m happy for Jim Harbaugh, who has been the coach the Niners have been looking for since Bill Walsh left the building.

Most of all, I’m very happy for Aldon Smith, the team’s top draft pick this year who has completely justified his rep as a relentless pass rusher.   Smith put a bull rush on Rams tackle Adam Goldberg where he put him on his butt and dumped back-up quarterback A.J. Feely, giving him his eighth sack of the year.

It was Smith’s ninth sack that topped the eighth one.   On fourth down, Smith sacked Feely again, but instead of breaking out into a bad dance routine, pumping his fist and screaming like he hit the lottery, Smith jumped up, ran off the field, brushed past his teammates, removed his helmet, and sat on the bench with his hands folded in his lap looking like a dutiful student.

It was classy and classic at the same time.  That it was funny was an added bonus.

Class is something the 49ers have in abundance like championships.  Is it like the days when Montana, Craig, Rice, Young, Lott and Walsh were crushing the competition and hoisting five Super Bowl trophies?  No, but winning the division is a step on a road to bigger and better things.

Nobody’s talking about the 49ers return to respectability.  They’re talking about the Packers having a perfect season and Tim Tebow as the Second Coming.   Fine.  Let them ignore the 49ers. I’m good with flying under the radar for now.

The 49ers are finally relevant again.  If it’s not a complete return to glory, relevance isn’t bad as it goes.

Something to get excited about