Personally I am in need of some good in my life. I had lost my father in August of 2010 and we would always talk sports and life. The 49ers were a means of bonding for us. The last time the 49ers won the Superbowl I was watching it with him and his apartment. I was looking for the 49ers as a sort of way to heal me. I probably hyped this game up a lot in my head.
The 49ers are coming off their first non losing season since 2002, some 8 long years ago. The stage was set. This could be a season maybe even franchise changing game for a team looking to win under first year head coach Mike Singletary who has vowed he will change the team with smash mouth football and only having winners on his team.
The game stays very close throughout but former #1 QB Alex Smith has some struggles early on and is booed whenever he makes a mistake. Smith has the burden of being the #1 pick but has yet to show that he was worthy of being taken that high. To his credit he has never had the same offensive coordinator in consecutive seasons, has has bad coaching, and is on and off the injury list due to a bad offensive line.
The game stays close throughout and the 49ers show that they can somewhat hang with these Saints. We fast forward to the 4th quarter and the Saints are up 19-14 and are now punting the ball away. Going back even further the 49ers had a back up Tight End returning kick offs the season before, to address this problem they sign Ted Ginn a great return specialist whose job it is to return kicks and punts. Ginn goes out to injury the game before and is not available to play in the big game. Back to return the punt is rookie 7th round pick Phillip Adams (returning kick off was 2nd string TE Delanie Walker). Here is the result:
Yet! Hope still remains. Even though we can see Alex Smith and head coach Mike Singletary arguing (briefly) on the sideline and BOOS happening every time he throws an incomplete pass Smith stays in as the 49ers hold the Saints to a field goal. The score now reads: 22-14 Saints. With less then 2 minutes left Alex Smith starts leading the 49ers and shows flashes of his potential. Smith passes to Josh Morgan and Frank Gore for some long passes and makes a great sideline run to get the 49ers even closer. Gore takes the ball and runs it in with 1:19 left in the game. Score is now 22-20. Needing the 2 points the Smith passes to TE Vernon Davis who catches it near the end zone but the play is called no good! After a review they see he did cross the line and the 49ers tied it up! 22-22 but they left the Saints a little bit of time to score.
Typical Drew Brees fashion he leads the Saints to the 49ers 19 yard line with :02 left on the clock, just in time for a game winning field goal. The 49ers lose 25-22 as time expires...(below are the complete highlights of the game).
I couldn't help the emotions that came about in me. Anger, Sadness, loss...I just wanted so bad to see the 49ers win this one night. The game was amazing win or loss but I couldn't keep the emotions in. I excused myself from my girlfriend (at the time) and best friend and went to the bathroom to cry. I really never do anything like this. It wasn't a playoff or Superbowl loss but for some reason the loss just got to me and I had to cry. Sure thoughts of my late father were still with me. I thought how bad I wanted them to win for him and me. After a minute or so I stopped and decided it was just a game and I was glad the 49ers played well. Maybe they lost this one but 2010 could be a great season.
The 49ers finished 2010 at 6-10. Mike Singletary did not last the entire season and the last game was coached by an intern. Alex Smith played average in the season and since his contract was up it looked like he would not be back, since the fans (including me) thought it was best to get some new blood in and that his time was up. Phillip Adams would be released the following season and played with 2 teams in 2011, he has not returned a punt since 2010.
It is amazing what one man can do. Fresh off an amazing stint as the head coach at Stanford Jim Harbaugh was on his way to be a coach in the pros, it just depended on what team not when. 49ers signed the coach and he was set to turn around this team. In a odd move the 49ers decided to keep Alex Smith at QB and didn't sign another QB (they drafted Quarterback Colin Kapernick in the 2nd round of the draft)but the team mostly remained exactly the same besides a new kicker, cornerback, and Saftey.
Harbaugh somehow managed to turn basically the same 6-10 team into a 13-3 team with just new coaching and some early season wins that made this team believe in what he was selling. The 49ers were now returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2002 (also the last winning team). The defensive was beyond impressive, they set an NFL record for games in a row without allowing a rushing TD. The kicker they signed went on to break the NFL single season record for field goals made, and they cornerback they signed had a career high 6 interceptions and made the Pro Bowl.
49ers finished with a first round bye week, and it was pretty apparent they would be facing a good team. The Saints won over the Detroit Lions and would be making the trek once again to play the 49ers. Once I saw the Saints would be here my mind flashed back to that Week 2 game from 2010. I knew this 49ers team was not that same team, but I also had doubts that Drew Brees and Saints would be so easily beat. I had faith but also much doubt....here we go again.
This time the game was for everything, win and move on, lose and enjoy your off season. The game was at home, in the city that won for 20 years in a row. The Saints had a record setting QB and the best offense in the NFL.
49ers started out up 17-0, and soon enough it was 17-14 Niners at halftime. The game would not be easy. Throughout the game I kept thinking back to the week 2 game and how we scored too fast and how I felt this would happen again. It couldn't? right?
The 49ers were up again. The score was 29-24 Niners with just about 1:48 left in the game. All the 49ers had to do was not give up a TD and we would be moving on. I felt this defense was ready, just don't let up a td I kept thinking. Then
Saints were up 32-29 now, Niners had the ball with 1:35 left on the clock. Just about the same amount of time the Saints had back in 2010. Only this 49ers team did not have a Drew Brees. My mind thought they could get at least a field goal but it would take a miracle to win this game now. Miracle received with a perfect Alex Smith throw to All Pro TE Vernon Davis for a 37 yard gain, which put the 49ers in position to kick a field goal or even try for a winning TD.
Clock read :14 as the niners lined up for what surly would be the last play before they would kick a game tying field goal. But what happened next was one of the best plays in many years:
I felt exhilaration. Niners got the win and were moving on into the NFC Championship game. It has been a long 9 years since the last time we even had a winning record and this game was magical. I did feel some sort of payback for the 2010 game but also that this was a new team (even with almost all the same players).
I felt my body sort of shaking, again I went into my room and sort of just kissed the urn that held the remains of my father. I felt happy and sad again. He would have love this game and I wished he was around to watch it. But in my mind he is watching every game with me and always cheering.
Thank you 49ers for giving me this and thank you dad for giving me the love of this sport.