Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Game For the Niner History Books

Hard to believe it was thirty years ago yesterday that Joe Montana found Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone in what was called “the catch” to put the Forty Niners into their first Superbowl. It was the beginning of a dynasty in the 80’s that the Niner Faithful had been “faithfully” waiting for. Fast forward to another historic performance at this same Candlestick Park by a quarterback mostly forgotten in this post-season. With all the attention on Tim “terrific” Tebow, Tom Brady, and the hottest QB in the NFL, Drew Brees, it was Alex Smith who conquered the mountains of doubt, reached out, and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Like two great boxers in the final rounds of a championship bout, Drew Brees and his vaunted aerial offense traded gut wrenching blows against Alex Smith and a 49er offense that just refused to quit. With 7:36 left on the clock in the fourth quarter and the Niners hanging onto a 23-17 lead, the two quarterbacks slugged it out in one of the greatest endings in NFL playoff history. Brees and the Saints mounted a classic drive, (9 plays, 79 yards), capping it off with a 44 yard touchdown throw to Darin Sproles. Sproles caught the Brees bullet over the middle at the thirty-seven and ran it in to put the Saints into their first lead of the day, 24-23, bringing the clock down to 4:02. And just like a descending hot air balloon, you could feel the collective exhales of (insert attendance) Niner fans who had seen this scenario before.

But this was just the beginning of the roller coaster ride of emotions both Saints and Forty Niner fans would have to endure. With just over four minutes left on the clock Smith started a drive from his own twenty yard line, and 6 plays, 85 yards later, Smith called his own number on a quarterback bootleg to the left and with (insert guard’s name, Staley) plowing the road out front, ran 28 yards into the end zone to put the Niners back on top 29-24, sending the Candlestick crowd back into a frenzy. The Niners failed on the two point conversion, but left 2:11 on the clock.

The resounding roars of delight would be short lived as Brees, (the master of quick strikes all year), needed only 34 seconds in 4 plays, 88 yards before hitting J.Graham over the middle for a 66 yard scoring play that left Niner defensive backs laying on the ground, and again a deflated crowd in total disbelief. The Saints successfully converted a two point attempt to put the “who dats” back on top 32-29 with only 1:37 left on the clock.

Game over? Not this time!

With little left on the clock and the Niners starting on their own 15 yard line down by three, (and only one time out remaining), Alex Smith took a giant step into the Forty Niner history books with a 7 play, 85 yard drive. On 3rd and 4 at NO 14 with 14 seconds left in the game, Smith fired the final shot heard around the Bay as he hit Vernon Davis in the breadbasket just inside the goal line sending the Niner crowd back into screaming roars of ecstasy, putting the final dagger into the hearts of Saints players and fans, and bringing tears of joy streaming down Davis’s face. BALLGAME!

Many will write about this final drive and the rising stock in a written-off quarterback who had garnered little recognition through out the season. Indeed, the weekend was supposed to be stories about two Superbowl Champion quarterbacks, (Brees and Rogers), and a quarterback that could perform “heavenly miracles” in the eyes of many. But on this day the miracles, and this epic battle belonged to Alex Smith and the Forty Niner Faithful---capturing an improbable victory and sending years of futility down the rabbit hole of football lore. For a brief moment, Niner fans were reminded of those last minutes of “the catch”, (Montana to Clark), but this is 2012, and the heroic final play was Smith to Davis---THE DAGGER.