On Saturday, the San Francisco 49ers played in possibly the greatest game in NFL history, and the screams and profanities of joy and misery could be heard bellowing out of my home for miles.
In a playoff matchup that had four lead changes in the final four minutes of regulation—which is an NFL first—how I didn’t have a heart attack is still a medical mystery. When it comes to emotional roller coasters, Saturday’s game was the Kingda Ka.
It began with an ideal 17-0 first quarter lead for the 49ers.
Safety Donte Whitner set the tone with a literal knock-out blow on the goal line that forced a fumble and got things started for Jim Harbaugh’s hard-nosed 49ers.
Yet after five forced turnovers by an elite 49ers defense and special teams unit, the Saints still managed to bring themselves within striking distance. And against a team like the Saints and a quarterback like Drew Brees, the Niners knew they were not safe.
By the fourth quarter the game was neck and neck.
With less than four minutes to go, Drew Brees hit Darren Sproles over the middle for a 44-yard touchdown. The Saints took the lead. I dropped to my knees and accepted the inevitable; our season was undoubtedly over.
I just knew we were destined to fall short of any attempt at a comeback. It has essentially been a decade since we were a winning team. While I was definitely hoping the old ways would return at that moment, it didn’t seem very likely.
I was wrong.
Alex Smith and the 49ers would begin a career-, franchise- and life-changing comeback.
With just about three minutes to go, Smith lofted a perfect pass to Vernon Davis down the sideline for 37 yards.
A few plays later, on 3rd and 7, Alex Smith ran left with great speed on a designed QB sweep and went untouched 27 yards for what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown.
I cheered and picked up all three of my boys and spun them around. It was an amazing moment, but it dissipate quickly.
Drew Brees—who had broken Dan Marino’s record for passing yards in a season and his own record for best completion percentage—was taking possession with plenty of time left to score.
This game wasn’t over.
With the ball back in the Saints' hands on their own 34, Brees nailed one to monster tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham spun through the great Patrick Willis and Donte Witner and took it 66 yards for the assumed game winning touchdown.
I collapsed to my knees again in devastation. My kids and I were in shock. The great thrill of victory was robbed from us yet again.
But it was at that moment that the 49ers' magic from my childhood felt like it was returning. A familiar and distant feeling was back.
I stood back up.
After the kick-off, the 49ers took over at their own 15 yard line with only 1:32 remaining and a trip to the NFC championship game on the line.
A couple small gains later, a stubborn Alex Smith threw across the middle to the mighty Vernon Davis who took it 47 yards to the 20 with only 31 seconds left.
On the next play, with the weight of Niner Nation on his shoulders, reborn Alex Smith fired a laser into traffic to Davis in the end zone. Davis grabbed it and held on tight.
With just nine seconds left and the reality of what just happened setting in, an emotional Davis broke-out in tears as he walked back to the sideline, escorted my a triumphant 49ers team. Incredible.
The excitement and celebration that filled my house will forever be remembered by my sons and I. I may have even shed a tear or two myself.
The 49ers are now just one game away from the Super Bowl. They are just one win from greatness and immortality. This season has truly been remarkable.
For the first time, I believe this team can win it all.
The New York Giants are playing at a high level right now, but so are the 49ers.
With a win on Sunday, and a win in the Super Bowl, the 2011-12 49ers season may be their greatest ever.
This season has been a privilege to cover and follow. Fingers crossed for Sunday.
This article was originally published in the Benicia Herald.
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