Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
The San Francisco 49ers will have to deny some amazing players a chance at greatness if they hope to win the Super Bowl this year.
Sorry, but not sorry.
The San Francisco 49ers punched their ticket into the NFC Championship Game, which means they're one win away from fighting for Lombardi Trophy No. 6. On their way to the big game (and the big win), there will be some very deserving players being denied the ultimate glory.
Some of them have been there before, but haven't tasted greatness recently. Others haven't sniffed the Super Bowl. All have consistently been the focus of their teams' fan base throughout this ordeal.
You've heard it before, surely: "Tony Gonzalez is too good to not have a ring!" or "Ray Lewis needs to get there again before he calls it a career!"
When the Baltimore Ravens beat the Denver Broncos, there was plenty to be said about Peyton Manning and his game-ending interception. You could find plenty of people talking about the way that Joe Flacco found his receivers early and often, and we even had Twitter below up with pseudo Tebow Time.
But the headline of the day was simple: "Ray Lewis will play another game."
Lewis is something of a legendary figure at this point. One of those players who just reeks of Hall of Fame glory and who is every bit as deserving of being the focus of that headline. The Ravens themselves are drinking up this momentum and this passion.
They're riding "win one more for Ray" as hard as they can and they'll be game opponents to the New England Patriots on Sunday. In short, they feel greatness is upon them and believe Lewis not only deserves another ring, but that he will earn another ring.
For the Atlanta Falcons, the focus has been on Gonzalez. Famous for his time with the Kansas City Chefs, Gonzalez slugged it out with the best of them on a losing team. He broke NFL records, he went to the Pro Bowl damn near every year, he was named to All-Pro teams and he's as deserving of the Hall of Fame as any tight end ever.
After the Falcons came back to stun the Seahawks with eight seconds left, Gonzalez cried. He said he'd never cried after winning a game before, which shows just how much it means to him. He joined the Falcons because they were a contender, but until this point, they fell short of even winning a playoff game.
Gonzalez has been adamant that he's likely to retire after this season, Super Bowl or not. He wants to get that ring and his teammates want him to get that ring. He'll be matched up against Patrick Willis on Sunday, and if there's one thing Willis understands, it's passion. It should be a huge matchup.
Lastly, we come to the New England Patriots.
Has there been denied greatness there? Not necessarily, but there is one interesting note: Tom Brady and the number of rings. Brady wants to be recognized as the greatest quarterback of all time, but Joe Montana has more Super Bowl rings, plus is recognized as the best ever.
Brady wants to get that fourth ring, he wants to be on that same level. I know many of us will have a problem with that, but that's the way it goes. He's getting up there in years and I wouldn't be surprised if he's more motivated right now than he's ever been in his entire career.
So there you have it: three chances at obvious greatness that the 49ers will have to deny en route to Lombardi No. 6. In my head, I've had the phrase "stepping over bodies" in my head and while I won't ever make the asinine "we're going to war!" comparison, I do find myself somewhat disturbed by how much joy is in my heart when I think of Lewis, Gonzalez and Brady hanging their heads in shame after the 49ers win,
Sorry ... but not sorry.
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