This year during their losses, the Niners looked flat, blah, bored. I was very concerned that they were showing chinks in the armor. My worried musings led me to the conclusion that the 49ers know how to win a regular season game. This was the lesson learned last year. All those comebacks, those epic see-saw battles, the behind the shed beatings they administered; they were all results of a team that for years had the talent and will to win, but had never learned the process of winning. They learned; they learned how to mount a comeback, how to close out an opponent, how to out-scheme an opponent, how to stop the best athletes in the game, and most of all how to match the will to win with the process to bring it to fruition.
My greatest fear after last years regular season was that this would not carry over into the playoffs, I was so worried that they would lose out in the first round; that learning to win a regular game would not be enough. With a deep field and having to draw the Saints, how could I not fear. But from the first turnover, when Whitner showed that they would not roll over for the anointed teams of the past, I knew that we had what we needed to win in the post season. The 49ers proved the mettle in that game and it forged a new lesson, how to win a playoff game. That game will be as remembered in 49er lore as the tragedy that followed.
We all still feel the sting of the Championship game. It was such a punch in the gut, but it showed that we still had a little bit to learn; that the will to win must not exceed the process. We cannot be too mad at Kyle Williams for the first botched punt. He did the right thing and waved off the recovery knowing that there was too much traffic. But a bad bounce and fingernail width brush of the skin gave the Giants the opportunity they needed to get back in. On the second turnover we were all thinking that Williams needed to atone; he needed to make a play and bring the game to a close. In his quest for heroics, he made a mistake. We all cursed his name in a moment of passioned fandom. We were robbed from within. An inferior team that had more luck than any one team should EVER have in the playoffs (See 1990 NFC champ game, SB XXV, and XLVII) had gotten lucky again and WE were cheated! But the lesson was quick and learned by all.
This season started out and we all wondered fretfully if last year would be an aberration; a phantom meant to taunt us. Would we be able to stand up to the best the league had to offer and rise victorious? The chance to prove so came on day one. America's loved and lauded Packers were on the docket, in dreaded Lambeau of all places. Site of bitter Niner memories a plenty. Could we beat the darling Arron Rodgers on the road? Could our D hold up against such ferice and precise receivers and a QB so sharp he splits blades of grass with his spiral? We could and we did. It was a behind the shed beating. A blown call made the score closer than the game was. San Fran punched Green Bay in the mouth and watched them bleed laughing. The season continued but a troubling trend appeared. After two solid games, the team would not show up, they came out flat. They were beaten; at times be teams with inferior ability. How could this be. We could beat anybody -we showed it. Against the Packers, the Lions, the Seahawks, the Bears, and the always anointed Patriots. We beat them all, we could beat anybody.
Why did we lose? I feel that the Niners lost because they met teams who were trying to emulate the 49ers season of last. They were teams who were learning to win when they hadn't before. The Vikings, the Rams, and the Seahawks all wanted to be what we were; a hard hitting thug who didn't care what the pundits say -they just won. They all wanted to be us. And like a prize fighter giving a young fighter a chance, we let them have round in a 16 round slug-fest. Why? Why let these young punks have a turn, because San Francisco learned last year that the big wins are had in January and in a marathon you never try to pass a punk who sprints by in mile 15. You save your energy for mile 24 when the punks believe the race is won as you glide by, you smile and say better luck next year.
We are at mile 24. The end is near and there are members of this team who KNOW that -NOW is the time to win. Seize the day! There are no perfect teams this year. San Francisco CAN beat anybody but anybody can also beat San Francisco. What matters is the mile marker. How much 'will to win' will we have when it counts the most. Knowing what they CAN do, knowing the lessons learned from the past, I believe this team has saved their best for NOW. They know where the finish line is, they know how far they have come, they know that the race is won at 26.2 miles not an inch before. What will carry them across that line first, as all other champions before is the will to win matched with the knowledge of how the race is won. They have faced the granite monolith and brought the hammer -now is the time to put the rock between the hammer and the anvil!
Go Niners! Ad victorem spolias!