Being a diehard San Francisco 49ers fan has brought lots of up-and-downs over the last 10 years.
The team stunk from 2003 through 2010, then Jim Harbaugh helped turn the franchise around, taking the Niners to the playoffs from 2011 to 2013, before departing after an 8-8 2014 season.
I choose to try and not remember the Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly teams, because why would I want to? Other than season opening blowouts, neither coach brought us long lasting memories during their short tenures, although the unintentional comedy Tomsula brought at times certainly made us smile.
The 2017 season was the first under Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch and fans remained patient as the pair took the initial steps to turnover a roster that former GM Trent Baalke left in shambles.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s season ending knee injury in 2018 zapped any hope for an exciting season, but that turned around last year.
The 49ers played a lot of close and exciting games last season, with two standing out in particular.
Robbie Gould’s game winning field goal against the New Orleans Saints, which was setup by a legendary catch-and-run by tight end George Kittle, is one of them. Garoppolo played his best game of the season, helping the team win a 48-46 shootout at the Superdome. I remember pacing around my apartment and letting out a loud, “YESSSSSSS!!” when Gould hit the game winner. That game was a roller coaster and saw the 49ers come up with several big plays.
The second game is the regular season finale against the Seattle Seahawks. With everything on the line for the Niners, linebacker Dre Greenlaw stopping Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister on the goal line. The win secured home-field advantage for the Niners throughout the playoffs. As if that isn’t a big enough reason, doing it against the hated Seahawks made it that much sweeter. I was back home in Vancouver, Canada, where we have several annoying and irritating Seattle fans, three of them were watching it with me. I remember talking smack all game, going awfully quiet during the Seahawks final drive and then going back to getting in their face again after Greenlaw made the play, which is known as the “Clinch by an Inch.”
As I mentioned, those Tomsula and Kelly teams were terrible to watch and didn’t bring fans a whole lot of joy, but those Harbaugh teams had some big wins that we may have forgotten about.
The 2011 Week 4 win against the Philadelphia Eagles comes to mind. The Niners were down 23-3 early in the third quarter and looked down-and-out. But, this was a different team than years past. Alex Smith threw touchdown passes on back-to-back possessions before 49ers’ legend Frank Gore scored the game winning touchdown with just over three minutes remaining, giving the Niners a huge 24-23 win. I feel like this win is when we first started to feel that the 2011 49ers were for real.
Another game that comes to mind from the Harbaugh era is the 2012 win over the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. The Niners blitzed the Pats to start the game and led 31-3 in the third quarter before came back to tie the game in fourth. But, on the ensuing kickoff, LaMichael James had a huge return, setting up quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s 38-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree that had me yelling at the bar. Kicker David Akers iced the game with a late field goal. The 49ers beat the Pats 41-34.
The final regular season game that I thought of is the “Pick at the Stick.” Linebacker NaVorro Bowman’s interception of Matt Ryan remains a great memory after seven years. The Niners led 27-17 late in the game, before the Atlanta Falcons closed the lead to three. With just over a minute left, Ryan had the Falcons at the 49ers 10-yard line. His pass on second down was juggled by receiver Harry Douglas, before Bowman secured it and ran it back for an 89-yard touchdown, closing down Candlestick Park with a bang. The win also secured a playoff spot for the 49ers.
What is your favorite regular season game of the last decade?