In times like these, a little perspective always helps.

In 1987, the Niners (and their strike replacements) went 13-and-2. Their offense and their defense were ranked #1. They won their last three games by a combined score of 124 to 7. Going into the playoffs, the oddsmakers didn't see any need to wait for the Super Bowl. They installed the Niners as two-touchdown favorites, no matter the opponent. Accordingly, they were expected to bludgeon their first playoff victim, the lightly regarded Vikings.

Yet in every phase, the Vikings dominated. The pressure applied by their defensive line drove the Niners' all-pro QB into shocking ineptitude. Meanwhile, our D had no answer for Anthony Carter, who set a playoff receiving record that stood for more than a decade. Shoo-ins for the title, the Niners instead sustained what remains their most stunning defeat of all time.

The explanations were all over the map. Overconfidence. A lack of adjustments. An emotional retirement announcement. Exhaustion from overpracticing. An Achilles' heel of a left tackle. And on and on. But the explanations didn't obscure the painful truth.

Without even having made it there, the Niners had lost the Super Bowl.

There's nothing worse. To work so hard, invest so much, only to have to start over again. Almost out of sheer necessity, you've gotta find some saving grace, a reason to maintain your faith.

In '87, the reason was this: our coach was Bill Walsh, and our QB was Joe Montana.

Now understand, this didn't make the loss any easier to swallow. In a way, it actually made it worse: how on earth could Walsh and Montana, who'd won two titles already, go into this game so unprepared? Yet through the pain, a larger point. They'd proven themselves to be mortal, but you wouldn't trade them for anyone else. They'd earned your trust, and from that trust came a certain peace.

They didn't win the Super Bowl. But they took their best shot, and win or lose, their best shot was all you could want.

With that in mind, let's chat about Super Bowl 47.

Though the Niners' catastrophic first-half (plus second-half kickoff) did show signs of unpreparedness—lining up wrong on their very first play—the crucial issue was the one we'd been dreading for weeks: the final collapse of a once-great D. At last we can freely admit that both of our Smiths were seriously hurt, and the lack of a pass-rush opened gaping holes in a woeful secondary, no match for Joe Flacco's aerial circus. We'd been ignoring the warnings since halftime in New England, but now there was nowhere to hide. The Ravens were this year's "team on a roll," and they were about to blow us away. And I, for one, was prepared to accept it.

But then, of course, the lights went out.

Almost absurdly, the Niners fought their way into the game. It looked like it'd be too little too late, all the way until late in the fourth, when somehow the Niners, cruising now, started a drive at their own 20, down only five. They steadily made their way down the field, against a D that was on its last legs, until they had first-and-goal at the seven.

The conclusion was inescapable. Almost absurdly, the Niners were going to complete their quest. They'd quiet the ghosts of destiny thwarted. They'd capture a glory too long denied.

Almost absurdly, the Niners would win.

But scoring down low isn't always so easy. After all, the Niners were here only because the Falcons had failed. And the Ravens were especially good at making you fail.

The conventional wisdom, aided of course by the wisdom of hindsight, is that the Niners should've run the ball. But naturally, it isn't that simple. The Ravens were smart enough to sell themselves out to stop the run. And though some would argue that the Niners still could've simply plowed through them—imposed their will, as a certain coach used to say—I myself can't make that claim. Having placed on record my subconscious premonition of a crucial postseason failure by our overhyped "jumbo package," I can hardly complain that we didn't use it.

The main issue wasn't the debatable playcalling; it was how we looked on the plays that were called. The entire series felt rushed, uncertain, teetering on the edge of panic. One play was scuttled by a timeout that averted a delay of game—a common sequence all season long—while others were ruined by tentative decisions or blitzes that seemed to catch us off-guard. We'd come so close, but as each play failed, the Niners just didn't seem up to the task.

And just like that, when a final pass (but no flag) hit the ground, the Niners were dead, only five yards away. And the Football Fates had won at last.

The pain, of course, was devastating. Except for maybe The Drive and The Fumble, the Niners had suffered the most gut-wrenching consecutive playoff defeats in the history of the league. Almost out of sheer necessity, you've gotta find some saving grace, a reason to maintain your faith.

The reason is this: our coach is Jim Harbaugh, and our QB is Colin Kaepernick.

Harbaugh never recaptured last year's magic. WWL was mystifying, as were these slow postseason starts. On the sidelines he seemed to be dangerously unstable, and, in the end, his brother outcoached him. Yet despite all that, he was five yards away from the Super Bowl title. That's the greatest sign of his coaching genius, and I wouldn't trade him for anyone else.

Meanwhile, this year's magic belonged to Kaepernick. No doubt, the Ravens exposed his inexperience, particularly on that fateful drive. But out of nowhere, this kid virtually carried this team, more and more as our defense sagged. As I told you after his second start, he's the league's most spectacular young QB, and I wouldn't trade him for anyone else.

They didn't win the Super Bowl. But they took their best shot, and win or lose, their best shot was all we could want.

They've earned our trust, and from that trust comes a certain peace.

As well as plenty of reason for hope. It's hard to imagine, but after that dreadful Vikings game, we'd lost three postseason games in a row, each one worse than the one before. What looked like it might've been a dynasty was now apparently slipping away. The pain seemed almost unendurable.

Don't forget what happened next.

Don't give up on what's to come.