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Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports


A Match Made in Hollywood: Why a 49ers/Bills Super Bowl matchup feels like destiny

Don Atkinson
Jan 7, 2023 at 3:39 PM--


The NFL is almost always entertaining. That's an absolute fact, and it's one of the many reasons why American football has become not only the country's most popular professional sport, replacing baseball as the "national pastime," but also an international sensation. It's the absolute drama of football — the inevitable twists and turns of a season that now lasts nearly seven months — that make the sport such a joy to experience. Football is king in the United States, and it's unlikely to change.

NFL football also makes for great storytelling. And there's no shortage of events to shape that story into something truly remarkable. Every season has its own plotline, its own heroes, its own villains, and its own unique outcome. And somehow, each new year creates a team or two that captivate the nation's attention. In the playoffs of 2023, the San Francisco 49ers and the Buffalo Bills seem to be those teams.

Coming off last year's campaign that fell one game short of another Super Bowl appearance, the 49ers finally found themselves rid of last season's Trey Lance vs. Jimmy Garoppolo quarterback debate. Lance was given the clear nod as starter early on, and Garoppolo was clearly on his way out. But with a soft trade market for NFL quarterbacks, Garoppolo ended up on a team-friendly deal with the 49ers that allowed him to return, though with the understanding that he would be doing so only in a backup role. The idea that Lance would be holding the reins for the offense in his second year came crashing down in a Week 2 game against the Seattle Seahawks, when he went down with a season-ending ankle injury. For many, that spelled an early exit for the 49ers' post-season aspirations.

Enter Jimmy Garoppolo.

Having been completely marginalized during the off-season and with one foot out the door, Garoppolo stepped in and not only navigated the 49ers to a Week 2 win in relief of Lance, but ended up playing exceptionally well. Before long the Garoppolo-led 49ers had chalked up 7 wins, were on a four-game winning streak heading into Week 13 and held first place in the NFC West. Talk began to stir about the "Hollywood ending" to Garoppolo's stint as San Francisco's starting quarterback. And it was talk that had some legitimacy.

Though well-loved in the locker room and with a solid personal fan base, Garoppolo was often a punching bag for the media, both in San Francisco and across the country, and he came to represent the team's inability to rise above its offensive mediocrity. To many, Garoppolo himself was responsible for the 49ers missing the chance at a sixth Super Bowl win in the 2019-20 season, and a missed chance to play in the Super Bowl in 2022. Coming off shoulder surgery and bringing little interest in the trade market, Garoppolo was written off in San Francisco during the walkup to 2022. Done. Finished.

Until he wasn't.

Garoppolo's return to the starting quarterback role, sans playbook, without any pre-season preparation, and disregarded by most fans and the media, was nothing short of feature-film quality material. "Beleaguered player comes back to save the team that cast him aside," seemed to be the headline, and everyone was beginning to see the makings of a truly unique story. If Kurt Warner's 2021 American Underdog deserved to be put on film, certainly Garoppolo's magical resurrection with the 49ers was a plotline just as powerful, provided of course he could get the 49ers a chance at their sixth world championship. It seemed like destiny.

Until suddenly it didn't.

Jimmy Garoppolo's harsh removal from the Disney-level storyline he was writing ended on the field on December 4, when Miami Dolphins edge rusher Jaelan Phillips rolled up Garoppolo's ankle in what at the time looked like a season-ending injury. The 49ers' dreams of greatness in 2022, it appeared, might well and finally be over. They had lost their brilliant young protégé quarterback, followed by the loss of his worthy replacement — the veteran savior who it seemed was the only thing standing between the 49ers and a .500 season. The story was certainly over.

Until suddenly it wasn't.

Enter Mr. Irrelevant. Rookie quarterback Brock Purdy, having obviously read a few scenes ahead in the Hollywood script the 49ers were creating, did something almost no one expected: He won. And he won convincingly. And even more mind-bending, he seemed to elevate the offense around him. Purdy closed out a win against the Dolphins, then engineered the second half of the 49ers' nine-game win streak, capturing the NFC West title and setting the team up as the #2 seed in the playoffs.

Purdy's breakout launched a wave of accolades, and a fresh plot twist for the 49ers' magical season. Purdy was a gamer, and had every ability, it appeared, to take the 49ers deep into the playoffs. The team itself seemed to defy the odds against them. They dominated, and the world took notice. Quite the accomplishment for a team led by not one, but two backup quarterbacks no one much cared about in the off-season.

The Buffalo Bills, of course, have been through the football wringer themselves. Positioned as the early season favorites to win the Super Bowl this year, the Bills played well but stumbled a bit along the way. Hampered by injuries and without much of an effective run game all year long, the Bills were forced to rely on the heroics of quarterback Josh Allen to win games, and he came through. The Bills fought to a 12-3 record approaching Week 17, despite dropping one or two games they should have won. But their lack of offensive balance seemed to push them mostly out of the role of Super Bowl favorites, with that talk refocusing on the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals late in the season. Still, the Bills seemed cool, confident, and ready to make a move in the playoffs.

Then tragedy struck.

Early in their all-important Week 17 game against the Bengals, Bills Safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field, having suffered a near-fatal cardiac event. The team was understandably shaken to its core and racked with worry and grief about their fallen teammate. But they rallied behind him as a team and given most recent news that Hamlin seems on track to a full recovery, the Bills will almost certainly be playing with a renewed vigor moving into the playoffs. Like the 49ers, the Bills look to be on a mission, though not to their sixth Lombardi trophy, but rather their first after four fruitless appearances in the Super Bowl in decades past.

Both the 49ers and Bills of course will have to get past some very good teams who will be looking to ruin the Hollywood-level matchup. The Philadelphia Eagles, the NFC's media darlings all season, are no easy win. Neither are the talented and dangerous Dallas Cowboys and the offensively explosive Minnesota Vikings. And Aaron Rodgers may be able to get the dark-horse Packers in line to ruin the dreams of all three. And of course, Tom Brady is Tom Brady, which makes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a constant threat.

On the AFC side, the Chiefs and Bengals both look exceptional. The Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers are longer shots to take out the AFC's top three, but nothing in the NFL is ever impossible.

Is the story of the magical seasons of either the San Francisco 49ers or the Buffalo Bills headed for a quick end? Probably not, based on how both are playing right now, but it will be supremely interesting to see how the plot plays out for both teams.

A talented and wildly popular young quarterback gets hurt, replaced by the gutsy, disregarded veteran who rallies his team again to victory, who then gets hurt and is replaced by the rookie phenom who no one ever saw coming. A genius coaching staff and a 13-4 season record followed by victories over archetypical opponents like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, culminating in the defeat of the NFL's east coast powerhouse team. Then into the world's biggest game against the team denied four Super Bowl wins, playing their season for a fallen brother who, rightfully so, has inspired the country to believe in miracles.

Who would win? The NFL for certain. Beyond that, it may not matter. Cut. Print. That's a wrap. Hollywood ending.

In the end, it could be one or both teams in a potential 49ers-Bills NFL championship scenario that fails. But it's hard to disregard the beauty in that potential Super Bowl matchup, and if any two teams in the NFL truly deserve to be part of that contest this year, it is almost certainly these two teams. And it would, regardless of who won, be the stuff of Hollywood film legend.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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1 Comment

  • Bait
    If ths scenario occurs I cannot lose. the 49er's are my favorite team and Buffalo is my neighbour!!!!
    Jan 10, 2023 at 5:45 AM
    0

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