Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

These 49ers are Super Special

Gilbert Brink
Jan 17, 2020 at 9:06 AM

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Football is the ultimate team game. This is one of the biggest clichés about America's favorite sport, but clichés often exist for a reason; they tend to be true. While a game of basketball can be dominated by one elite superstar, and a baseball game can be won by a pitcher who is unstoppable, a football game really cannot be won by a single player. Sure, a quarterback can take over a game, but he cannot do so unless his line blocks for him and his receivers catch passes and make plays with the ball in their hands. Running backs can carry the load, but without the offensive line opening holes to run through they would be stuck in first gear. No, football depends on all players on the field working in unison to accomplish a common goal. Without this harmony of intentions, a team will never achieve a high level of success.

The 2019 San Francisco 49ers are at the precipice of American sports immortality. In today's fast-food media age, where people consume their entertainment through YouTube clips, streaming services and screens the size of their palms, the Super Bowl is still the one sporting event that gathers the nation in front of the television screen. Whether it be at Super Bowl parties, sports bars or in their family's living room, hundreds of millions of people affix their eyes to that 100-yard field to find out who will reign supreme as the best team in the NFL. On Sunday, the 49ers have a chance to be one of those teams to play on that stage, and these 49ers have what it takes to be truly special.

If any one player embodies the 49ers fan experience for the past 13 years, that man is Joe Staley. Drafted by the 49ers in 2007, Staley has played for Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary, Jim Tomsula (interim) Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula (non-interim), Chip Kelly and Kyle Shanahan. As starting LT he has protected the blindside of Alex Smith, Troy Smith, JT O`Sullivan, Chris Weinke, Shaun Hill, Brian Hoyer, Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert, CJ Beathard and Jimmy Garappolo, to name a few (certainly there are even more somehow). Staley has experienced the bad of the mid-aughts, the great 49ers of the early 2010s, the abysmal 49ers of the post-Harbaugh era, and now the resurgent 49ers of 2019. At one point, early in the Shanahan era, Staley was debating retirement. Coach Shanahan was able to persuade him to stay, and after an injury riddled season in 2019, Staley, the only active 49er remaining from the 2012 Super Bowl team, has a chance to appear on the grandest stage in sports once again.

The date is January 19th 2014, the 49ers are facing the Seahawks in Seattle with a chance to go to the Super Bowl. This date marks the last time, prior to this year, that the 49ers were in the playoffs. It is exactly six years prior to the game the 49ers will play Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. Exactly six years apart, and the same opportunity is at stake. Six years ago the 49ers suffered one of the worst losses in team history, the man who brought down the 49ers that day; Richard Sherman. It was first down, ball on the Seattle 18 yard line and the 49ers had 2 timeouts and 30 seconds left to play. Down 6 the 49ers would win the game with a touchdown, Colin Kaepernick lofted a pass to Michael Crabtree in the end zone, Sherman blanketed Crabtree, tipped the ball into the air which subsequently landed in the waiting arms of Seattle LB Malcom Smith. That image will haunt 49ers fans forever, a strong hatred for Sherman grew among the 49ers fanbase following a post-game interview where he taunted the "sorry receiver" and boasted his claim as the best in the league.

Richard Sherman will take the field Sunday, six years to the day when he crushed 49ers fans' hearts, he now holds those same hearts in the palm of his hands. After being cut by the Seahawks in 2018 due to injury, Sherman took one visit as a free agent. That visit consisted of Sherman and his wife having dinner with Kyle Shanahan and his wife. He was a 49er mere hours after that meal. It was unthinkable, the arch nemesis of the 49ers has now become the face of the 49ers. At his first press conference Sherman donned a bright red suit and a 49ers cap, it felt like the Joker putting on the Batsuit. Negotiating his own contract, the media questioned Sherman's intelligence, to which Sherman replied that he was betting on himself. During his first season with the 49ers it was clear Sherman still had a lot to offer even though team struggled, but in 2019 Sherman saw the future. Not only for himself, as he became a 2nd team All-Pro selection, he also saw where the team was headed. During training camp Sherman had a warning for the 49ers fan; ""Even when we go do what we know we're going to do, stay humble. Don't rub it in people's faces. Just stay humble…We're going to take this journey. It's going to be a beautiful journey, but we're going to slap people on the butt, and we're going to stay humble. We're going to get these dubs.". He knew then what we all know now, this team is special.

One of the reasons Richard Sherman decided to come to the 49ers was the acquisition of Jimmy Garoppolo. On October 31st 2017, Bill Belichik made a call to the 49ers front office and offered up Jimmy Garoppolo for a second round pick. It has been said that other teams offered more, but Belichik's respect for Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch was a big part of this deal being made. See, Belichik had to trade Jimmy Garoppolo, although he did not want to. According to multiple reports, Tom Brady wanted Garoppolo out of the building. With Tom out for the first four games of 2016 due to Deflate-Gate, Jimmy shined while replacing him. The thought began to circulate that perhaps Belichik had Tom's replacement on deck. In 2017, Garoppolo's contract was set to expire and the Patriots were faced with a tough decision, either pay a young Garoppolo an absurd amount of money to be a back up, move on from Brady or get something for Garoppolo while they could via trade. They chose the third option, and San Francisco has benefitted to the tune of a 20-5 record with Garoppolo under center. The 49ers once had another under-study QB who filled the boots of his predecessor quite well. Garoppolo, the QB with the Hollywood looks and the humble demeanor has become the unquestioned leader of a team that he has helped turn around completely. Even still, it doesn't take much to find a talking head media goof to question Garoppolo. This week alone Mike Florio, NBC Football Night in America analyst and PFT founder, stated that if the championship game is close in the fourth quarter, Garoppolo will "s—t down his leg". Nothing about Garoppolo has indicated that any moment has been too big for him and Sunday will be no different.

As important as Garoppolo's play has been for the 49ers, one of the most important things that Garoppolo did for the 49ers is one of the worst things to ever happen to him as an athlete. In week 3 of the 2018 season, Garoppolo tore his ACL vs. the Kansas City Chiefs. This was supposed to be Garoppolo's first full season as a starting quarterback and it was over before September was. The 49ers struggled for the duration of 2018 and ended up with a 4-12 record. What a blessing that was. With that terrible record came the opportunity to pick 2nd in the 2019 NFL Draft. The one position the 49ers needed more than any other was pass rusher. Hello Nick Bosa. While there was plenty of controversy surrounding Bosa amidst his political comments on social media and the geographical location of his new team, it has not been an issue whatsoever. Listening to any of his fellow teammates speak on him, he has been embraced by the roster, the organization and the city. Proving that sports are about a common goal, and sometimes we must put aside political ideologies and opinions and work together to achieve that goal.

On the other side of the ball, this man couldn't be further from the political spectrum, George Kittle energizes the 49ers offense with his madman charm and pro-wrestling persona. Dubbed "The People's Tight End" by The Rock, George Kittle electrifies the crowd and the team like nobody else on the roster. Kittle has separated himself from the rest of the NFL as the best Tight End in football, earning the 1st team All-Pro selection for 2019. What makes George so special is his dedication to the team effort. The man who is one of the most dominant receiving tight ends in football would rather stay on the line and block. Stats don't matter to Kittle, all he wants to do is win. When asked about the 49ers dominating rushing stats vs. Minnesota during the divisional round, Kittle lamented that they only ran the ball 47 times, wishing they had reached 50. His selfless approach is the hallmark of this 49ers team.

There is only one player on this team who could match the fire, intensity and energy that George Kittle brings to the table, and that is the leader of the Hot Boyz, Kwon Alexander. Signed as a free-agent in the offseason, Alexander has been the bolt of energy the team needed to remind it to never become complacent. When asked to describe his state of mind, Kwon Alexander often uses the term "legendary". This is what he aspires to be. This season looked to be over for Alexander after he suffered a torn pectoral muscle in a game on Halloween vs. the Arizona Cardinals. Nobody thought Kwon would return to the field until next season, until a tweet surfaced in December by WR Kendrick Bourne that referenced Alexander on the practice field with the intention to return for the playoffs. This seemed unlikely, as it would only be a little over 2 months since the injury and linebacker is a position that relies heavily on upper-body/arm strength. This team meant too much, this opportunity meant too much, and last Saturday Kwon Alexander took the field and helped rally the 49ers to a 27-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings. Truly legendary.

These players believe in each other, they fight for each other and they are a team more than they are anything else. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are the cause of this, they have created a culture of family and togetherness that is rare among sports teams. That is easy to say when a team is 14-3 at the doorstep of the Super Bowl, but one thing that has stood out about this team over the last three years is its ability to stick together and never degenerate into blame and dysfunction. In the first 2 years under Lynch and Shanahan, the 49ers were 6-10 and 4-12, respectively, yet the players never act that way. As Bill Walsh once said; "Champions behave like champions before they're champions". Whether it be Ahkello Witherspoon volunteering for special teams duty after being benched vs. Minnesota, Raheem Mostert becoming a star RB after years as a special teamer, Dante Pettis going from expected top receiving target to 49ers biggest cheerleader, John Lynch reaching out to help Solomon Thomas through his depression or Earl Mitchell coming back to fill in for an injured DJ Jones and honoring Jones by wearing his #93. These 49ers are a family, whether they win Sunday or not, and that's what makes them so dangerous.
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.

1 Comment

  • Mike
    I wonder at all the commentators analyzing playoff teams by individual comparison as if they are a baseball team. Football is the ultimate team sport where each component is a function of its interface with the whole squad. Fantasy football has created a mania about football stats but yards per carry is hugely different from batting average in its dependence on performance by teammates. Not only are the 49ers a family, they have a common goal and rhythm. Measure that with wins, like the one coming up
    Jan 17, 2020 at 4:57 PM
    Response: All I've heard about all week is the mystical magic of Aaron Rodgers Funny how the 49ers have already defeated him twice in the playoffs prior But they want to push the narrative of individual greatness over team greatness

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