San Francisco clinches playoff spot
Here we are, just hours after the San Francisco 49ers clinched a playoff spot with a victory over the Falcons 34-24 on Monday Night Football and all I can think is “this is it, it’s the game last game at Candlestick Park.”
Navarro Bowman had a late 89-yard pick-six to clinch the victory after Matt Ryan and the Falcons came back and put themselves in a position to win with a touchdown. Frank Gore had 97 yards rushing and Michael Crabtree posted his first 100 yard game this season to help the offense which was non-existant in the first half.
After the 49ers scored 17 unanswered points in the second half, Matt Ryan stormed his team back by going to Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. Matt Ryan ended his night going 37 of 48 for 348 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions but it wasn’t enough as the last interception sealed it for the 49ers.
This wonderful stadium has been home to great and magical moments that have become timeless in the world of sports, and it appeared that their was a little bit of magic left for Bowman and the Niner defense.
The most memorable moment at the stick was of course the game-clinching six-yard touchdown pass from Joe Montana to Dwight Clark against the Cowboys in the 1982 NFC Championship game that became known as “The Catch”. In a back and forth game, the 49ers found themselves trailing 27-21 and on their own 11 yard line. It was then that Joe Montana orchestrated an 89- yard drive that ended with that touchdown with 58 seconds remaining. Not only was this victory key to their championship season, but it was the beginning of the 49ers’ dynasty in during the 80’s.
“The Catch” is among the greatest moments in sports, so it’s unfair to compare it to other moments that took place at the Stick. Here are some of my favorites that will no doubt be locked away in my mind for eternity.
Jerry Rice’s last home game
The best wide receiver ever and arguably the best football player ever ended his career with the 49ers on December 17, 2000. He caught 7 passes for 76 yards but it was one of his teammates, a young guy by the name of Terrell Owens who stole the show. On Rice’s day, T.O caught 20 balls (NFL record) for 283 yards. It was a passing of the torch if you will as Owens then became one of the best receivers in the league following Rice.
Garrison Hearst kicks off 1998 season with a bang
It was week one of the 1998 season and the 49ers found themselves in overtime against the New York Jets, tied at 30. After being pinned down to their own four, coach Steve Mariucci called a running play to get some breathing room. What happened next was one for the record books.
Running back Garrison Hearst, who had a miserable preseason running the football, broke a couple of tackles close to the line of scrimmage and was off to the races. Hearst then delivered a crushing stiff arm to safety Kevin Williams at the 20 and broke two other tackles at about midfield. Hearst scored the winning touchdown (36-30) on what was officially a 96-yard touchdown run and one of the best runs in NFL history.
Niners come back on the Giants
It was January 5, 2003 and the 49ers found themselves in a 38-14 hole against the visiting New York Giants in a wildcard playoff game. It wasn’t till late in the third quarter that San Francisco responded with a touchdown pass from Jeff Garcia to Terrell Owens.
These two connected again in the fourth and added a field goal to cut the lead to 38-33 in the fourth quarter. Garcia then found Tai Streets with a 13-yard score and after a failed two-point conversion, the 49ers found themselves on top 39-38.
A wild game then became wilder in the ensuing Giant drive. The Giants methodically drove the ball down the field and within field goal range but they botched the snap on what should have been the the game winning kick and the 49ers held on for the one point victory.
Owens! Owens! Owens!
Another wildcard game, this time in 1998 against the Green Bay Packers. Brett Favre and his Packers had beaten the 49ers five times in a row and it looked like six after Favre hooked up with Antonio Freeman for a 15-yard score and a 27-23 lead with just under two minutes left.
Steve Young started the two-minute offense on their own 24-yard line and got all the way to the Packers’ 25 with 8 seconds left. Up to this point, Owens had experienced a terrible game, with easy drops and mental mistakes but with eight seconds left none of that mattered. Young flung the ball to Owens in the middle of the field and he caught it between four Packer defenders.
The lasting image from the game aside from the catch was the embrace between an emotional Owens and his coach Steve Mariucci. It was games like this that prove that it only takes one play to go from goat to hero.
After a decade of mediocrity, the 49ers and new coach Jim Harbaugh stunned the NFL world by posting a 13-3 record and hosting a divisional playoff game. In came Drew Brees, Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham, with one of the best offenses in the history of football.
The 49ers’ hard-hitting defense created early turnovers and found themselves with a 17-point lead. Brees and his offense stormed back and took a 24-23 lead with a 44-yard catch and run by Darren Sproles.
In the ensuing possession the 49ers scored a touchdown and took the lead with an Alex Smith 28-yard run but again, that man Brees found his big tight end Jimmy Graham for a 66-yard score and a 32-29 lead which looked to be the end for San Francisco.
In a season where Alex Smith was labeled as a “game manager” he delivered in the clutch, finding Vernon Davis on a 14-yard strike that gave the 49ers the victory. There were four lead changes in the final four minutes of the game and San Francisco came out on top in what was my most memorable Candlestick Park moment.
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