February 6, 2013

Super Bowl Column: 49ers have rich tradition of excellence

By Xavier Bleuel

The San Francisco 49ers came into Super Bowl 47 steeped in tradition. Only a few professional teams can match the overall success of the 49ers. The owner of five Vince Lombardi and six George Halas trophies, 49er fans expect greatness from their football team. They won four Super Bowl titles in the 1980s—the most dominant stretch one team has ever had in any decade in the Super Bowl era.

They are home to 12 Hall-of-Fame members. Just a few members of that list include the best quarterback of all time, Joe Montana, or Joe “Cool,” without a doubt the best wide receiver to ever lace up the cleats; Jerry Rice, the hardest hitting safety this game has ever seen; Ronnie Lott; and another top-five quarterback of all-time, Steve Young. The 49ers play in one of the most iconic venues in all of football: Candlestick Park, nestled on western shore of San Francisco Bay.

The 49ers as an organization itself holds a few Super Bowl records, and a plethora of players hold individual records in the big game. They are a perfect 5-0 in the big game. In Super Bowl XXIV, the 49ers broke two records: most points scored in a game and margin of victory in a 55-10 blowout of the John Elway led Denver Broncos. Under the biggest lights, the 49ers have shined.

However, before last season, the 49ers had missed the playoffs in nine consecutive seasons. They changed head coaches on four different occasions. This was not what the 49er faithful had been used to. Change needed to be made. They had drafted well; the 49ers were one of the more talented teams in the league. What was missing was leadership, a voice that men would follow to the end. That search ended when a former pro-bowl quarterback turned coach was hired on. From day one, Jim Harbaugh, former Indianapolis Colts star, instilled a level of commitment and excellence that has resulted in an NFC champion appearance and now a Super Bowl appearance.

This year’s team came into this season void of a Super Bowl appearance the year prior. In the 2011-12 NFC Championship game, two special teams’ fumbles in a game they dominated start to finish against the eventual champions, the New York Giants, cost them the opportunity to advance to the Super Bowl. That left a bitter taste in the mouth of a very young, physical, and talented team.

However, in this year’s pre-season, many experts pegged the 49ers as the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

The 49ers finished the regular season with an 11-4-1 record. Notable wins came against Green Bay, Chicago, Seattle, New Orleans, and New England. The team that seemed to have the 49ers’ number were the St. Louis Rams, tying in one game and losing the other.

The biggest news of the season came in week 10 when starter Alex Smith suffered a concussion. Thus, Harbaugh called upon unknown second year backup Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick was a raw talent if there ever was one. At 6’5” and 233 pounds, he had the size. Running a 40 yard dash in 4.5 seconds, he had the speed. Add a laser rocket arm and he had all of the physical tools you need to play in the league. But could he combine deadly accuracy with the cannon of an arm? Coach Harbaugh believed he could. In his fist draft as an NFL coach as he traded up in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL draft to select the young man out of the University of Nevada.

In his first start against the Chicago Bears, not only did he answer those questions with a resounding yes, but also far exceeding any expectations with an outstanding performance throwing for 243 yards and 2 touchdowns against one of the league best defenses. The biggest surprise wasn’t what Kaepernick did; its what he didn’t do: turn the ball over against a defense that led the league in take-a-ways.

Kaepernick never lost the job after that performance. Coach Harbaugh caught fire from the media for not determining a permanent starter between Kaepernick and Smith. On one hand he had a quarterback in Alex Smith that had been through many ups-and-downs with the franchise and was working his way to become one of the better quarterbacks in the league; but her could also go with the most dynamic quarterback the league has seen since Michael Vick. Week 15 was when the decision was final and Kaepernick was the permanent starter. The reason why was the added dimensions that he adds with his legs as well as his arm.

The Super Bowl marked his 10th NFL start, which stands as the third fewest starts ever to make it to the big game.

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