SANTA CLARA,Calif. — And so they are back, if not to the top of the mountain, then at least close enough, to once more be a part of the NFL elite, a team and a franchise that, through reputation and resilience, is nothing less than a champion.
The journey for the 49ers was at times confusing and at other times disappointing as they lost games and, a few years ago, seemingly lost their way.
But a young quarterback, a young coach and a relatively young general manager helped restore the greatness.
They remain one brick short of a load, another Super Bowl victory to go with the five wins that made them the team of the '80s. The opportunity for that was achieved Sunday in the NFC Championship game at Levi’s Stadium, where a boisterous crowd made it a home field in more than just name. The Niners, aggressive, obsessive, overwhelming, built up a 27-0 halftime lead and whipped the Green Bay Packers, 37-20.
They still have one more step to go, and a tough one it will be against a Chiefs team that stomped the Tennessee Titans, 35-24, in the AFC title game. Yet considering how the Niners got to where they are, logic and forecasts are best ignored.
Everything was going south until Kyle Shanahan was hired from Atlanta to be head coach and John Lynch, a onetime All-Pro defensive back left broadcasting to join him as GM. Then the Niners traded for Jimmy Garoppolo, who was backing up Tom Brady with the Patriots.
In 2017, the first year of the new regime, the Niners lost their first nine games. In 2018 they were 4-12, when in the third game Garoppolo was lost for the season with an injury.
But in 2019, with the QB returning, with a rookie defensive end named Nick Bosa and with a determination to play knock-'em-down football, the Niners turned back the clock and now boast a 15-3 record for the season.
If there’s one person who would seem to represent the 49ers perserverance, it is running back Raheem Mostert. He was not drafted, then from 2015 to 2016 was with five different teams.
On Sunday, needing to replace the ailing Tevin Coleman, he set an NFL record by becoming the first player ever to rush for at least 200 yards (he had 220) and score four touchdowns in a playoff game.
“I never gave up,” said Mostert, who grew up in Florida — where Super Bowl LIV will be held on February 2 — and then went north to play at Purdue. In the pros, he bounced between the Dolphins, Ravens, Browns, Jets and Bears in a year and a half.
Then, fortunately for both, came the 49ers.
“It’s hard to believe after all this I’m not only going to the Super Bowl," Mostert said, “but it is in my home state.”
The Niners, as they did in the divisional win over Minnesota, just kept running the ball. They had 42 rushes compared to only eight passes. Stone Age football, perhaps, but obviously successful football.
Said Niners receiver Debo Samuels of Mostert, “Man, it was crazy. It seemed like every run that he did, he was about to score. I was just out there going crazy.”
While Mostert, who carried 29 times and averaged 7.6 yards a run, was going wild.
”I did have a lot of doubters and naysayers,” said Mostert. “But this is surreal. I can’t believe I’m in the position I’m in and did the things I did tonight. The journey’s been crazy.”
For Shanahan, it’s been the result of hard work. “These guys are a bunch of fighters,” he said of his team’s intensity.
Then, considering Mostert, he could have added, “and runners.”
The San Francisco 49ers look like a team of destiny after crunching the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game Sunday to advance to the Super Bowl
Levi’s Stadium comes of age hosting Sunday’s NFC Championship Game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers.