In just a few short days, the Arizona Cardinals will pour out of the gate onto Raymond James Stadium as the underdogs in Super Bow XLIII.
Their mission: to take down Big Ben and the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers in pursuit of their first NFL championship.
At least, that's the goal as far as the Cardinals players and fans are concerned.
But for those of us who live in the greater metropolitan area of San Francisco, the Cardinals' mission is far more important to the sanctity of all that is good in the world.
On this coming Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers will go for their sixth Super Bowl victory. And the only thing that stands in their way is a flock of birds playing the most inspired football of their lives.
If you are a fan of the 49ers (or the Cowboys), you should be praying every second from now until game time to the higher power of Kurt Warner's choosing that the Steelers pull the biggest choke job history has witnessed since Mama Cass bit off more than she could chew back in 1974.
Because if the Steelers emerge victorious from the battle in Tampa, they will lay claim to the title of greatest franchise in modern NFL history, as judged by Super Bowl victories.
Three NFL teams are currently tied for the most Super Bowl titles of all time: The 49ers, the Cowboys, and the Steelers each have won five such championships. However, unlike America's Team or the Steel Curtain, the Niners have never blown an opportunity to capitalize on the most important game of the year and take home the Vince Lombardi trophy.
Our San Francisco 49ers are a perfect 5-0 in America's most widely watched sporting event. Every time we have been in the hunt, we were the very best team the league had to offer, and played top-notch, quality football when it mattered most.
Despite what the haters may say, we are currently the greatest franchise the NFL has ever seen.
We invented the offensive scheme that has revolutionized the league over the past 25 years; we watched the greatest player to ever lay his hands on a football dazzle us throughout the '80s and '90s.
We were the epitome of class, tradition, and excellence in a league that has since been corrupted by pampered athletes and parity so extreme that even Kerry Collins has almost had the privilege of slipping on a Super Bowl ring…twice.
That being said, the glory of the San Francisco 49ers could all come crashing down in a hurry, should Mike Tomlin and the league's best defense clutch up this Sunday.
No matter how you spin it, six is more than five. Another Super Bowl victory for Pittsburgh makes our undefeated championship record suddenly irrelevant.
We all knew this moment was coming; it had to come eventually. We couldn't possibly expect that after nearly a decade of incompetent management and disgraceful play, the Niners wouldn't leave themselves vulnerable to such an atrocity.
Now here we are, three days away from Armageddon. Make no mistake about it: a loss for the Cardinals is also a loss for us.
History is on the line, and we, the 49er Faithful, must put all of our hope for a better world into one man and one team:
A fanatically religious system quarterback whose career should have been over a long time ago is somehow making a bid for himself in Canton. And a franchise that, despite being around since the inception of the NFL in 1922 and stints in three different cities, has never hesitated to make the Los Angeles Clippers look like the Los Angeles Lakers.
This Sunday, we root for Kurt Warner and the Cards. Both were once our division foes, but, in this time of looming tragedy, we must put aside our past rivalries and extend our arms in friendship.
Despite our obvious interest in allying with Arizona, I have been greatly disturbed to hear numerous Niner fans throwing their support behind Pittsburgh. The justifications for this choice have ranged from the illogical "the Cardinals will forever be division rivals" to the downright preposterous "I don't want Kurt Warner to make the Hall of Fame."
To those 49ers fans who have assumed such positions, please consider the history of this fine organization. Think about how it will feel when Steelers fans refer to their team as the "greatest of all time" and you just have to sit there and lap it up.
The Cardinals are our only hope. So put down your crack pipe and pick up the latest edition of Gideon's Bible—it's Warner time.
To offer some extra incentive for those of Niner Nation who have been led astray by their short-term thinking, I now present to you 10 reasons why the Cardinals must win Super Bowl XLIII.
The ten men I am about to mention sacrificed for you, Joe 49ers fan. They gave 110 percent each and every Sunday so that you could have the opportunity to witness some of the greatest football ever played. Because of them, you've up until now had permanent bragging rights over your contemporaries who root for less worthy adversaries.
These fine men of Red and Gold were destined for athletic greatness since birth—you, on the other hand, were destined for a beer gut and a life of spectatorship. While these warriors could have used their talents for mere personal gain, they instead choose to provide to you the sporting experience of a lifetime.
When you're watching the Super Bowl on Sunday, remember these men. Think about the glorious memories they gave you and how little they have asked for in return.
In other words, show a little appreciation and stop being such an ungrateful prick. The Cardinals must win on Sunday, and you must cheer them on the entire time with every ounce of decency you can find.
Merton Hanks was a four-time Pro Bowl free safety with a knack for picking off poorly thrown footballs. But as good as he was, the 49er faithful will remember him more for his celebratory "chicken dance" than anything else.
I'm no doctor, but it seems like jerking your head back and forth like that every Sunday would present a serious long-term danger to your spinal cord. I'm willing to bet that by the time he's 60, Merton Hanks has a medical bill pricier than the American Recovery and Reinvestment act.
Merton Hanks put his health aside for your entertainment. The least you can do is hope that Larry Fitzgerald catches the ball.
JT played his entire career in the shadow of the greatest receiver of all time.
He didn't have to; he could have easily been the primary threat on a number of teams. But he instead stuck with the Niners until the day he retired.
Let's also not forget that Taylor caught the final pass of the legendary drive to win the 1989 Super Bowl. That alone should be enough to get in Ken Whisenhunt's corner on Sunday.
Tight End Brent Jones could catch any ball, any time. He was both Joe Montana and Steve Young's go-to guy when they needed a big catch on third down—they'd lay one up for him over the middle and look on as he got absolutely crushed by a freight train linebacker hopped up on amphetamines and HGH.
But Jones never dropped the ball, no matter how hard he was hit. He cared that much about the team, not allowing pain to prevent him from doing whatever it would take to win.
Jones is rumored to have suffered nine concussions throughout his NFL career. The last time you suffered a concussion, oh-so-jaded-fan, was when you fell down face first at the Christmas party two years ago after three glasses of eggnog.
Get a life, you lightweight. Cardinals on Sunday.
Bryant Young could sack a quarterback like Bruce Smith.
Bryant Young could stuff the run like Ted Washington.
Bryant Young won the Len Eshmont Award—given to the 49er that most exemplifies the qualities of leadership and courage—a record eight times. No other player has ever won the award more than twice.
Bryant Young, without a doubt, could walk on water and levitate inanimate objects if he put his mind to it.
And on Nov. 30, 1998, Bryant Young suffered one of the most grotesque injuries the sports fans of America have ever seen on Monday Night Football. To the horror of viewers across the nation, BY's leg literally snapped in half.
But when the medical team finally got him onto a stretcher and carted him off the field, Bryant Young raised the roof. The crowd at 3Com Park went absolutely bonkers.
Imagine being in excruciating pain, with your leg completely mangled, wondering whether or not your career is over…and somehow finding the courage to remind the fans of your team once again how much this game means to you.
I'll never forget that moment as long as I live. Will you?
You can have Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed—for the hardest hitting, most truly badass safety in the history of professional football, give me Ronnie Lott.
More important than his 67 career interceptions and 10 Pro Bowl appearances were Lott's invaluable contributions to the 49ers team defense in the '80s and '90's. His win-at-all-costs attitude and unmatched toughness helped the team to four Super Bowl wins during his tenure.
Lott's largest sacrifice to the 49ers organization came when his pinky finger was severely crushed in the last game of the 1985 season. He taped up his finger in order to finish both that game and the Wild Card loss against Dallas the following weekend.
The no-pain-no-gain safety had a tough choice to make during the offseason: Have surgery on his pinky to restore his hand to full use, or have part of the finger amputated.
Because the surgery would have required him to miss some of the 1986 season, Lott told the doctors to axe off the top of his pinky. He went on to have perhaps the most impressive season of his career, picking off 10 balls and helping the Niners climb back into the playoffs.
People often say that they'd give up a part of their body for something they truly care about. In Lott's case, he meant it.
Run or pass?
Those were the words that surely went through Steve Young's head hundreds of times in his eight full seasons with the Niners.
The left-handed Mormon phenom was one of the most exciting NFL players I have ever watched. His skill for eluding defenders with his feet and tossing deadly accurate darts on the run were at the time and are still to this day unmatched.
Young seized the reins as the Niners starting QB in 1991 and wasted no time in breaking every team passing record known to man. Young led the league in passer rating six times in his career and won two MVP awards. His career quarterback rating of 96.9 remains the highest mark in league history.
That said, Young played a large part of his career in the shadow of Joe Montana. Living up to the guy who is by and large considered the best of all time at his position is no easy task, particularly for a competitor like No. 8.
Young worked tirelessly to hold the Lombardi trophy over his head as the team's starting field general. His efforts finally paid off in 1995, when he threw a record six touchdowns in a 48-17 trouncing of the Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX.
The moment was a magical one for Young, who, in the final minutes of the game, had his teammates physically pull the metaphorical monkey off of his back on the sidelines.
Steve's adventurous style as a dual-threat quarterback caught up to him later in his career. He continued to excel despite numerous concussions before finally retiring three games into the 1999 season due to serious health concerns.
The heart that Steve Young displayed on the football field should never be forgotten. He continued to use all of the tools in his toolbox even when coaches and doctors alike advised him to be more cautious and conservative. He allowed his mind to guide him as much as he did his arm, rarely forcing balls in places they didn't belong.
Football was an art form for Young; it was such a pleasure watching him work. He was my childhood hero and an inspiration for all Bay Area fans. Young's excellence as a football player deserves your utmost respect—the way he played every game to win is a tribute to the 49ers organization.
While your skill set as a career channel surfer may be a far cry from Steve Young's talents as an NFL quarterback, you can still do your part in preserving the Niners legacy this weekend and doing No. 8 proud.
When all is said and done, one man made the glory years of the San Francisco 49ers possible: William Ernest Walsh.
Walsh brought his version of the West Coast offense to San Francisco in 1979 when he was given the head coaching position. The world of professional football would never be the same.
Walsh's offensive scheme defied traditional football thinking, which argued that the run must first be established to open up the passing game. Walsh's system instead emphasized horizontal, high percentage passes that could spread the defense and thus open up running lanes and opportunities for longer passes as the game wore on.
It is a system that requires steady hands and precise route routing from receivers, and quick, accurate passes and mobility on the part of the quarterback. Running backs in the Walsh offense had to be able to catch passes out of the backfield as effectively as they carried the ball.
Quick slants and screen passes; sweeps to the outside to keep the defense honest. Accumulating yardage after the catch; an unprecedented third down conversion rate. These were the staples of the San Francisco offense that led us to the promised land so many times.
Bill Walsh won three Super Bowl championships as the Niners head coach—but he should also get the lion's share of the credit for the two that were won under George Seifert. After all: no Walsh…no West Coast offense…no Joe Montana…no 49ers empire.
Walsh was the lifeblood of the franchise—the man orchestrating the entire operation behind the curtains. He built one of the greatest dynasties in the history of sports right in your back yard.
Do you really want Walsh's dynasty to be overtaken by the same franchise that just three years ago gave us the most boring Super Bowl of all time? You decide.
Athletic receivers come and go in today's NFL. So do receivers with reliable hands, fast legs, and an impressive vertical leap.
Finding a wideout with a killer work ethic and all-team attitude however can be far more difficult. Opportunities to shag it at practice, blame other players for your troubles, and sign footballs with sharpie markers can be mighty tempting for a hotshot young receiver.
Jerry Rice was a different breed. Though many of today's receivers possess more natural athletic talent than Flash 80, Rice remains the epitome of perfection at the position.
As we all surely remember, he was the best there ever was and ever will be. He did not assume that title by accident; he worked his butt off throughout his career, never taking any season, any month, any week, or any day for granted.
Rice did not rely on his athletic gifts from God to succeed. Instead, he used those gifts as a reason to do everything in his power to become the best football player of all time.
His statistical accolades and championship rings should be attributed more than anything else to his passion for conditioning, watching film, and making himself the most precise route runner humanly possible. Rice always knew where he was supposed to be on the football field; when he made mistakes, he stayed late at practice so they wouldn’t happen again.
Jerry Rice gave the 49ers organization and its fans everything he had. We the 49er Faithful, however, gave up on him rather quickly once his skills appeared to decline—so he went across the Bay to Oakland and rose to prominence once again, as if merely to prove a point.
Let's face it: you're no Jerry Rice. The most exercise you've gotten in the last month was your expedition to the fridge for beer during the NFC championship—and that was only because the wife was out with her friends. Watching film for you means throwing Pineapple Express into the DVD player after the game and stuffing your face with a quart of Ben and Jerry's.
Jerry Rice took life a little more seriously than you. He approached his career as an athlete much the way Barack Obama has approached his job as a politician.
110%, seven days a week, 365 days a year. That was Jerry Rice.
So this Sunday, pay Jerry back for his service. Somewhere in between your fifth Bud Light and seventh slice of pizza, find it in your heart to root for the Cards.
Somewhere in between Harry Houdini and David Blaine, there was Joe Montana.
They didn't call him Montana Magic for nothing; Joe performed miracles in Candlestick Park and on the road with regularity. To say that Montana was cool under pressure would be the equivalent of saying Mother Teresa was generous.
Let's take a trip down memory lane, shall we?
January of 1982: The Niners trail Dallas 27-21 in the NFC championship with just under five minutes on the clock.
Starting the drive on their own 11-yard line, Montana completes six passes to take his troops into the Cowboys red zone. With less than a minute to play, Joe scrambles out of bounds and looks to throw the ball away—but just before stepping on the sidelines decides instead to throw an off-balance toss to the back of the end zone where only wideout Dwight Cark can catch it.
The play would be known as "The Catch", but Joe's throw is equally impressive. The Nines go on to win their first Super Bowl against Cincinatti two weeks later.
January of 1984: Squaring off against the Miami Dolphins, Montana goes head-to-head with a young Dan Marino in the Niners' second Super Bowl appearance.
While Marino had shattered the majority of existing passing records that season, the day would belong to Joe. Montana threw three touchdowns and a then Super Bowl record 331 yards via the air, along with an additional 56 yards on the ground. Under Joe's leadership, the Niners cruised past Miami 38-16 for San Francisco's second championship.
January of 1989: Montana and the Niners find themselves trailing the Cincinnati Bengals 16-13 in Super Bowl XXIII with 3:10 on the clock. As Joe begins what will soon become the greatest drive in the history of the NFL, he directs the attention of his teammates to John Candy sitting in the crowd to relieve some of the pressure.
Joe went 8-for-9 with 87 yards on the drive, including the winning touchdown pass to John Taylor. Despite his magnificence in the final minutes of the game, this would be the only of his four Super Bowl victories where Montana would not take home the MVP award—his mediocre 23 for 36, 359 yard passing performance simply wasn't enough to woo voters.
January of 1990: Montana goes up against gunslinger John Elway, who is searching for his first ever Super Bowl trophy. The Nines demolish Denver 55-10, with Joe throwing for a then record five touchdown passes and bringing home San Francisco's fourth Lombardi trophy in a decade.
Montana's career Super Bowl statistics sum up his contributions to the 49ers quite nicely: 83 completions off 122 attempts; 1142 yards, 11 touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a passer rating of 127.8. He also holds postseason records for touchdowns and yards thrown.
For over a decade, we had the luxury of watching a magician play football for our team. Montana is without question the greatest clutch player in NFL history…perhaps in all of sports history entirely.
For any Niners fan thinking of backing the Steelers this Sunday: remember John Candy. You owe Joe.
In the words of the voice that speaks to Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams: ease his pain.
Roger Craig was one of the best dual rushing/receiving backs the NFL has ever seen. He was the perfect back for the west coast offense, capable of both running the sweep and catching screen passes out of the backfield.
In 1985, Craig became the first running back to ever accumulate 1000 yards rushing and 1000 yards receiving in the same season. He was a four-time all-pro selection and owns three Super Bowl rings—under normal circumstances, the team would have probably retired his number shortly after his retirement.
However on one fateful day in January of 1991, Craig made a goof that Niner nation would never forgive him for.
With two and a half minutes left in the NFC Championship game, the Niners found themselves ahead of the New York Giants 13-12. San Francisco had possession of the ball and a first down; the organization's third straight Super Bowl championship was in clear view.
Instead of telling Steve Young to kneel on the ball, head coach George Seiffart lost his mind temporarily and instead called for Craig to pound it up the middle. New York Nose Tackle Erick Howard knocked the ball out of Craig's hands and Lawrence Taylor recovered, paving the way for a game-winning Giants field goal.
It was a mistake that anyone could have made, but that didn't stop the Niners from trading Craig the following season. 49er management and fans alike felt Craig had single-handedly cost them their shot at the history books.
Niner Nation: it is time for us to forgive Roger Craig. I am guessing that he has thought about that awful moment in his life every single day for the past seventeen years.
If the Steelers win on Sunday, Craig's mistake becomes all the more painful for the San Francisco faithful. No fumble and the Niners would surely be 6-0 career in Super Bowls, holding onto their title as the NFL's greatest dynasty.
So please: have mercy for Roger Craig, who played his heart out for you. He's got a lifetime of guilt on his chest just because of one broken play.
Ease his pain by cheering on the Cardinals to victory and providing this great man with a chance to put the past behind him.