When Fickle Fate Makes a House Call: The Worst Moments in 49er History

Ken StansellContributor IIMay 27, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 01:  A Chiefs fan shows his sentiments about the opposition the San Francisco 49ers, as the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the 49ers 41-0 during week four NFL action on October 1, 2006 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Sometimes, some things are just not meant to be.

The 1972 NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park pitted the John Brodie-led NFC West Champion 49ers against the Dallas Cowboys, a team which had eliminated the 49ers from the playoffs the preceding two years in a row. The 49ers were only a quarter of football play away from heading to their first-ever Super Bowl.

Heading into the fourth quarter, the 49ers led 28-13 and victory seemed all but certain until Cowboy's quarterback Roger Staubach came off the bench (Replacing Dan White) to spark an amazing (and disheartening) comeback.
Staubach threw a touchdown pass with 1:30 remaining to pull the Cowboys within five points. With the score 28-23, Dallas elected to onside kick.  49ers' wide receiver Preston Riley—placed up front due to his "sure hands"—fumbled the kick. The Cowboys and Staubach continued their miraculous comeback by scoring another touchdown, resulting in a 30-28 Cowboys win over San Francisco.

For those of you who may be too young to remember, the Preston Riley fumble and subsequent 49ers loss to Dallas for the third year in a row occurred on the very same day as the infamous Immaculate Reception game between the Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers, in which Franco Harris caught a deflected pass from Terry Bradshaw to score the winning touchdown. 

The fickle fate not only prevented the 49ers from enjoying their first ever Superbowl appearance (they'd make it 10 years later), but also prevented the 49ers and Raiders matchup in the Superbowl.

Fast forward to the 1990 NFC Championship game between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants for another visit by the fickle fate.  With only about two and a half minutes remaining in the game, the 49ers were driving for what appeared to be an "icing on the cake" go ahead touchdown or field goal. 

Leading 13-12 against a team that they had beaten 7 - 0 earlier that season on Monday Night Football, the 49ers seemed to have a lock on what would have been their third consecutive Superbowl appearance.  The fans were ready with their "three-peat" chants when suddenly, the air went out of the balloon and the crowd fell silent. 

Reliable and beloved Roger Craig had fumbled the ball and the New York Giants ended up driving to a winning field goal as time expired upon a 15-13 final score.  The dream of a three-peat had been vanquished.

Certainly both Preston Riley and Roger Craig played a role in preventing the 49ers from making Super Bowl appearances, both in 1972 and 1990, but neither deserved being blamed fully for either games loss. It takes a team to win and a team to lose.

These two games were just dates when the fickle fate made a house call at Candlestick Park.

Sometimes, some things are just not meant to be.