It's difficult to top the palpability of the storylines in this upcoming weekend's NFL conference championship games.
Two of the very best, yet aging, quarterbacks ever to play the game (Manning and Brady) go at it in the AFC Championship for the third time, led by coaches who have a history against each other in the Super Bowl. On the other side there are two flashy new-school quarterbacks (Kaepernick and Wilson), ubiquitous in the highlight reels, being led by head coaches who have a not-so-pleasant past dating back to their days as rival college head coaches.
If the 49ers do move on to the Super Bowl, the storylines may not be as glamorous as the AFC and NFC Championship matchups, but they are still very appealing in their own respects.
49ers vs. Broncos
This matchup features one of the best defenses in the league over the past few years against, historically, the best scoring offense the league has ever seen.
That's only the tip of the iceberg, however.
The history goes back some years. Interestingly enough, Manning supplanted Jim Harbaugh as the starter in Indianapolis when the Colts traded Harbaugh and selected Manning with the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL draft.
Jump ahead 14 years to 2012: Harbaugh and the Niners surreptitiously courted Manning after it was clear the Colts were moving on from him. Among the Manning suitors, Denver was the team the quarterback darling obviously chose.
Did he make the right choice? Is Harbaugh peeved at how Manning has affected his football career, both as a player and coach?
Who knows. But if the 49ers meet and defeat the Broncos in the Super Bowl, it would certainly be another "stinger" Manning would have to suffer in his recent career.
49ers vs. Patriots
Tom Brady was born and raised in San Mateo, Calif., minutes south of San Francisco. He grew up a 49er fan and even attended the historic 1981 NFC Championship game where Joe Montana and Dwight Clark hooked up for "The Catch" against the Dallas Cowboys.
During the 2000 NFL draft, the 49ers passed on the hometown kid and selected Gio Carmazzi as the heir apparent to Montana and Young. Carmazzi would later be best known for being a part of "The Brady 6."
That is only one of the connections here, however. Brady's favorite target this season, Julian Edelman, is another Bay Area product. Edelman grew up in Redwood City, Calif., was a 49er fan growing up and played Pop Warner football for the Redwood City 49ers. He also played for the College of San Mateo, a local junior college, after high school.
The real story here, of course, is focused on Brady.
Is he still angry that he wasn't chosen by his favorite team growing up? At least Steve Mariucci still regrets not selecting him.
If Brady finds himself in the Super Bowl for an unprecedented sixth time for a quarterback, you can be sure he would want to cement himself in the annals of football history by winning his fourth Super Bowl against his favorite childhood team and tying all-time great Joe Montana in Super Bowl wins.
The 49ers on the other hand, would love to stifle Brady's plans and defend Montana's legacy as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.
This matchup would also feature an exciting chess match between one of the best, and most stoic, NFL head coaches ever in Bill Belichick against the animated and spirited up-and-coming Harbaugh.
In December 2012, the 49ers defeated the Patriots 41-34 at Gillette Stadium, clinching a playoff berth.
49ers vs. 49ers
Third-year head coach Harbaugh has taken the 49ers from an underachieving team with misused talent to perennial title contenders.
In his first year as head coach he took the Niners to the NFC Championship. Year two was a Super Bowl loss. Year three?
Until last year, the 49ers were undefeated in Super Bowl appearances—a statistic many Niner fans, undoubtedly, were very proud of.
The 49ers franchise has built a legacy on winning when it matters most. A return trip to the Super Bowl would be gratifying but still unsatisfying if the 49ers don't end the game with the confetti sticking to their sweat-beaten brows and the Lombardi Trophy raised high above their heads.
The Niners have proven over the past few years that they are one of the best teams in the league and can beat anyone at any time. If they fail to defeat Seattle in the NFC Championship, they run the risk of becoming this decade's Philadelphia Eagles squads of 2001 through 2004.
If they make it to the Super Bowl for the second straight year, they cannot repeat as runner-up. A loss won't do. Five out of seven wins in Super Bowl history isn't bad, but it's not the 49er way. The 49er faithful would love to have their team tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers, once again, in Super Bowl wins.
The pressure is on.
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