San Francisco 49ers: Reborn, Revitalized, Re-Directed by Head Coach Jim Harbaugh

Harvey FrommerGuest ColumnistNovember 19, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 30:  Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers challanges a call against the Cleveland Browns at Candlestick Park on October 30, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Like an old-time movie, the San Francisco 49ers one more time have moved to center stage in the National Football League.

A new coach, a new style, a new image and they are out of the box, out of the down times, highly competitive and proud.

The 49ers under rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh are on their way to their first playoff gig since 2002. A lot of "old time football" has brought back their winning ways.

Suddenly, QBs firing for 300, 400 yards is not as important as their once often maligned quarterback Alex Smith moving the chains by getting first downs any way he can.

Suddenly, the team is making the big plays, sporting an eye and nose for stripping the ball from the tightest of clutches of an opposition player.

Suddenly, and without that much drama, the 49ers are making those who follow them flashback to times like January 10, 1982.  

More than 60,000 fans were shoe-horned into Candlestick Park for the National Football Conference championship match that pitted the now legendary and veteran Dallas Cowboys and the talented but up and coming 49ers. In 1981, the 49ers were a disappointing 6-10. In 1982, with Joe Montana in his first year as starting quarterback, the team had bragging rights to an NFL best record of 13-3.  

The game see-sawed back and forth, the Cowboys and 49ers trading shots. In the fourth quarter Dallas held on to a 27-21 lead. San Francisco, with 4:54 left in the game, moved the ball. Later, there would be lots of talk about their time consuming, methodical, almost textbook drive. 

With just 58 seconds left in regulation time, San Fran was on the Cowboys' six-yard line. It was third down. The 49ers were three yards shy of a first down. Montana took the snap. He rolled right against the full fury of the Dallas rush. A designed play had been set up to get the ball to Freddie Solomon, but he was enveloped by a tough Dallas defense.  

Montana, off balance, falling backwards, managed to fire the football to Dwight Clark at the back of the end zone. The 6'4'' Clark went up and came down with the high toss. The ball landed barely on Clark's fingertips, and Clark came down just barely in bounds. Touchdown.

It seemed that defender Everson Walls gave up on the play. Later he explained that he thought Clark had no chance of catching a ball thrown so high. There were others who claimed it was a busted play, a lucky catch.

"That's not true," Clark countered. "That was a play that we practiced over and over again."

Two weeks after "the catch," the 49ers got by Cincinnati, 26-21, in Super Bowl XVI in Pontiac, Michigan. That victory was the first of four Super Bowl wins for Joe Montana and San Francisco over a nine- year time span.

Bill Walsh, in only his third season as head coach and general manager, received seven NFL Coach of the Year honors. A half dozen 49ers made it to the Pro Bowl. But it was "The Catch" that triggered the dominance of San Francisco 49er football for several decades.

Now with Jim Harbaugh in charge, it looks like happy days are here again for the fans (like me) of the fabled franchise. 

**A noted oral historian and sports journalist, Harvey Frommer has written many sports books, including Fenway Park: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Boston Red Sox.  His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, and of course Bleacher Report among other publications.Visit his website and purchase books here: