I am more than just nervous about this one.
Forget the Kaepernick/Smith quarterback controversy. Forget even that this is the third of three games I thought of as "impossible" challenge games before the start of the season, of which they have already won two (@ GB, @ NO, @NE).
This is a rare occurrence. With the current 32 team 8 division 4 year rotation schedule setup the NFL uses, every team eventually plays every body, even New England and San Francisco. Tom Brady, 12 year starter, has seen every team several times in that span. This is the 3rd time this matchup has come up since Brady became New England's starting QB, but there's a wrinkle.
In 2004, the last time the 49ers went to New England, it was the last game of a regular season in which the Patriots had already clinched Home Field Advantage (and would go on to win the Super Bowl) and the 2-13 49ers had already clinced the #1 overall pick that would eventually become Alex Smith. For once, Belichek and Co. did NOT mercilessly run up the score. Starters were rested, 21-7 was the final, Tom Brady barely played and didn't really compete.
In 2008, Brady got his knee blown out in Week 1 and missed the entire season, including the game at Candlestick.
So here we are in 2012, with both teams leading their division but with room for Playoff Seeding Improvement. It is rare, almost impossible, to delay a first matchup this long (and technically it isn't the first), but tonight, for the first time, Tom Brady will truly be Competing against The San Francisco 49ers.
Tom Brady, 35 Year Old Native of San Mateo, California -- a city in between San Francisco Proper and Santa Clara, where the new stadium is (finally) being built, thus a city literally in the middle of "Niner Fan Country" -- will be truly competing against the team he would have rooted for as a little kid for the first time. He is a few years older than me, which means he is old enough to have seen, and to remember even better than I do, all FIVE Super Bowl Victories. According to urban legend, his dad took Little Tyke Tom Brady to that first NFC Championship game and thus he saw The Catch live.
Some think this game might be a Super Bowl Preview. If that bears out, you can bank on this entry of mine being a Super Bowl Storyline preview. THIS is what our eternally uncreative and non-journalistic Media will milk and fellate over two tedious weeks of Super Bowl Hype to fill all that content time. Oh, and if the Patriots were to win Tom Brady would tie Joe Montana for 4 super bowl wins (AND likely 3 super bowl MVP awards) against Joe Montana's old team. Which means people will compare the two even more than they do already and, modern stats being inflated how they are, means people will think Tom Brady is better.
I can't even finish that previous sentence. Tom Brady grew up here and knows, just like we do, that such an idea is anathema. Joe Montana IS the greatest quarterback of all time, FACT, anyone retarded enough to even think about arguing otherwise and suggesting some unworthy pissant of an alternate candidate like Marino or Elway is a mouthbreathing homer petulantly trying to find some petty way to balance the scoresheet years later, after Montana beat them both, soundly, when it mattered most. Favre and the Mannings aren't even worthy of washing Montana's jockstrap with their tongues, shut up with that nonsense.
Brady, coming from here and threatening all that, is either the highest Football blasphemy (here) or Poetic completion of a long Hinduesque cycle of time (the rest of the country). Or perhaps the Mayan Long Calendar is the more apt analogy, given it's the current go-to Doomsday Predictor for crackpots everywhere, and Tom Brady's Patriots hanging the first super bowl loss on the 49ers is about as close to The End Of The World as I can imagine.
So this shit needs to be stopped right now, in the regular season. Now, for the first time, the 49er franchise is at last in position to compete against Tom Brady, to come with all the weight of an old, UN Security Council of a Franchise, and dismiss 12 years of accomplishment and tuck rules and models fucked and stupid commercial endorsements and All-Time Great? hype with a "yeah, but you never beat US" arrogant wave of History's hand. Good God, would that be fantastic. This is why I despise The Patriots. It is more than merely hating on the current top dog. They are more than just an annoying current dynasty with an added aura of illegitimacy and receiving dishonorable "help" (the tuck rule). Everything about The Patriots' run of success is a direct affront to and assault on The 49er Legacy of Greatness. They have only played 49er Present 3 times in the last decade, but by their nature they are lining up to play against 49er Past every single week they take the field, and if my contributions to Armchair Linebacker have a common theme it is the theme of how we 49ers Live In The Past. 49er Past is more dear and precious than 49er Present, always. Past and present are concurrently alive for us. Every great play made by a player today is an echo and reflection of a great play made by Ronnie Lott or Jerry Rice or Fred Dean, and so on and so forth. The only football "dynasty" that truly was a dynasty, because it featured replacement of the central parts (head coach and QB) and kept going. Hell, Bill Belichek himself, once upon a time, was a product of the old Bill Parcells coaching tree. I'm pretty sure he he was an assistant coach on that 1990 Giants team that denied the threepeat. So fuck him too. See? Everything about the Patriots threatens us and our Sacrosanct Past, in a football sense. Fuck them. They Must Be Destroyed (or at least defeated).
At last, the ghosts of Candlestick past have their chance to stand with the present, look The Tuck Rule and The Hoodie and Obnoxious Boston Sports Fans and all Tom Brady's Shitty Commercials and Model Babymamas and Robert Kraft scheming his way into important back room NFL owner "committees" that may Actually Decide How Things Play Out and say:
There is no such thing, thus, as being consolable, if they lose.
Oh, and if the 49ers do lose this one, either closely or in apocalyptic Egg-Laying Expose-The-Paper-Tiger fashion like what happened to Houston last Monday? Added angst will abound as the 49ers will find themselves at real risk of Not Even Winning The Division, as they'll only be 1/2 game up on Seattle (who will wax Buffalo) with a game @ Seattle (never a fun place to play) looming the week after this, with Pete Carrol in prime position to finally stick it to Jim Harbaugh in the latest round of the "What's Your Deal? What's YOUR deal?" rivalry.
Failing to win the division is disaster. It would inevitably be a repudiation of Colin Kaepernick, who was probably the long-term supplanter of Alex Smith but now he's in "too soon" and Alex is now surely gone after this year -- 7 million dollars per year and Professional Pride demands Alex finally become a Chief or Dolphin (or, perhaps, A Cardinal With A Grudge) in 2013 and beyond. Rather than a step backward or a mere "regression", this would be a full on retreat, reaching for the two birds in the bush and grasping naught but empty, stale, urine-scented air.
At least this week wouldn't be a super bowl preview, then, I guess. What a shitty silver lining that would be.