For Niners, Glory Days May Be Here Again

The San Francisco 49ers and the NFC Playoffs were virtually inseparable in the 1980s and early-1990s.

From 1981 to 1998 – a span of 18 seasons – the 49ers missed the NFC’s postseason tournament only twice. San Francisco won five Super Bowls between 1981 and 1994.

Steve YoungThen, almost as quickly as the Aeneas Williams hit that prematurely ended Young’s career, the franchise retreated to the pack.

There was the drafting of Jim Druckenmiller, the ill-conceived hope for Giovanni Carmazzi and the Tim Rattay Era. Jeff Garcia rode in from the CFL to bring the Steve Mariucci-led 49ers back to respectability in the late-’90s, but the scarlet-and-gold could never scale the mountains that were the Falcons, the Buccaneers and, especially, Brett Favre’s Packers.

When Mike Nolan selected Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers with the first pick in the 2005 Draft, it was met with great surprise. But taking a quarterback in the first round is still taking a quarterback in the first round.

Which meant that 49ers fans hoped.

But the glory days were slow to return. In Smith’s first six seasons, the team averaged just over six wins. San Francisco had three different coaches during the same period.

Finally, prior to last season, they found the right one.  Jim Harbaugh moved in from Stanford and immediately turned San Francisco into a contender. The 49ers won 13 games and were a pair of special teams gaffes from making their sixth Super Bowl appearance.

This year, with the 49ers at 6-2-1 and Smith possessing the league’s third-best quarterback rating, Harbaugh decided that San Fran’s best chances to advance to Super Bowl XLVII resided with seldom-used backup Colin Kaepernick.

It turned into the Bay Area’s biggest quarterback controversy since the days of Joe Montana and Young – until Kaepernick torched Green Bay for 444 total yards in the divisional playoff round.

Harbaugh and Kaepernick made the cover of Sports Illustrated, jinx be damned.

Kaepernick followed that performance by leading the Niners back from a 17-0 deficit at top-seeded Atlanta to earn a trip to New Orleans this Sunday to take on Baltimore.

With Kaepernick, those annual deep playoff runs that 49ers fans grew accustomed to in the ’80s and ’90s, may be on the horizon.

For now, it’s simply “one more to go for 6-0.”

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