Whether 49ers Prosper or Piddle Out, It's All Due to a Single Lucky Play

Categories: Sports

The wrong man catches a desperate heave late in a meaningless contest between two losing teams ... and it changes everything.

By Joe Eskenazi

With the first NFL playoff weekend in the book, we can safely say this: You really don't have to be all that good to make the postseason these days. So while it's a good bet that Mike Singletary's 2009 49ers are not going to remind anyone of the team's 1994 edition -- but they sure would take a sartorial step up if they outfitted themselves in those glorious uniforms -- they could still succeed while doing around 6.02 x1023 times worse.

Who knows? Next year they could be the supposedly crappy team to surprise everyone, make the playoffs -- and lose on the first day. Lord only knows (and, if He does, He's not communicating the future to Singletary, even if the coach ends up wearing a life-sized cross around his neck).

But as Singletary and his ever-expanding crucifix plot next season's strategy and continue to jettison this year's coaches, it's fascinating to note that, several years down the road, whether we're enjoying a 49ers renaissance or simply lamenting yet more suckitude, everything will trace back to a single play, late in a meaningless game between two supbar teams. Let us all take a stroll down memory lane, all the way back to ... December!

You remember the game. You may even remember the play. Just over a minute to go in St. Louis back on Dec. 21, with the Niners trailing to the Rams -- a team that really clogged the NFL's toilet this year -- 16-10. From the opposing 48, Niners' quarterback Shaun Hill apparently begins to channel Rex Grossman; you can almost read the words "Fuck it -- I'm going deep!" on his lips. And so he did.

Hill launched a high-arcing lob of a pass toward the end zone that resembled nothing so much as a boulder projected from a catapult built by a special-needs barbarian. As receiver Jason Hill waited for the ball to fall into his arms, teammate Josh Morgan -- inexplicably running a route that had him as close to his fellow receiver as two dogs on a couch -- stole the pass away from Jason Hill and three Rams in the vicinity and tumbled into the paint for the score.

So, let's think about this for a second. With Singletary's future on the line -- and in the midst of turning in an epic crap performance against a consummately crap team -- the Niners pulled it out because the quarterback tossed a quasi-Hail Mary that was caught by someone other than his intended receiver. A bad loss to St. Louis wouldn't have looked good on the resume. But, after this amazing comeback, local writers felt free to give Singletary better press than the Polio vaccine. He was hired prior to the team's next game (which San Francisco won, solidly, over Washington).

So, again, when we either cheer or curse the day the 49ers handed the reins to Singletary, let us not forget that it all hinged on a skin-of-his-teeth win over an abysmal opponent, brought about via a fluke bomb tossed into triple coverage and caught by the wrong man.

And on that note, let's all buy some lottery tickets.

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