That’s why we watch, why we root, why we care.
Because late on an otherwise forgettably faceless Thursday night in December, long after logic told me to give it up, when I’m hoping against hope, a fraction of a second from turning way, everything lines up in the cosmos and the unimaginable, the unthinkable occurs.
After almost three months of baby steps — and 45 minutes of watching the Niners slog through a soggy Seattle night — without warning, Alex Smith rose up and proved to his detractors he could do it, proved he could hoist the 49ers onto his back — just like Montana, just like Young — and win them a football game.
And to experience that moment of glee that only a fan knows — when Smith was racing into the end zone having completely bamboozled 11 angry men dressed in Seahawks uniforms — was worth every minute of forehead-slapping frustration I’ve experienced with this team the last two years.
If you missed it, while the previous 10 minutes were joyous enough — with Smith throwing a pair of touchdown passes, the second of which involving every instinct an NFL quarterback needs to display, to give the 49ers a 10-point lead over the defending NFC champs — they paled in the light of what was yet to come.
The instant it became obvious Smith was going to score the clinching touchdown on an 18-yard bootleg that nobody on the Seattle defense saw coming was euphoria as only a sports fan understands. At that moment, the brain of every Niners fan touched on a million bits of information all at once, slowing everything else around them to a fantasy that is almost unreachable in everything else we do in our daily lives.
That’s what being a fan is all about.
And to think it came after four days of the media questioning whether Smith was going to become a real quarterback, whether he was a bust, whether the promise he showed early in the season was more false hope than the progression of a talented young quarterback.
From Smith’s touchdown pass to Vernon Davis to put the Niners in front to his overcoming a delay of game penalty with a 20-yard touchdown strike to Frank Gore.
On a play that froze with an instant of "He’s going to get killed!" by a Seattle blitzer, only to sidestep the clobbering.
And perhaps the most eye-popping thing about this half-hour of football drama was that it stood as tall as any regular-season moment orchestrated by Montana or Young. It doesn’t mean it will ever happen again, but it happened on this night.
And while I’d be the first in line to hug coach Mike Nolan and thank him for bringing back this feeling — if only this once — I’m beginning to become an even bigger fan of his offensive coordinator. Norv Turner is amazing. Every game, his offense surprises. He should get votes for the team’s MVP of 2006.
And these were just a few of the things that have 49ers fans wide-eyed with wonder this weekend. Frank Gore is as good as any running back in the NFL. Davis is going to be a moose.
This team, less than two years lifted from the ashes left by Terry Donahue, actually has pieces that make it feel like there is a future for this football team, with this coaching staff. It’s been a great thing to witness.
The 49ers are 6-8 and it may all fall apart from here, but for one fourth quarter on a solitary, soggy December night in a season filled with tempting signs of progress, 49ers football was again everything it has ever been to this fan.
And, in all honesty, it was worth waiting for.
Tim Liotta hosts the weekend edition of "Sportsphone 680" on KNBR (680 AM).