Only two of the 49ers five Super Bowl wins have been close. I think Sunday’s game will be the third and possibly the closest yet as they beat the Baltimore Ravens to tie the Pittsburgh Steelers for most Super Bowl wins with six.
This goes against what seems to be the conventional wisdom with most of the online pickers going for the Baltimore Ravens. Steve Young went for the Niners but he has a dog in this fight. The others are going for the Ravens because of their postseason run, upsetting the Denver Broncos in double overtime and the New England Patriots, both on the road.
But the AFC was clearly the weaker conference this season, which diminishes that accomplishment somewhat. The 49ers were playing in the stronger conference and finished only behind the Atlanta Falcons, whom they beat in the NFC Championship Game in Atlanta.
Moreover, the Ravens have never faced a team which has a quarterback like Colin Kaepernick, nor an offense featuring the read option, which was a significant part of the pistol offense which Kaepernick ran in college at Nevada.
NFL defensive coordinators will study videos of 49ers games intensely in the offseason, and it’s possible they’ll come up with defensive schemes to stop what the 49ers are running, but at this point, teams have been baffled by it. The Green Bay Packers were victimized by Kaepernick’s running to the outside. Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan made certain that the outside running lanes were shut down, but that just opened up the middle for 49ers running backs, particularly Frank Gore.
None of this would be possible without an offensive line that John Madden has called the best in the NFL. Madden knows offensive line play. As the Raiders coach in the ’70s, he had an offensive line anchored by three Hall of Famers: center Jim Otto, guard Gene Upshaw and tackle Art Shell.
That line, with Kaepernick, gives offensive coordinator Greg Roman great latitude in putting together a game plan. That versatility has also been shown in the defensive game plans devised by coordinator Vic Fangio.
There are no shut-down defenses in the NFL today because a series of rule changes in the past 40 years have all helped offenses. The 49ers defenders have adapted by tackling very well, often forcing turnovers — or by intercepting passes and anticipating what is coming. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco has a run of eight touchdown passes without an interception in the postseason, a run exceeded only by Joe Montana (11) and Young (nine). But, he hasn’t faced this kind of challenge from a defensive secondary before, so that interception-free streak may well end in this game.
Of all the 49ers previous Super Bowl teams, this team reminds me most of the 1981 team. Nobody believed in that team, despite a 13-3 record, until it beat the Dallas Cowboys in the tremendously exciting NFC Championship Game.
This team didn’t come out of nowhere like the ’81 team but there were serious doubts they could repeat their 2011 success because of a tougher schedule. But here they are, seeking their sixth Super Bowl championship. I think they’ll get it.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.