Will 49ers rise to occasion? 

Sunday’s 49ers game will be the most fascinating of all they’ve played this season. I genuinely believe that.

After 15 weeks of underdog status, of playing for scraps of respectability, the 49ers will take the field Sunday under a completely foreign, previously unthinkable, set of circumstances. They’ll be favored over the Arizona Cardinals. Postseason stuff aside, they’ll be playing a should-win-this-one game.

This development screams, "Letdown!" to an up-and-coming football team. When it comes to picking the winner of a professional football game, I’ve been told to take a desperate football team over a decent one every time.

The 49ers will have to call upon a yet-to-be-developed instinct, one that demands their best when it won’t kill them if they lay an egg. Having already proven they’re no longer the league’s laughingstock, it’s gonna be a big step forward if these 49ers can play their best this week.

» Just a couple weeks ago, the media trumpeted that the Giants had reached an agreement with Barry Bonds on a contract for the 2007 season. Since then, it’s been reported that Barry would receive a salary of $16 million and much of it would be deferred.

Nice and neat, right?

Well, there still has been no official announcement. What are they discussing, a contract or a peace treaty?

Nothing’s ever routine when it comes to Barry, is it?

» Jim Harbaugh is perfect for Stanford. He brings genuine energy and intrigue to a football program that had become a skip-over subject in a sports section.

The Cardinal weren’t going to pay national championship bucks, so what were the alternatives? An old-timer who had been moderately successful at the bottom of a major conference or Coach Squarepants from Nickelodeon State with a nice record over opponents we’ve never heard of. Not if Stanford wanted to get back to being relevant.

Harbaugh carries his NFL name and local connections onto the Farm and there will be genuine interest.

He’s won on a small scale and developed a quarterback into his division’s leading passer. It figures he’ll get into a few more living rooms than the last guy.

» Bad week for the image of professional sports. A football player spits into an opponent’s face. Thanks, T.O. An ugly brawl breaks out in the closing moments of an already-decided NBA game. That was one cowardly sucker punch, Carmelo.

And, Dontrelle (still oneof my favorite personalities of all), if it’s 4:30 in the morning and you’ve had a few, doesn’t a bathroom and a cab sound like a better combination than a gutter and trying to focus through a windshield?

» At the other end of the sports spectrum is Olympic flameout Bode Miller. The year’s biggest hype-job-turned-bust is back at the top of the mountain, having won three World Cup races already this season.

It would have been a whole lot easier for Bode to chuck it, so give him credit for being an empty promise. He’s the real deal.

» So, Sammy Sosa wants another shot at the bigs. I hope somebody signs him simply to give the national media another shot at dragging him through the steroid mess.

Bonds and Mark McGwire have served their time as national scurges. Now it’ll be Sammy’s turn.

Remember Sosa’s approach to those congressional hearings? Lugging an interpreter along. I hope he does the same thing when it comes to the contract he’s offered because he’s not going to recognize the numbers on it.

Tim Liotta hosts the weekend edition of "Sportsphone 680" on KNBR (680 AM).

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