What can we say? What should we say?
Remember that Adlai Stevenson remark, that “it hurts too much to laugh, but I’m too old to cry”?
It’s hard to hold back the tears after this one. As hard as it was for star-crossed Kyle Williams to hold the football.
It couldn’t happen again, against the same team, the New York Giants, in the same place, decrepit Candlestick Park, under the same circumstances.
But it did happen again.
Twenty-two years and a day since then. Now the memories return.
Then, Jan. 21, 1990, it was Roger Craig who fumbled and gave the New York Giants the chance to win the NFC Championship and go to the Super Bowl.
Now, Jan. 22, 2012, it was Williams, returning a punt in overtime, who fumbled and gave the New York Giants the chance to win the NFC Championship and go to the Super Bowl.
Twenty-two years ago, Matt Bahr kicked the 42-yard field goal as time expired, the Giants winning 15-13. On Sunday, Lawrence Tynes kicked the 31-yard field goal with 7:06 to go in sudden-death overtime.
The magic season coming to grief in the mud and rain of a winter’s day which will forever haunt.
“It was just one of those situations where I caught the ball and tried to make a play,” said Williams. “And it ended up for the worse.”
Here was The City, the region, rolling around in red and gold delight, living large with the renaissance of a team that had been the best. And now, as Williams would say, the worst.
Two years ago, the season of ’09, playing for Arizona State, Williams did the same and fumbled a punt, allowing Arizona to win at the end.
The Giants played even better defense than the Niners, known for their defense. And for their protection of the ball, for takeaways, not giveaways.
Such a great year under rookie coach Jim Harbaugh, who made believers out of all of us, who helped make Alex Smith the quarterback he was supposed to be, who restored the pride and success to a franchise down far too long.
And then in one brutal play, it all comes tumbling down, as a sellout crowd of 69,732 stares not so much in disbelief as in miserable acceptance.
Once Williams lost the ball so deep in Niners territory, it was a given the Niners lost the game.
The day began with a wonderful possibility, that the 49ers and Jim Harbaugh would be facing the Baltimore Ravens and Jim’s brother, John, in the Super Bowl. But the Ravens couldn’t hit a 31-yard field goal to tie in the closing seconds, and the 49ers couldn’t take a hit on a punt return in overtime.
Now it’s 17 seasons since the Niners have been to the Super Bowl. Now it’s 17 seasons of remembering the way it used to be.
The San Francisco Giants won a World Series a year ago. It was all set up for these 49ers to win the Super Bowl. What a great double. What a great disappointment.
“It’s tough, man,” Niners running back Frank Gore said. “But we have a great group of guys and great coaches.”
And, again, a great void.