There is no perspective like the one that is learned first hand. And it was probably that perspective that coach Jim Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback who came a hair short of playing in a Super Bowl, relied on when describing his team.
“These guys are my heroes ... all of them,” Harbaugh said of his players, reflecting on their gallant toppling of the New Orleans Saints on Saturday. “Alex [Smith] was heroic in this game. So was Justin [Smith], so was Donte [Whitner], so was Aldon [Smith], so was Vernon Davis.”
It’s fascinating — and rather appropriate — that the rookie coach decided to laud his tight end after praising the aforementioned players. It was as if he meant, intentionally or not, to save the best for last.
“To have a heroic day like he had in this ball game,” Harbaugh said, “we don’t win it without plays that Vernon Davis makes.”
The catches Davis made, all seven of them for a total of 180 yards, helped vault his 49ers into the NFC Championship Game, all the while setting a record for most yards by a tight end in a playoff game.
But it was his last reception, the game winner with nine seconds left, that was neat.
It was neat because the bullet that Smith precisely delivered to his favorite target tidily disposed any recollection of Davis’ game-benching fiasco with former coach Mike Singletary.
“That’s what you see ... me just learning how to deal with this,” Davis said, retracing the maudlin embrace he and his coach shared after making the grab of his career. “I pretty much call it tears of joy. It all builds up, and it definitely comes out.”
But as raw as Davis was on Saturday, it was hardly the first time he displayed such character. He wept the day he was drafted into the NFL, a day more than six years in the past. And today, with a ticket to the Super Bowl on the line this Sunday, his attitude hasn’t veered.
“You work hard for this moment, work hard to get to the playoffs, work had to get to the Super Bowl,” he said.
But while he and the Niners handled their business over the weekend, Davis pleaded with a higher power that NFC East champs would do the same at Lambeau.
“I prayed,” he said. “Prayed that the Giants won. They’re a good team. I acknowledge that. They’re going to play their hardest game ever when they come up here.”
Whether something divine intervened, we will never know. But what is known is that the Giants, who played Sunday in Green Bay, were better than the Packers, who appeared vaunted all season long.
They earned another shot at Candlestick, but it will be the same Candlestick that erupted when Davis crash-landed on the goal line.
“Our fans turned that stadium into a fortress,” Harbaugh said. “That was as good as it can get.”
The catch of his life
Niners tight end Vernon Davis’ career hit a high point Saturday when his catch sent the team to Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the New York Giants.
9 Seconds left in the game when Davis hauled in the go-ahead score
7 Catches by Davis on Saturday against the New Orleans Saints
180 Yards collected by Davis on Saturday, a record for most yards by a tight end in a playoff game
2 Touchdown catches