A couple feet to the right and it could have been a hugely disappointing season. Phil Dawson’s boot through the stinging Green Bay night had that much riding on it.
Alas, even the typically cruel Gods of Sport couldn’t deprive Dawson of the satisfaction he deserved. A bad snap, hold or kick in that situation would have been beyond cruel, given what Dawson’s reliability has meant to a team that’s battled unreliability, at various points, all over the roster.
Those knots into which everyone associated with the 49ers felt their innards tied while Dawson trotted onto the frozen tundra? Imagine what it would have been like were the kicker running out there named David Akers circa 2012?
Granted, a 33-yard field goal to win a wild-card game isn’t the stuff of legend. It’ll be a footnote at best no matter what happens to the Niners from this point forward; a nice feather in Dawson’s cap, to be sure, but it damn sure ain’t gonna get a cool nickname like some other game-winners in San Francisco lore.
It was, however, essentially the difference between a crap-sandwich season and something exceptional. Dawson’s kick, in part because of the aforementioned unreliability, made the season a success.
If that kick misses, there’s little doubt the Packers win it in OT. That’s just what happens when you miss a last-second kick in regulation.
The Gods of Sport will be sure of it, just as they made sure Andre Iguodala hit a spinning 3-pointer at the buzzer shortly after Jeff Teague missed a free throw that would have iced an Atlanta Hawks win over the Warriors on Friday.
And if Dawson’s kick misses and the Packers win, the lack of a division title and a first-round playoff exit make 12-5 feel like a massive waste of time. Suddenly even last year’s vaguely satisfying Super Bowl loss starts to hurt like hell.
All of a sudden, the doubt creeps — no, marches — in. …
Has the window already started closing? Frank Gore’s swan song can’t be far off, can it? Justin Smith can’t play forever. Aldon’s got issues. Harbaugh can’t win the big one. Oh, god. We’re all gonna die!
But the kick didn’t sail wide right, as it appeared to be halfway to the posts. It steadied somehow, as if the Gods of Sport had a last-minute change of heart, and suddenly. …
Wow, does this team have the collective heart of a giraffe, or what? Did you even know that giraffes have the biggest hearts among land animals? Me neither! But when a formerly flawed team surges into the playoffs and beats a world-class quarterback on the road under conditions that would make a polar bear reluctant to take a leak out in the open, you do goofy stuff like search the Internet to reach for analogies. Best team ever!
OK, maybe not best ever. Not yet. But to open a postseason run by staring down Aaron Rodgers, despite a severely compromised secondary, at Lambeau Field, with clutch play after clutch play before your most clutch player clutches up at the close?
It makes it OK to dream. Of an oddly easy win at the Carolina Panthers next weekend. Of the New Orleans Saints somehow stunning the Seattle Seahawks, setting up an insanely triumphant farewell to the Stick with an NFC Championship win.
And finally, of that elusive ring No. 6, claimed on an evening in the swamps of New Jersey not all that different — i.e., Snotsicle City — than the one on which Phil Dawson and the Gods of Sport made sure that a good season turned great.
Mychael Urban has covered Bay Area sports for more than 22 years as a contributor to Comcast SportsNet, CSNBayArea.com, KNBR, MLB.com, ESPN The Magazine and various newspapers. 49ersMychael UrbanNinersPhil Dawson