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According to classical mythology, when a phoenix gets old and its time runs out, it burns itself on a funeral pyre and rises from the ashes new and ready to fly again. This sums up the history of the San Francisco 49ers, a team that falls but eventually, always rises from the ashes to soar through the NFL skies.
For the first 20 years of their existence, the 49ers won only one division title, and the one year they did, they blew a 24-7 halftime lead and lost to the Detroit Lions in the 1957 Playoffs. Then, from 1970-72, the 49ers won three division titles, but were eliminated by the Cowboys three years in a row. The phoenix would flame out and wouldn’t rise to glory again until 1981. Here, the phoenix lived a long and successful cycle as for the next 21 years, the 49ers would win five Super Bowls, 13 NFC West championships, play in 10 NFC Championship Games, and achieve a record of 229-108, a win percentage of .680. But as per usual, the phoenix flamed out again and started the cycle again. They were led by legends of the game that would include coach Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young.
Between 2003-2010, the 49ers would not achieve a winning season and went through four different head coaches. But in 2011, the phoenix would rise again for a brief but great cycle, making it to three NFC Championship Games in a row between 2011-13. Under coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers had a physical and tenacious defense that achieved great success. But the phoenix abruptly flamed out after Harbaugh resigned amid organizational turmoil and headed for Michigan. Between 2014-18, the 49ers once again struggled in infancy as they posted a losing season all five seasons and at times, looked as bad as any team in the league.
However, this past season, the phoenix has grown in a mighty bird that is soaring through the NFL landscape. The 49ers took the top seed in the NFC this season and dominated both the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers to reach the Super Bowl. They are once again led by a tenacious defense and dominant running game. We saw running game Tevin Coleman bruise his way to 105 yards and two touchdowns in the Divisional Playoff Round vs the Vikings and last week against the Packers, we saw explosive running back Raheem Mostert run through the Packers defense for 220 yards and four touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game.
The bird before it started soaring had to deal with immediate adversity but fought through it and grew stronger as a result. In Week 3 of 2018, in a game at Kansas City (who they will face in the Super Bowl), quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL and a once promising season would fall apart. They were gashed with injuries that saw the 49ers play three different quarterbacks, placed 16 players on injured reserve (including Garoppolo and Mostert) and finished 4-12. The one bright spot was all-pro tight end George Kittle, who broke out and would have the second most receiving yards by a tight end in a season behind only Kansas City Chiefs’ current tight end Travis Kelce.
The 4-12 season would end up being a blessing in disguise as the 49ers would pick second in the draft and select Nick Bosa, a dominant young pass rusher who tallied nine sacks in his rookie season. They would also draft play-making speedster Deebo Samuel and young linebacker Dre Greenlaw who finished second on the team in tackles. They would also trade for star pass rusher Dee Ford from the Chiefs and he would bolster a defensive line that now has five linemen drafted in the first round.
They were built by shrewd general manager John Lynch, who forced the Chicago Bears to give them two third-round picks a fourth to trade up a spot for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. One of those third-round picks turned into leading tackler Fred Warner. Lynch has constructed a team that can win with the running game, got their quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for a second-round pick, and a defensive line that can dominate teams.
They are also led by Kyle Shanahan who became their head coach after leading Matt Ryan to the MVP award and an appearance in Super Bowl 51. With his offensive process, the 49ers have become offensively efficient, finishing the regular season fourth in total offense and second in rushing. With a lot of deception and speed, the 49ers have not been an easy out for opposing defenses.
Regardless if the 49ers win Super Bowl 54 over the Chiefs, the phoenix will still be soaring after this season. The 49ers are young and built to win for years to come. Don’t expect the phoenix to flame out any time soon as it should continue to soar through the NFL landscape for the foreseeable future.