49ers fans were spoiled for a long time - from 1981 until 2002, there were very few times when the team was not in contention. But the last decade brought us back to Earth; not only was the team not in contention for a title, they were rarely in contention for anything. Sometimes they would seem to be making progress, and then before you knew it you were saying things like "one step forward, two steps back." Players like Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Patrick Willis formed the nucleus of what one would think was a playoff team, but they never quite seemed to make it to that next level. Many times, they fell far short of that.
And then came 2011. In retrospect, we shouldn't have doubted Jim Harbaugh, not after what he was able to pull off with the Stanford Cardinal. But 13-3? That was the same record as the legendary 1981 49ers, the team that kick-started a dynasty. But this team surely was not in that league, right? Well, now I'm not so sure.
Right now, all I know is that today's game against the Saints was one of the greatest football games I've ever seen. And that fourth quarter? That may have been the most dramatic quarter of football I've ever seen, at any level. Someone - I think it may have been Don Banks at SI - commented that it was like a great championship fight, where two exhausted warriors traded painful blows in the final rounds. And for a moment, it appeared that the amazing Drew Brees would walk out of the ring with the belt around his waist. But wait, no - in the end, it was the much maligned Alex Smith, the man that 49ers fans have kicked around for so long, who landed the last blow.
It was exhausting. It was frustrating. It was even aggravating. But in the end, it was glorious. And now, you have to wonder whether anything will stop this team. Frozen tundra? Bring it on, baby.