LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Here, in the land of the artificial, where you can spend days indoors and never see a clock or the sky or feel the kiss of the sun on your cheek, the 49ers are set to pull off the most authentic of journeys:
A band of brothers scaling a mountain, fueled by purpose, motivation, and, oh yeah, Christian McCaffrey.
I refuse to believe the 49ers are the favorites in Sunday’s Super Bowl 58. The savants who set these point spreads are the best in the world at what they do, yes. It’s like my pal told me years ago on my first trip to Vegas: The house always wins . . . that’s why it’s always open.
And as I scribble this Jock Blog some 48 hours shy of kickoff between the NFC champ Niners and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, the 49ers remain stubbornly the favorite of the oddsmakers. They are 1.5-point favorites, somehow.
I ain’t buying it. In the hearts and minds of almost every football analyst out there, the Chiefs should be favored. They are the champs. They have Patrick Mahomes. They are coming off epic road wins in Buffalo and Baltimore, playing their best ball of the season. And did I mention Patrick Mahomes?
The wobbly 49ers had to pull a historic comeback just to be here, and feature a run defense that is as ineffective as The Cooler who sat at your blackjack table last night, crushing your buzz. The Niners have not played good ball since before Christmas. By all rights, the 49ers are not in prime position.
Therefore, I am officially anointing the 49ers as underdogs, and won’t let you talk me out of it.
And now — in the comfortable role of underdog, the 49ers can find themselves again!
That’s the angle, sports fans.
Hearing all the accolades and glorious stats surrounding Mahomes — 14-3 in the postseason, no interceptions in his last six post-season games, a career postseason passer rating of 106, a win making him the first player in NFL history to win three Super Bowls and two MVPs by age 28 —you’d think the 49ers were all set to play the role of the patsy Cincinnati Bengals against Joe Montana.
(Truth be told, typing all that out made me uncomfortable.)
But the 49ers have already felt that sting. Four years ago, in case you forgot, the Niners blew a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead to Mahomes and the Chiefs and lost SB 54 in crushing, scarring fashion.
What, too soon?
And you all have heard the George Kittle vow from that game, when NFL Films caught Kittle saying, as the clock ran out on that tragedy, “I will be back here, and I will be back with a vengeance.”
This makes SB 58 one of my favorite types of sports events, then: The Inigo Montoya Game. You all are schooled in the ways of “The Princess Bride”, and in Inigo Montoya’s quest to avenge the death of his father. Picture Kittle in the flick, sword out, saying: “My name is George Kittle. You killed my Super Bowl dream. Prepare to die.”
Now, now, it’s fun to go with the “Niners Will Gain Vengeance” theory and call it a day, but you’d be a moron who didn’t give any football reasons why. Here’s one: Christian McCaffrey will be the best player on the field Sunday; a rested and healthy rocket who plays his best when his best is needed. Here’s another: the 49ers who scored touchdowns on six straight possessions vs the Eagles in Philly are still the same Niners. Granted, the Eagle defense is not the Chief defense, but the KC defense is susceptible to big, gigantic CMC gash runs. Think Timmy Smith’s 204 yards in SB 22, Marcus Allens’ 191 yards in SB 18, or Terrell Davis’ 157 yards in SB 32.
Running McCaffrey into the history books keeps Travis Kelce off the field. This is a good thing.
The Chiefs are looking to repeat, and that hasn’t been done in 19 years, back when Bill Belichick was a desirable hire. Sure, the early years of the Super Bowls saw the Packers (SB 1-2), Dolphins (SB 7-8), Steelers twice (SB 9-10, SB 13-14), 49ers (SB 23-24), Cowboys (SB 27-28) and Broncos (32-33) all repeat, but there are reasons it hasn’t happened in so long. Media scrutiny and social media add new pressures; more and more fame leads to less hunger, and next thing you know, Taylor Swift is calling plays from the family suite.
The 49ers are starving, and extremely talented. The Chiefs are sleeping in silk sheets, and have to defend a crown against a team riding a Kittle Vow.
Being an underdog is a beautiful thing — even if you’re not.
49ers 26, Chiefs 23.
See you on Market Street.