That’s fine with the 49ers. Harbaugh has fostered an underdog mentality in his team. Early in the season, he noted how infrequently the 49ers were shown on Sunday night highlights. But as the 49ers kept winning, Harbaugh’s task of playing the underdog has become more difficult.
He still can assume his offense is disrespected. Despite DeBartolo’s claims about the superiority of this team, the 49ers lack the glamour passing offense that the 1981 team had in a young Joe Montana, Clark and Freddie Solomon. Smith — who has suffered a career’s worth of abuse in his first six years in the league — has proved to be a winning quarterback, but the 49ers rank 29th in passing offense. This team is built around the run: Frank Gore is the fifth-ranked rusher in the league.
(Thearon W. Henderson/GETTY IMAGES) - Tuesday is the 30th anniversary of Dwight Clark’s legendary reception that put the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl and launched their dynasty.
The 49ers’ best hope will be to control the ball and play for field position, limiting Brees’s chances. When the Saints — with the league’s second-ranked offense — do take the field, they will face the 49ers’ second-ranked defense.
The 1981 49ers’ defense also was ranked second in the league. And despite Montana’s off-balance throw and Clark’s leaping, dazzling catch, it was defense that ultimately won the NFC championship game.
“I was so caught up in the moment,” Clark said. “And the next thing I know they were at midfield. I thought, ‘No way, are they going to do this to us again.’ ”
With 51 seconds left, the Cowboys, down 28-27, got the ball back and were driving into field goal range. Rookie cornerback Eric Wright made a game-saving tackle on Drew Pearson. Lawrence Pillers then stripped the ball from White and his defensive linemate, Jim Stuckey, recovered it. Candlestick Park erupted.
Saturday’s game will be hosted at the same decrepit venue — a decided advantage for the 49ers over New Orleans’s Superdome, where the Saints were 8-0 this year.
In recent years the 49ers have been working to build a new stadium in Santa Clara. But fans believe there’s at least one more moment of glory left in the stadium that DeBartolo once described as “a pigsty.”
“You can’t dress it up,” said Clark, who will be there Saturday hoping, three decades later, that the old park is still capable of hosting another surprise.