Ray Ratto

Calm before NFC Championship storm


Calm before NFC Championship storm

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Get the latest news on the 49ers tonight on SportsNet Central at 6 and 10:30 p.m., along with a replay of today's 49ers press conference at 9:30.

The afterglow of the Saints victory is wearing off, and all the early midweek stories of redemption and nobility in the face of the last decade of 49er football have been told. Antrel Rolle is nearly out of things to say, and Jim Harbaugh is done with his cooking class lectures for a few more days.

Yes, were getting close to game time, and things are starting to get, well, quieter. The preening is done, and the serious work of preparing for a game between relative equals has brought a serious if not somber mood to La Candeliere.

You would think it would be different -- that the NFC Championship hype is rising to a crescendo that finally reaches its apex in the morning pregame blatherfests. I mean, thats what the networks want you to think, that they have more for you.

But they actually dont, and neither does anyone else. All the plotlines have been examined with the rigor of a team of medical examiners, and all youre getting now is people repeating themselves. The teams themselves have offered their best public work and are now hunkering down for the serious business of Sunday.

And thats when you know work is about to be done.

Oh, maybe someone will get a little overconfident and try to beat curfew and the local public intoxication laws, but for a game this important, between two teams who are both supremely confident of both their abilities and the oppositions strengths, nobody is likely to put nightlife over right life. The Super Bowl makes too many careers and affords too many bragging opportunities for a few bottles of Tractor Shed Red to get in the way.

So while there is more shouting, there is less actual information to shout about. There is aura, but there is not news. The news is the game, and the game is going to be a windy, soggy, glorious mess.

At least if the Weather Channel folks and the local meteorologists are telling the truth. Its supposed to be one of those Candlestick Park-Tells-The-World-To-Hang-Itself Sundays, where half the parking lot is used as an Americas Cup staging area, and the tailgates are small, cramped and disappointing. All the happy times of the New Orleans week are done, as they should be.

And it should be this way. The work should get harder because the finish line is so close, the reward so clear. Candlestick Park should be a brute, and everyone attending the game or watching at home should be easing into game face. Even a team playing with the casinos money as San Francisco is should have completed its preening and begun the hunker-down process.

Therein lies the final thought for the day. The 49ers are no longer the plucky little underdog with the decade of crap football to use as a sign of its (oh God spare me) humble hearts. Sunday is not about humility. Its about lifting a tractor motor up a muddy hill over and over until the other guy gives up lifting his tractor motor.

And that realization is what drives the beginning of the lull before the storm. Weve talked about matchups until were red in the eyes and blue in the cheek. Weve exhausted schemes and momentum and Alex Smith this and Eli Manning that. People are getting antsy for a game that is still three days away, and antsy people are quiet fidgety people. Theyll make noise, sure, but there will be an edge to it. There will be some trepidation in there, because this is a game in which equally cogent arguments can be offered on both sides, and the lessons of the first two weekends are that everyone who thinks they know usually doesnt.

Except of course for those who thought Tim Tebow would be eviscerated by the Patriots. That one came pretty well true.

So enjoy the quiet, and endure the weather. Its turning serious around these parts.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

Celtics are the rivals Warriors fans need

Celtics are the rivals Warriors fans need

You don’t think you needed this game to go this way, but you did, and you do.

The Golden State Warriors spat out a 17-point lead and lost, 92-88, in Boston Thursday night, in a game that was taut if not particularly elegant, and in a game that elevated the Celtics to a place that makes them the new heir apparent to the heir apparent.

The Celtics have been a difficult out for the Warriors during the Brad Stevens Era, losing six of nine but only being blown out twice, and Thursday was not one of those nights. The box score will tell you the shooting and rebounding problems, but the Warriors had that lead and didn’t hold it. Or, to be accurate, the Celtics had that deficit and refused to let it destroy them.

Which is exactly the kind of team you, the fully licensed Warrior fan, want to watch play your team in the NBA Finals. You want to see them genuinely challenged, forced to win outside their comfort zone, induced to show their greatness in the highest of high leverage situations.

At least we think that’s what you want. Maybe you prefer blowouts so you can drink and go to the bathroom without care or fear. After all, the Warriors have taught the area the true meaning of front-running by being in front so often.

But the Celtics play a level of defense typically reserved for the San Antonio Spurs, and yes, the Warriors. They have a spiky exoskeleton that the acquisition of Kyrie Irving has actually enhanced, and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum give them a gifted precocity that fits well with veterans like Al Horford and Marcus Morris, and Boston’s overall youth (they are fifth youngest, while Golden State is third-oldest) ought to make them a more difficult conundrum than Cleveland or any other team in either conference.

They are not yet the superior team; that remains to be proven, and betting against the Warriors requires a level of irrational bravery left only for the truly self-destructive.

But they are, as we sit this evening, the team the Warriors will have to work hardest to finish, because on a night when they had the chance to do so, they didn’t. In other words, the fight for a third ring still goes through Oakland, but it looks more and more like a one-stop through Boston.

And as much as you may hate thinking about it, you’ll almost certainly remember, and savor, a Celtics-Warriors final more than another round of Cavs-on-the-half-shell.

Three reasons Draymond Green is the perfect college professor


Three reasons Draymond Green is the perfect college professor

Programming note: Warriors-Celtics coverage starts today at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area and streaming live right here 

Draymond Green spoke to a group of students at Harvard Thursday on the subject of leadership, and if you find that incongruous, shame on you.
I mean, who else would you want as a college professor?
Green has led, and been led. He has learned, and he has taught. He has certainly lectured, as any teammate, official and media member will testify. He’d be a hell of a teacher, and the subject almost doesn’t matter.
For one, homework would be different, as in I’d bet there would be no written work. I don’t see Prof. Day-Day poring over essays about the Industrial Revolution, M-theory or pre-Raphaelite art. Not even the history of Basketball-Reference.com.

For two, having tenured faculty audit his classes may find his choice of rhetoric a little strident, as in “What the ---- were you thinking, dude?” is not typically approved instructional methodology.
And three, nobody would get a grade. Green would mark every exam with a “35,” as in his draft position, and besides, the exams would be students arguing with each other over whether that was a foul or a no-call, and who pulled the better face when the call was made. He’d give either an approving nod or give the loser a second technical foul and kick him or her out of class.
But it would be a hell of a class. Not at Harvard, of course, because Green probably would want to teach a school that could better use his brand of wisdom, and Harvard kids already have a healthy lead off third base. He’d want his students to make Harvard students cry, you can just tell.
But wouldn’t he look perfectly Draymond in a cap and gown on graduation day, pulling a bottle out of his sleeve to make the valedictory speeches less painful. “Damn, dude,” you could hear him yell. “Peaking?”