The 49ers last faced the Dallas Cowboys in Week 15 of the 2020 season. Kyle Shanahan was in his fourth season as San Francisco's head coach. Nick Mullens was his quarterback, Dan Quinn still was the Atlanta Falcons head coach and Micah Parsons was preparing for the draft.
Here's how they all connect, minus Mullens. Quinn now is the Cowboys' defensive coordinator, and Shanahan was his offensive coordinator for two seasons in Atlanta. Just like Shanahan has his own ultimate offensive weapon in Deebo Samuel, Quinn has his answer in Parsons, who already is a star as a rookie.
"I think it's a great match working with Dan Quinn and they're getting a ton out of him," 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel said of Parsons on Thursday. "He's a multi-tool defender than can win on the line of scrimmage and can track from the linebacker position.
"He gives people problems, and I can see why I knew his name before I had studied him and seen him play."
When asked what strikes him about Parsons, McDaniel had the perfect retort.
"What doesn't strike me?" McDaniel said. "It's the first time I've got to study him. I'm alive, so I've heard about him. He's been noisy this year -- is very, very impressive."
Parsons is listed as a linebacker, but is put all over the place. One play he can be a defensive end, the next he can step back to his listed position and he even has played in the secondary at times.
Over 16 games played, Parsons had 84 tackles -- 20 for a loss -- with 13 sacks, 30 QB hits, three forced fumbles and three passes defensed. He already was named to the Pro Bowl, could be an All-Pro, is guaranteed to be named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year and he's a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.
George Kittle knows all this, and the star tight end knows what a key it will be to slow down the versatile Parsons.
"He can do it all," Kittle said. "He lines up everywhere. He makes plays all over the field. ... He's a smart football player, and at the same time he's fast, he's violent, he's very physical. You can just see the sacks that he gets, it's his effort, it's his tenacity.
"He's a hell of a football player."
That's what Kittle likes most about Parsons. He's one of the best athletes in the NFL, and the Penn State product ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at 246 pounds. But he also has what can't be taught.
"You can see the effort in there too," Kittle said. "He's doesn't rely on his athletic talent. You can tell that he knows what he's doing, he's out going against guys and knows what their techniques are. At the end of the day, he's giving that high motor, that high effort and it allows him to get those sacks, it allows him to get knockdowns, the forced fumbles.
"He's just a really good football player. You can tell just by watching the tape. He jumps off the tape, even though it's silent. When you have a football player like that, he's got a chance to be great."
The first playoff game since January of 1995 between these two former rivals could come down to the game's two most versatile players: Samuel lining up all over the 49ers' offense, and Parsons already patrolling Dallas' defense.
That smells like fun, with a side of backyard football to either win or go home.