49ers

Where 'The Catch,' 'Immaculate Reception' should stand in NFL history

catchesapusatsi.jpg
AP/USATSI

Where 'The Catch,' 'Immaculate Reception' should stand in NFL history

The Bay Area was on the wrong side of one of the most iconic plays in NFL history, and the right side of another.

The Raiders remained stuck in the marital party rather than matrimony when Franco Harris' "Immaculate Reception" gave the upstart Pittsburgh Steelers a 13-7 win over the Silver and Black in the 1972 AFC Divisional Round. The loss in Pittsburgh was coach Jon Madden's third consecutive in the conference playoffs, and the legendary coach would lose three consecutive AFC championships before winning Super Bowl XI -- the Raiders' first. The Steelers would not win the Super Bowl or the year after, but the victory over the Raiders was Chuck Noll's first in the postseason and marked the first of eight straight playoff berths for the team that would define the 1970s. 

Just shy of a decade later, the 49ers kick-started their dynasty with another catch against an iconic franchise. Dwight Clark's 6-yard touchdown reception from Joe Montana, known simply as "The Catch," sent the 49ers to their first Super Bowl berth -- and their first of five wins. Clark's game-winning back-of-the-end-zone grab against the Dallas Cowboys has been immortalized with a pair of statues outside Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara and marks the true turning point in San Francisco's dynastic era. 

NFL Media recently ranked "The Immaculate Reception" and "The Catch" No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on its list of 100 greatest plays in NFL history. It's hard to think of two more iconic moments, but is that the right order? Let's examine the case for each play. 

The case for 'The Immaculate Reception'

Is it possible to imagine this play without NFL Films' "Classic Battle" playing underneath or John Facenda's voice? Yet, the iconic shot of Harris catching Terry Bradshaw's ricocheted pass intended for John Fuqua inches before it hit the ground has done nothing to dispel the controversy surrounding the play. 

Officials ultimately determined that the ball deflected off of hard-hitting Raiders safety Jack Tatum and into the arms of Harris following Bradshaw's desperate fourth-and-10 heave, thus making the catch legal. Had they ruled Fuqua only touched it, it would have been an illegal catch on the last play of the game, and the Raiders would have moved on and advanced to the AFC Championship Game. 

Iconic, improbable imagery and an ahead-of-its-time officiating controversy? "The Immaculate Reception" really is the NFL bottled down to its essence, containing the perfect combination of components that keep football fans coming back -- with plenty of grievances. 

The case for 'The Catch'

There have been a lot of catches in NFL history, but there is only one "Catch." Well, unless you're a 49ers fan counting Terrell Owens and Vernon Davis' playoff game-winning touchdown grabs as proper sequels. 

"The Catch" has only been aided by time. The 49ers won four more Super Bowls after winning their first two weeks following the win over Tom Landry and the Cowboys. For the rest of his illustrious career, Landry would not win more games (12) than he did in the 1981 season and he would not lose by a closer margin in a playoff game than the one-point defeat in the NFC championship. Had the 49ers not won, it's possible Landry's Cowboys dynasty would have found second life against the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI, setting off all sorts of hypotheticals over the ensuing decades.

Meanwhile, Joe Montana went on to become one of, if not the most iconic quarterback in NFL history, and "The Catch" tops the list of his iconic moments. His John Candy-inspired game-winning drive in Super Bowl XXIII and dominant fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles months later are all well and good, but "The Catch" truly is when he -- and Clark -- became legends in the Bay Area and beyond. 

[RELATED: How AB's Raiders-to-Patriots could cost him $29M]

Verdict

You could flip a coin on these two plays and come up with the right answer. But for our money, "The Catch" gets the edge for its impact on NFL history. 

Had "The Immaculate Reception" gone the other way, the Raiders' eventual Super Bowl coronation likely would have had to wait, anyway. The Steelers lost in the 1972 AFC Championship Game to the Miami Dolphins who, as we are reminded each and every season, is the only team in the Super Bowl era to win all of its regular-season and playoff games. The Steelers would also need to wait another two seasons before winning their first Super Bowl. 

"The Catch," meanwhile, truly began the 49ers' reign over the 1980s. If it had gone the other way, does that ever truly begin? Do the Bengals knock off "America's Team" in the ensuing Super Bowl, ending their status as one of the NFL's preeminent sad-sack franchises? If the Cowboys win, does that buy Landry time with Jerry Jones? Does Jones still buy the team? 

Clark's touchdown reception marked a turning point for the 49ers and the rest of the NFL. For that reason, "The Catch" gets the narrow edge. 

Jimmy Garoppolo 'really good' but not elite, analyst Chris Simms says

Jimmy Garoppolo 'really good' but not elite, analyst Chris Simms says

Is your quarterback elite? Well, if you're a fan of the 49ers then no -- at least according to Chris Simms.

The NBC Sports football analyst couldn't confidently put Jimmy Garoppolo in the elite category, but still had plenty of praise toward him, especially knowing he plans on leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl.

"I think there's some quarterbacks in football right now: Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, DeShaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes -- they kind of stand alone," Simms said.

After that handful of quarterbacks, Simms highlights a group of "good," a squad that he considers Jimmy G to be a part of. Plus, Garoppolo has a lot of "good" surrounding him.

The elite talents of tight end George Kittle are something that shouldn't be argued -- unless you're not sure if he's a decent blocker or not. Ahem, Doug Gottlieb.

"That's all you need to win a Super Bowl," Simms added.

The consensus around Jimmy G's eliteness is that he's not elite, but he's not bad, but he's good enough.

[RELATED: NFC offensive consultant on Jimmy G's eliteness

Got all of that?

His throwing abilities have been talked about, but once again the word "elite" was not mentioned.

49ers tackle Joe Staley doesn't have looming retirement on his mind

staleyusatsi.jpg
USATSI

49ers tackle Joe Staley doesn't have looming retirement on his mind

A lot of times for athletes, it's not up to them whether or not they want to retire -- it's up to their body. For 49ers tackle Joe Staley, it's really no different.

"I like to think that I can continue to play football for as long as they'll have me," Staley said in an interview with 95.7 The Game on Thursday. "And that's my mindset. I've never thought about when an end is going to be."

The 35-year-old signed a two-year contract extension with San Francisco in June which ultimately means he could spend the entirety of his NFL career as a member of the 49ers. And while that seems like a long time, he's still soaking up the everyday grind of his job even with the setbacks he's faced this season.

"The challenges of this season have been different than seasons past," he said. "I love the adverse situations and you kind of learn a lot about yourself -- how you respond and challenge yourself daily with different goals ... "

Staley sustained a fractured left fibula earlier in the season during the Week 2 matchup against the Bengals and with a smile tried to remain positive but admitted: "it sucks." He was emotional after the injury but said that had a lot to do with how special the team was and the guys he was surrounded by.

Still, you can't fake the passion the six-time Pro Bowler brings to the 49ers and it appears you would have to pry the game away from his hands if you anticipate him hanging up his cleats any time soon.

[RELATED: How Jimmy G can enter record books in 49ers-Falcons]

"That love for the game is still there, burning," Staley said.

He finished the statement saying he doesn't have an honest answer as to just how much football is left in his body, but it's not something he's concentrating on at the moment.