SANTA CLARA -- There is no compelling reason why the end of the Seattle Seahawks’ run of putting their feet to the San Francisco 49ers’ necks should matter so much to a staff or a roster that hasn’t been around for most of it, but sometimes something matters just because it does.
Even Richard Sherman, who knew all about the streak from being one of the feet rather than one of the necks, saw it.
“Kyle (Shanahan) made us perfectly aware of the streak,” the veteran cornerback said in the aftermath of the 49ers’ 26-23 overtime win over the Birds. “Very aware.”
And maybe it helped that only two weeks ago Seattle beat the 49ers as soundly as it ever has (43-16, and it wasn’t that close), because “(defensive coordinator) Robert Saleh made sure everybody remembered that game.”
Either way, the 49ers willingly traded three spots in the weekly NFL draft order to break one of their most embedded historical touchstones with one of their most driven performances. Not because beating Seattle meant that much to Shanahan, Saleh, Jed York, the football department as a whole or the half-a-stadium’s worth of fans, but because it mattered to the veterans who've had to endure those beatings, from Joe Staley (who is 8-17 against the ‘Hawks since 2007) to the present day. Or in Sherman’s case, because it mattered that the Seahawks decided he was finished before he was.
That meant more than the draft pick, as blasphemous as that might sound. It will matter less with time to Shanahan and 49ers general manager John Lynch, but for right now, it was everything, or as close to everything as a 4-10 team can manage.
There were plenty of turning points in their favor, going all the way back to Sebastian Janikowski’s missed extra point on Seattle’s first touchdown (a point the Seahawks never got back), or the short kickoff that helped spring Richie James to his kickoff-return TD that put the 49ers ahead 12 seconds later. There were Robbie Gould’s four field goals in this, the era of bad feeling for placekickers. There were DeForest Buckner’s two sacks of the hyper-elusive Russell Wilson. There was even Sherman at his persuasive best in talking his way out of a pass-interference call, a remarkable bit of lawyerly chat he isn’t always credited with possessing.
But whichever moment you choose, the effect on a team that has known so little pleasure since 2013 was evident by the wall of noise coming from the locker room even five minutes after game’s end. It was one more small victory to measure against a series of big defeats.
[RELATED: Richie James Jr. shows what he could give 49ers in the future]
San Francisco still is that odd team that seems to wait too long to be as good as it can be; this was the 49ers' seventh win in eight December games in the Shanalynch era, meaning they are 3-19 in the other 22 games. It speaks to their belief in the grand plan, but it also speaks to the difficulties involved in playing to the specifications of the grand plan.
But therein lies the strange anomaly of their playing to kill a dragon from the past so they can all see a brighter future, yet that brighter future is at least minimally diminished by their drop in the draft order behind Arizona, Oakland Or Wherever, and the New York Jets.
Truth be told, though, that order means little without the expertise to nail the choice you get. If beating Seattle had dropped the 49ers from No. 1 to No. 11 (though lord only knows how that could be), then you could make a case for the win being a bad idea. Or if there was one difference-maker in the upcoming draft and everyone knew in advance who it would be, then you could make a case for the win being a dreadful idea.
But in most cases, a smart pick at No. 4 will be of as much use as a smart pick at No. 1, because the only thing a team needs to draft is a player that helps it. Worrying about picks 1 through 3 is pointless unless you decide you need to be one of them.
The 49ers collectively decided that winning Sunday mattered more, for spiritual rather than metric reasons. They needed to think there is an end to this extended run of failure, that having no quarterback at the start of last season is starting to feel like having two at the end of this one (hello, Nick Mullens’ marketability!), that the future they thought they had this year actually could end up being more endurable at this time next season.
And for the 87,811 semi-true believers who will swear they were among the 30,000-some-odd fans who actually saw the game in person, it will matter nearly as much, because history plays to fans more than it does to the actual history makers.
So the 49ers finally obtained the one pelt that always had eluded them, and with it a sense that the ghosts of the past that aren’t receding are capable of being toppled. It might not matter mathematically, metrically or even draftically, but emotionally, it’s a feeling that’s hard to top.