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A case for 49ers' most satisfying victory

Saturday's victory put Alex Smith, Vernon Davis and the 49ers one win away from the Super Bowl. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Days like the one San Francisco 49ers fans experienced Saturday make all the pain associated with fandom worth every last tear. Or most of those tears, anyway.

"Vernon Davis going to Coach [Jim] Harbaugh crying made the last nine years worth it," Steven wrote on my Facebook wall.

The 49ers' historic playoff victory over New Orleans meant quite a bit to casual fans, but it meant so much more to those who kept rooting through 21-0 against Tampa Bay (2010), 27-24 at Minnesota (2009), 29-24 at Arizona (2008), 24-0 at Seattle (2007) and all the other defeats that piled up over a lost decade.

"It was not a football game, it was an 80,000-person party," one fan, Kyle, attested.

You want meaning and emotion? The 49ers' two fourth-quarter comebacks and 36-32 victory brought out both.

"Mike, this may sound crazy," Angel wrote, "but my best friend Victor was a hardcore 49er fan and we use to hit up games together; he passed away on Oct. 6 this year. I truly believe that he has been a 12th man on the field."

Winning wasn't everything for the 49ers. How they won, with long-suffering 49ers Alex Smith and Davis repeatedly connecting in the clutch to outscore Drew Brees, added another dimension.

"Alex Smith made a BELIEVER out of me today," GoMy9ers wrote.

The atmosphere in the stadium was as joyous as any I can recall. Fans lingered. They traded high fives with strangers. I experienced it all while walking from the press box through the upper deck, down the ramps, back into the concourse area and then down through the lower deck -- against traffic -- and onto the field.

I shot about four minutes of Blair Witch-quality video on the way down to the field, just to capture the feel (I'll let you know if I upload any of it).

"I sat next to a gentleman who has been a ticket holder since '78 and was there for 'The Catch,'" Benay wrote. "I asked if it was similar vibe. 'Oh, yes.'"

Dwight Clark's 1982 catch -- forever "The Catch" -- might still rank No. 1 in 49ers history because it delivered them to the Super Bowl for the first time. I wasn't at Candlestick that day, but I was there when Terrell Owens' winning catch from Steve Young beat Green Bay in another epic finish 13 years ago.

Saturday outranked Young-to-Owens for its cathartic value and because two go-ahead drives beat one.

What a finish.

The time was 4:41 p.m. PT when colleague Jeff Chadiha and I settled on our likely column angles for what was shaping up to be a memorable 49ers postseason victory, but not necessarily an epic one.

Both of us went into the game expecting the 49ers to win, but we had no idea they would become the first NFL team to score two lead-changing touchdowns in the final three minutes of a playoff game. No idea at all.

Chadiha left the press box for the field in the final five minutes, customary for reporters seeking to position themselves for postgame interviews in the locker rooms. I stayed behind to prepare our Rapid Reaction file.

Meanwhile, editors were looking for column angles to have a feel for how our pieces would play out on the site. I knew better than to bank on anything and considered the jinx factor before sending the email. But I sent it anyway.

The email read: "If 49ers win, we are thinking:

  • "Chadiha: talk about offense all you want, but defense travels in the playoffs and 49ers could go all the way.

  • "Sando: Harbaugh said all season he trusted Alex Smith and he proved it in this game by throwing so frequently, for better and worse."

Sure enough, a college bowl game broke out. The 49ers lost the lead, got it back, lost it again, then won it with Smith's 14-yard touchdown pass to Davis in the final 10 seconds.

We can debate which moments in 49ers history were the greatest or most significant. I'd hold up this one as among the most satisfying short of Super Bowl victories. Seeing Smith, Davis and so many long-tenured 49ers players combine with key newcomers -- Harbaugh, Donte Whitner and others -- made this one about as perfect as could be.