Calm before NFC Championship storm

Calm before NFC Championship storm
January 19, 2012, 5:25 pm
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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.

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