NFC championship game: brutal and beautiful as Seahawks win
NFC championship game saw the Seattle Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49ers, 23-17, in a thrilling game that showcased football at its most primal.
Hector Amezcua/The Sacramento Bee/AP
We will admit that there is much that is primal about football. The words "frozen tundra of Lambeau Field," spoken in a gravel-grated basso profundo, are not likely to stir your inner accountant. "Unnecessary roughness," of course, says nothing about all the roughness that is necessary.
On the last meaningful play of a very meaningful game, Seahawk cornerback Richard Sherman made a play that perhaps no other human on the planet could have made, pirouetting in mid-air to swat away what seemed a sure game-winning touchdown. Game over. Seahawks win, 23-17, and advance to play the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl Feb. 2.
Before that moment of athletic grace, however, there was wholesale carnage.
In a season where the league's injured reserve list has gained almost a macabre glamor, week after week claiming more of the league's top players – and in a season when the league's concussion protocols have laid bare the sheer violence of the sport – Sunday's NFC championship game was both thrilling theater and horrific spectacle.
At the postgame media podium, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh spoke about the game as a "15-round" match between heavyweights. He spoke of the teams climbing into the "arena." Apparently, the man-eating tigers and the spike-wheeled chariots simply slipped his mind.
This was football as it was promised, 60 minutes of blood-and-thunder stuff in which life and limb were only secondary concerns. When the general managers of the 49ers and Seahawks assembled their teams, it seems, they started by looking at a diagram of a meat grinder.
San Francisco returner LaMichael James was nearly decapitated fielding a punt. Forty-Niner lineman Mike Iupati was lost for the game when buried under an avalanche of enormous bodies. Forty-Niner linebacker NaVorro Bowman hurt his knee while stripping the ball from a Seahawk receiver, only for the referees to decide that he actually didn't recover the ball, literally adding insult to injury.
The game was a showcase of all that has become awesome and terrifying about professional football today: Grown men as thick as oaks and as fast as gazelles slamming into each other as though the viewer's thumb was stuck on fast-forward. The long-limbed gait of 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the devastating force of Seahawk safety Kam Chancellor, the road-grading runs of Seahawk running back Marshawn Lynch.
No Seahawk-49er game is for the faint of heart. This one, however, required hiding the women and children. It required a nuclear bunker and the scrambling of fighter jets as CenturyLink Field went to DEFCON 1.
For a game that was played with all the subtlety of a punch in the face, it was fitting that the momentum shifted on a series of plays that lacked only Stan Lee to write "KABLOOOM!!!!" across the TV screen in frantic ecstasy.
Score tied, 10-10. San Francisco has the ball midway through the third quarter...
Running toward the line of scrimmage, Kaepernick (for reasons known only to himself) hops off the ground, torques his body in mid-flight, and then proceeds to send a 26-yard pass sizzling through the air to receiver Anquan Boldin, who catches the ball as it passes agonizingly through the fingertips of a Seahawk defender leaping at full stretch.
San Francisco kicks off after the touchdown...
Seahawk returner Doug Baldwin runs the ball back 69 yards to set up a Seahawk field goal.
San Francisco leading, 17-13, with 13:44 remaining in the fourth quarter. Seattle has the ball. It's 4th-and-7...
Seattle, with spectacular arrogance, goes for it, and quarterback Russell Wilson fires a 35-yard touchdown strike to Jermaine Kearse.
Kaepernick goes back to pass on 3rd-and-6 with 10:07 left in the game...
Seahawk defensive end Cliff Avril, apparently filed out of a missile silo, comes around right end and strips Kaepernick of the ball.
Then, with 22 seconds left, Kaepernick launches his arrow into the back corner of the end zone, and for an instant, Sherman looks like a ballet master in grand jeté – a trash-talking, dreadlocked Baryshnikov suspended impossibly above the turf – and pro football's paean to wanton human destruction slips into the sublime.
One thing is for sure. On Feb. 2, the Broncos better fasten their chin straps.