Can you believe it? Exactly 20 years ago today, The Catch II happened. This remains as one of the greatest playoff moments in San Francisco 49ers history. To me, it is one of the most impossible and unexpected moments in team history.
And for good reason. This 49ers team had been dominating since the 1980s and well into the 90s. But the team’s nemesis since their 1994 Super Bowl win was the Green Bay Packers. They had Brett Favre at the helm winning MVP awards. The Niners just couldn’t beat them. And with a late touchdown to Antonio Freeman, this game seemed to be another loss to the Packers.
I also remember Terrell Owens, the hero of this game. He struggled throughout the game, dropping passes. That stood out to me. But also in the back of my mind I knew that the team was nearing the end of their amazing run. Steve Young and Jerry Rice were getting up there in age. They were still good, but I just had a hard time seeing this team sustain dominance for much longer. And with the Packers being the better team (having gone to consecutive Super Bowls, winning one of them) it just felt that this might have been the last hurrah.
In hindsight now, it was their last hurrah. But for this one moment, this game was a lot of frustrations built up from previous playoff losses to the Packers. It was also me wondering if the Niners could ever make it back to the Super Bowl. Did this team have one more miracle left in them?
It’s hard to believe that it was 20 years ago today, a young 12-year-old Sam lost his mind after just earlier being sad and defeated. The Packers’ go-ahead touchdown deflated me. I still believed in the 49ers, but it just seemed impossible. Rice had a fumble that should have been called. Young nearly threw a pick before the miracle throw. It just felt that all these fortunate breaks were just going to make this loss feel even more painful.
But it didn’t. Young threw the ball right into the middle of a swarm of yellow helmets. Owens finally held on to the ball, even after collecting two brutal hits upon catching the game-winner. The elation of the stadium. The vanquishing of the nemesis. The feeling of being on top of the world. That was everything all into one.
It’s still hard to really wrap up how amazing this play was. Even for a young fan like myself when this happened, I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed.
Now 20 years later the history is still special. but a little different. Even though the team finally beat the Packers, the 49ers lost the following week and the Super Bowl dreams would end there. Steve Young would suffer a concussion and be forced to retire. The team would say good-bye to Jerry Rice and the team would no longer be playoff contenders. There was a brief glimpse of hope when Jeff Garcia arrived but in the end, this was the last great moment of this amazing run.
We will look back at this moment as an integral part of the foundation of the NFL. An even more important staple to 49ers history. We all know in the grand scheme, it didn’t lead to a 49ers Super Bowl run. But I like to think back to that feeling I had that day 20 years ago. I felt the 49ers were on top of the world. Unbeatable. And that’s why this moment still sticks with me. It’s that feeling all over again.