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Niners' Super Comeback; Harbaugh's Exit; Stanford/Cal 2024 FB Schedules

After yesterday's pair of exciting conference championship games, the Super Bowl matchup is set.

The Kansas City Chiefs shut down presumptive NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, 17-10, while the San Francisco 49ers came back from a 17-point deficit to beat the Detroit Lions, 34-31.

The 49ers looked dead in the water at halftime, trailing Detroit's "team of destiny," 24-7. But a revitalized defense, along with clutch plays by Brandon Aiyuk, Christian McCaffrey, Brock Purdy , Jauan Jennings and Deebo Samuels, turned the tide. 

So the Niners will head to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl on Feb. 11, where they will meet Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, the same team that beat them four years ago, 31-20.

Some quick observations:

Ladybug Luck: Things were looking pretty bleak for Kyle Shanahan's lads until Aiyuk made a great, saving catch (above) off a deflection for 51 yards and then caught a six-yard TD pass to bring them within a touchdown. After the game Aiyuk told the insufferable diva Erin Andrews that before the game "a ladybug landed on my shoe," so he knew some good luck was coming his way.

Momentum: Aiyuk's miracle catch at the 4 yard-line, which bounced off Detroit defender Kindle Vildor's face mask, turned the game. Perhaps the 49ers deserved some good luck after their last two losses in the NFL Championship game were decided by Jaquiski Tartt's dropped interception against the Rams and Purdy's torn elbow ligament last year against the Eagles. 

Deja Vu: In the 1957 NFL Western Conference championship game the 49ers held a 24-7 lead over the Lions, who were playing without their star quarterback Bobby Layne, but Detroit came back to win 31-27.

The Comeback Kid: Lest anyone still think Brock Purdy is over-rated, he brought the 49ers back for the second straight week. Purdy did a great job moving in the pocket, scrambling, buying time and setting up the tying TD with a 21 yard scramble inside the 10. Another scramble, also 21 yards, set up the game-winning field goal.

CMC: As we’ve been saying all year the NFL MVP should be Christian McCaffrey. His routine brilliance as a runner, receiver and touchdown machine is unrivaled by anyone in the league. All he did in the NFC championship game was rush for 90 yards, catch 4 passes for another 42 yards, score his customary two touchdowns, and set up the go-ahead touchdown with a 25 yard run.

Detroit Dropsies: Don’t blame quarterback Jared Goff for the Lions' collapse. He made several perfect throws that were dropped by receivers Josh Reynolds, Sam LaPorta and Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Gamblin' Dan: Dan Campbell has done a great job rebuilding the Lions in three years. But his decisions under pressure are undermining his team. Campbell opted to forego field goals midway through the third quarter with a 24-10 lead, and later with seven minutes left in the game, trailing by 3. Both fourth down gambles failed. Both were both ridiculous midjudgments, in our view.

The first failed conversion led to a 49ers TD that cut the Lion's lead to 24-17, and the last one proved to be the difference in the game. The Lion scored a late TD, so If Campbell had kicked the FG, in all likelihood, the game would've gone to overtime.

Moody Blues: The jury's still out on the decision John Lynch and Shanahan made to not re-sign the most dependable playoff kicker in NFL history, Robbie Gould, and use a third round draft pick on Jake Moody. After having a field goal blocked against the Packers in the Divisional playoff, he missed another field goal against the Lions. There has to be concern in 49erland that a Moody miss could cost them the Super Bowl trophy.

Spags: While warming up before the game, Chiefs' defenders wore t-shirts with these words in all caps: "IN SPAGS WE TRUST," referring to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Their trust was well-placed. Spagnuolo's blitz-heavy game plan shut down Lamar Jackson, holding the Ravens to three points over the last three quarters of the game.

In the Booth: Kudos to both announcing teams on yesterday's broadcasts. Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen on Fox (49ers-Lions) and Jim Nantz and Tony Romo on CBS (Chiefs-Ravens) were both outstanding. 

I still can't figure out why Fox promised Tom Brady the No. 1 analyst gig when they signed him to a 10-year contract a couple of years ago. Let him start lower on the food chain and work his way up. Olsen is one of the three best analysts in the pro game (along with Romo and Charles Davis). No way he should be demoted for an unproven talent, no matter how big Brady's name is.

Harbaugh Exits: As we predicted in this space three weeks ago, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has decided to leave Ann Arbor and return to the NFL. He will become the new coach of the Los Angeles Chargers.

The move makes all kinds of sense for Harbaugh, given that: 1) he's accomplished his main goal, winning a national championship at his alma mater; 2) most of his top players are also leaving for the NFL; 3) Michigan is facing significant NCAA sanctions for recruiting and sign stealing violations; and 4) the Chargers have plenty of talent, led by star quarterback Justin Herbert.

Harbaugh is a great coach and a special--albeit somewhat crazy--guy. I got to know Jim when he was playing for Palo Alto High School and his father, Jack, was defensive coordinator at Stanford. He used to hang around the athletic department's "gym store", which was run by my father. 

When Jim got the head coaching job at Stanford and I called to congratulate him, the first words out of his mouth were, "I loved your dad."

He wasn't alone.

The Chargers lost seven games by 17 points this year, often due to strange coaching decisions and clock mismanagement. Harbaugh will change all that.

There is no doubt in my mind that he will be successful.

Progress! Three of the six NFL head coaches hired this month are black men. The Patriots hired assistant Jerod Mayo to replace Bill Belichick. The Raiders gave the permanent job to interim coach Antonio Pierce. And the Falcons hired Raheem Morris, choosing him over Belichick.

So there will be six black NFL head coaches in 2024--Mayo, Pierce, Morris, Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin, Tampa's Todd Bowles and Houston's DeMeco Ryans

There are three other minority coaches---new Carolina Coach Dave Canales, a Mexican American, Miami's biracial Mike McDaniel, and the New York Jets' Robert Saleh, who is of Lebanese descent.

In a league whose players are 70% black, that's progress.

Bay Area College FB Schedules: The 2024 ACC football schedule was released last week, and the folks at the conference office didn't do Stanford any favors.

The Cardinal's home games include Virginia Tech, SMU, Wake Forest and Louisville.

Are we excited yet?

As Stanford fans know, Cal and Notre Dame--the two most attractive games on the schedule--are either both at home or both away. On even years, when those contests are on the road, the ACC should schedule a couple of the most desirable conference opponents--Florida State, Miami, Clemson, Duke--for Stanford to host in Palo Alto.

This season, In addition to the aforementioned four ACC opponents, Stanford also hosts TCU and Cal Poly. 

Good luck selling season tickets with that lineup.

The ACC's other Bay Area team, the Cal Bears, fared a little bit better. Coach Justin Wilcox's boys will host Stanford, Miami, North Carolina State and Syracuse. Their non-conference home games are San Diego State and UC Davis. 


Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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