This 49ers team wants to start its own dynasty
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The 49ers are on a "quest for six."
That's what it says on banners that are hanging in their hotel here in New Orleans. It's what is stamped on all of the news releases and documents the team hands out. It's even the avatar for the team's official Twitter account.
The story of the Super Bowl cannot be told without the 49ers, who won the Lombardi Trophy five times in 14 years between the 1981 and 1994 seasons, a dynastic decade or so that provided some of the most indelible championship images and memories and established the franchise among the league's most storied.
Jim Harbaugh, though, isn't interested in any of that.
This trip, this Super Bowl, this opportunity, has nothing to do with the legends who came before, numerous and monumental though they are. The last time the 49ers won a Super Bowl was in January 1995, a time when many of the players on the field for the team Sunday were just putting on their first pee-wee league shoulder pads and falling over top-heavy from their helmets.
"This," Harbaugh said a week ago when his 49ers landed in the Super Bowl city, "is new business."
It is. But for those who remember the way the 49ers of the 1980s were built, it's also familiar business. It's a story that already has been told.
A fresh head coach comes out of the college game with an innovative offensive system, finds a quarterback who seems perfectly suited for that scheme, assembles a coaching staff with some of the league's brightest minds, and forever changes the game.
That, at least, was the narrative when Bill Walsh brought the West Coast offense to the NFL, put Joe Montana in control of it, and began a coaching tree with branches still spreading throughout the league.
Brandt would recognize the warning signs because he was on the short end the last time this happened. He was the player personnel guru for the Cowboys in the 1970s and helped shape that team into championship form. But it was those Cowboys from whom the 49ers took the mantle of supremacy and began their long reign as kings of the 1980s.
Harbaugh's path is similar to Walsh's. He has helped introduce the pistol offense to the NFL, a scheme that quarterback Colin Kaepernick is using to baffle opposing defenses and help rewrite the traditional skill set for the position.
Like Montana, Kaepernick was not a headliner in the draft. Montana was taken in the third round and Kaepernick late in the second. But both landed in what seems to be a situation ideally tailored for their abilities.
"They had a system that fit Montana," said Brandt, who remembered scouting him out of Notre Dame. "If Montana had gone to the New York Giants, for example, he probably would never have won four Super Bowls or be heard of like he is now."
"It's a great opportunity to get a win and to bring back the legacy to San Francisco that great teams and great quarterbacks have before," Kaepernick said of the chance to join Montana and Steve Young as the team's Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.
And then there is the coaching legacy, which includes Mike Holmgren, Andy Reid, Steve Mariucci, George Seifert and -- if you follow the path long enough -- both Jim and John Harbaugh, who will be coaching against each other Sunday.
The current 49ers staff features several who certainly will be in head-coaching positions soon, from coordinators Greg Roman and Vic Fangio to lesser-known position coaches.
"After I retire and see all these young assistant coaches be head coaches, that'll be pretty cool," veteran defensive lineman Justin Smith said.
There is no certainty that such a title run will begin anew. These 49ers haven't even won this Super Bowl yet. But they're thinking about it.
"The thing that separates us is that they won in consecutive years and this is our first one to be able to win," linebacker Ahmad Brooks said. "Hopefully we can get this one under our belt and bring home a championship and then we can try to compete with their dynasty by going back to back to back."
Perhaps the most impressive link between the two eras is that an actual handoff between Walsh and Harbaugh took place in December 2006. That was when Walsh called Harbaugh, then head coach at the University of San Diego, and asked him if he would consider becoming head coach at Stanford.
Harbaugh called that "truly one of the most memorable things" last week and said he had intended to keep that voice mail for the rest of his life.
So where is it now?
"I lost that phone or dropped it in the toilet or something," Harbaugh said. "I can't remember which it was, I lost it or dropped it in the can, but I don't have that message anymore."
What he can do to replace it is win a championship with the 49ers. That would complete the circle.