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49ers in shadow of rich past

Ghosts of 5-0 Super Bowl record haunt players trying to make it 6-0

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NEW ORLEANS -- The shadow looms. It is a large shadow with many odd shapes.

Part of the shadow resembles a trophy case containing five footballs on top of sticks. Another part of the shadow resembles a quarterback with a No. 16 jersey coached by a white-haired legend. And yet another part is a vague silhouette of a famous goal-line stand. . . or is it a famous last-minute touchdown drive? Maybe it is both.

The 49ers cannot escape that shadow this afternoon. They cannot eliminate it at 5:30 p.m. when they meet the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. They can only add to the shadow, become part of it.

And if they don't? They will bear a taint and must shoulder it for the rest of their football and non-football existence.

Enjoy the game, guys.

"There is a great 49er history with our team," head coach Jim Harbaugh said the other day, "and we're proud of that."

In this case, history is a Jumbotron scoreboard with the following numbers flashing in bright lights: 5 and 0.

Every team in every Super Bowl feels pressure. But the pressure felt by the 49ers here is unprecedented. Because no NFL team has ever been in this position.

The 49ers have played in five Super Bowls, and won all five. No other NFL team has won so many Super Bowls without at least one defeat. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys have played in more Super Bowls (8), and the Steelers have won more of them (6). But the Steelers have lost one. The Cowboys have lost two.

That 5-0 record is something the 49ers franchise fully embraces. The team itself has adopted a "Quest For Six" motto. On the 49ers website, followers can download "Quest For Six" icons for their Twitter or Facebook accounts or post pictures of them holding "Quest For Six" signs in different locations.

Do the players care about the 49ers lore or the 5-0 legacy? They have no choice. The realization seeps into their consciousness gradually. It begins with the first time they enter team headquarters in Santa Clara. The five Vince Lombardi trophies, the prizes for winning the five Super Bowls, are in a glass case right inside the front door.

"It's hard not to notice them," said defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois.

But it's not merely the trophies.

"You're reminded of it with the fan base, as well," said offensive tackle Joe Staley. "A lot of people you meet in the community say that they became fans of the 49ers in the '80's, when they were young."

The longer each player is on the 49ers roster, the more he hears the stories about the other Super Bowl teams and how perfect they were. About quarterback Joe Montana. About his four victories on the game's biggest stage. About the goal-line stand that stopped the Cincinnati Bengals in 1982. About the way receiver Jerry Rice acid-washed and embarrassed the Denver Broncos with three touchdown catches in 1990. About the Steve Young redemption game in 1995.

The message that leaches through those stories is clear to those who wear the 49ers uniform today: You're not as good as they were.

Are the current 49ers weary of the old 49er ghosts haunting them? Today's 49ers don't say so. Although they sort of say so.

"Right now, we are trying to establish our own identity," Staley said. "You don't want to live in the past and we're trying to create our own tradition."

Well, at long last, this is their chance. As the 2012 regular season progressed and the 49ers kept winning, the inevitable comparisons and debates arose. Did this 49ers team deserve to be talked about on the same scale as those teams of the past? Could Harbaugh carve out as big a legacy as Bill Walsh or George Seifert?

And what about this 25-year-old kid quarterback, Colin Kaepernick? Could he win his first Super Bowl at the same age that Montana won his first? Could current 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree come close to matching the way Rice made so many catches when it mattered most?

Could this team's star running back, Frank Gore, match the Super Bowl prowess of Roger Craig? And does today's 49ers owner, Jed York, deserve the favorable comparisons to his uncle, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., proprietor of the team for those five Super victories?

Some would say those questions are secondary concerns for the 49ers as kickoff approaches. The primary pressure for them to succeed is coming from the Baltimore Ravens. The 49ers ghosts? How can they matter?

Well, they do. You can ask anyone who has been a fan of the team for longer than 10 minutes.

-- San Jose Mercury News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 3, 2013 B6

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