Windy and rainy conditions accompanied the end of the 49ers’ Super Bowl bid at Candlestick Park –14 years ago.
That 23-10 defeat to the Green Bay Packers marked the last time the 49ers hosted a NFC Championship game.
Could the same scenario play out Sunday, albeit against the New York Giants, now that winter finally has made its wet arrival in the Bay Area?
“I don’t think any team can control the weather, so it’s going to be what it’s going to be,” 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith said.
But what if Candlestick’s six-week-old sod turns sloppy?
“It’s no different,” Smith responded. “The field conditions, this and that, the tide, it really doesn’t matter.”
Ah yes, San Francisco Bay’s tide and the stadium’s sea-level position. Remember back when folks wondered how those factors might impact the grass in a pivotal playoff game? Up until their 36-32 comeback win Saturday over the New Orleans Saints, the 49ers hadn’t been to the playoffs in nine years.
The only talk of tides this season has come from one of coach Jim Harbaugh’s favorite expressions: “A rising tide lifts all ships.” Maybe that’s positive karma.
The 49ers (14-3) have encountered ideal weather throughout most of this breakthrough season. In their one rainy game, they rolled past the Arizona Cardinals 23-7 and forced five turnovers along the way.
Getting the Giants to cough up the ball is the similar goal for the 49ers, who are 19-1 in playoff games when they win the turnover battle.
“I’m fine throwing it in the rain,” Giants quarterback Eli Manning told New York reporters.
Manning is enjoying more than a fine stretch. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes and only two interceptions in the Giants’ current four-game win streak. But he did have two passes intercepted by Carlos Rogers in the 49ers’ 27-20 win over New York on a sun-splashed day at Candlestick in November.
Although the 49ers practiced in mostly dry conditions Friday, a light rain fell during practice Thursday at their Santa Clara facility.
“Physically, the nice thing is we got some weather yesterday,” 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said.
Nice, because he got practice handling a wet football. Smith cited his most memorable rainy games as those from his college days at Utah and a 2006 triumph over the host Seattle Seahawks.
Smith’s bigger concern Sunday will be what he called the deepest corps of pass rushers the 49ers have seen this season, or at least seen again this season. Smith got sacked twice in the Nov. 13 meeting.
League rules assure Candlestick’s field of being covered during inclement weather before Sunday’s action. But if it gets muddy during the game, that could help quell the Giants’ pass rush.
“It will slow the pass-rush down a little bit. No question,” 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said.
Such conditions, Roman added, could favor wide receivers. The Giants have a dangerous trio in Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham.
“The only thing we have to fear,” Harbaugh said, “is being unprepared.”
Thanks to recent days, the 49ers are prepared for wet weather, whether it arrives or not. As for the Giants, defensive tackle Chris Canty is prepared for a different type of nasty conditions.
“This is not going to be a cute football game. It’s not going to be for the meek and mild,” Canty told the New York Daily News. “This is going to be a bloodbath.”
“I don’t know about a blood bath,” 49ers safety Donte Whitner responded, “but you can expect a really physical football game. . . . Only one of us can reach that ultimate goal, and that’s the Super Bowl.”