Here is a link to my Sunday column about today’s game between the 49ers and Panthers. The column also appears below:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — I’ll describe today’s 49ers-Panthers division-round playoff game the best way I know. Through boxing. Yeah, boxing.
Specifically 1976. Specifically George Foreman vs. Ron Lyle at Caesars. Two heavyweights. Big men. Lyle weighing 220, Foreman 226. Big punchers. No messing around. No finesse. The heck with finesse. You punch me. I punch you.
See how you like it.
Last man standing.
They hurt each other the first three rounds. Staggering like fighters in a Stallone movie. Foreman knocked down Lyle in the fourth round. Lyle knocked down Foreman twice in the fourth round. The second time he planted Foreman’s face in the canvas. Looked like Foreman’s face would sink through the canvas or he would fall asleep on his bloody, sweaty face.
Foreman got up. Are you kidding me? Lasted the round. The fight continued.
That is the story of today’s game. I can tell you that before it even starts. You will not see razzle-dazzle or chess or ballet on gridiron. You will not see West Coast Offense cunning. Don’t kid yourself.
No cunning. No finesse. No beauty.
You’ll see Foreman-Lyle. Niners and Panthers fighting up and down the field, hitting each other. In the first game between the 49ers and Panthers, Nov. 10, the Panthers knocked out Vernon Davis and Eric Reid, took them right out of the game. TKO. The Panthers hurt the Niners and beat the Niners. It was a close game: 10-9. Hurtful game.
Last man standing.
Same thing today. If Colin Kaepernick runs, sees open field and takes off as he did against Green Bay, the Panthers may hurt him. Nothing dirty about it. Just football. Just hard pounding football. Get the quarterback.
Same thing goes for Panthers QB Cam Newton. Be careful, Cam. Keep your guard up. Don’t drop your left — Foreman dropped his left and Lyle countered with a right to the jaw. NaVorro Bowman is looking for you, Cam.
Neither offense will be brilliant. Neither offense will dominate. Forget that kind of game, one filled with graceful passes and graceful runs and brilliance. No time for brilliance.
Hit and be hit.
Who is tougher?
Who can take it?
Who can give it?
This surely is Jim Harbaugh football. It also is Ron Rivera football. It is throwback football. It is the essence of football. Collisions at the line.
The Foreman-Lyle fight mostly took place at ring center. Punch and be punched. Except when they fought in the corners. Punch and be punched.
In the fifth round, Foreman looked done in. This fight came after that disaster in Zaire, Muhammad Ali knocking him out, making him look like a chump with the rope-a-dope.
But Foreman rallied in the fifth — how? — forced Lyle to a corner and punched his head and Lyle sagged and fell down. Lyle tried to get up, rolled on the canvas the way knocked-out fighters roll. Counted out by the ref.
Today will be brutal.
The Niners are a brutal team. No one likes to meet Justin Smith at the line of scrimmage or Patrick Willis or Ahmad
No one likes to meet Carolina’s Luke Kuechly. Brutal.
Frank Gore ran just 12 times in the first game. He ran well, but 12 times is nothing. There was a reason. The Panthers hurt runners, hurt guys who lower their heads and journey up the middle. Don’t expect Gore to have a big game. Don’t expect Anquan Boldin or Michael Crabtree or Kaepernick to have a big game. Same goes for Newton and his backs and receivers. No big games.
This game is too serious for big game. No big games allowed. The players will fight for every inch, fight with guts and blood. Defenses will punish offenses.
The 49ers may have learned about Carolina from the first game. Maybe.
The Panthers may have learned about the Niners. Maybe. The Panthers have the advantage of playing at home, of coming off a win at Candlestick, of knowing they beat the Niners. Barely.
But the first game doesn’t matter. Throw it out. Today’s game is unique. This game will take your breath away. It will come down to guts and heart. It will be thrilling in an elemental way.
It will be like nothing you’ve seen in life. It will be close. Could come down to a final field goal, the 49ers’ specialty. Could go into overtime. The players weary and hurt. The players playing to the end. Some not playing. Some being assessed for concussions while the rest play on.
That kind of game.
Last man standing.