San Francisco Chronicle

Game may rest on foot of kicker
January 05, 2003
Ray Ratto

You are Jeff Chandler.

Well, no, not you. You're a guy sitting at your kitchen table in a Brooklyn Dodgers cap, a sleeveless undershirt and Cat-In-The-Hat boxer shorts who would rather frighten his children on a Sunday morning than wear a robe.

We digress, however. You are Jeff Chandler, metaphorically speaking, and you know that somehow, some way, the outcome of today's Giants-49ers game is going to depend on you.

Therefore, if you are indeed Jeff Chandler and you know what's good for you,

you have spent the week generously tipping the Candlestick Park grounds crew. Even with fourth-rounder's money, you should be spreading it around your new pals in the hip-waders right now.

Everything about this match, after all, screams game-winning-field-goal . . . even if that game-winning field goal comes in the middle of the second quarter.

For one, wild-card games tend to play closer than divisional or conference championship games (ignore Saturday's games). For two, the Giants played only three games this year with a margin of more than a touchdown. For three, the 49ers have made something of a fetish of either making comfortable games close or close games gruesome this year; they are the worst fourth-quarter team in the NFL by an uncomfortable margin.

Which brings us back to you, Jeff Chandler. You have, in your way, contributed as much to the customers' mass acid reflux disease as any of your teammates.

True, your way to notoriety was paved in part by the profoundly frustrating Jose Cortez, but you missed four of your 12 field-goal tries in six games, and having already been injured and wonky in practice, you have not provided any noticeable increase in fan confidence.

Of course, we are speaking here of 49er fans, who have historically taken their cue from the organization and been reflexively dismissive of placekickers, and in any event still believe that it's 1984.

In other words, you will take the field to much grousing, grumbling and, "Oh damn, not him!" You won't take it personally, though. They're just fans, and besides, you know they're also saying it in the owners' box.

(And if it helps any, Matt Bryant, the Giants' kicker, is going through the same thing, plus he's been eating hotel food for two days.)

But none of that matters in the face of the metaphysical certainty that an awful lot of paychecks will at some point be placed in your mouth, because this is the only scenario that seems to make sense to anyone. Even the wise guys in Vegas see this as essentially a toss-up (home team gets three, and the 49ers are 3-point favorites as of this a.m.)

In other words, guess who's responsible for the outcome?

And guess who will be the hero du jour if you can give it to them?

The 49ers, as we all know from our NFL Films indoctrination sessions, have played in more postseason games since 1980 than any other team. This is their 35th today, and in that time, there has never been a walk-off piece by a 49er kicker. They've had it done to them twice, by Washington's Mark Moseley in '83 and the Giants' Matt Bahr in '86, but they've never done it to someone else.

Their playoff heroes are Dwight Clark, Freddie Solomon, John Taylor and Terrell Owens . . . that is, for those three or four of you who like nail- biters. Most 49er fans prefer their postseasons easy and lopsided, though, so those special January moments are usually found early rather than late in games.

In fact, there were more children born in the Bay Area nine months after they beat Denver, 55-10, in Super Bowl XXIV than at any other time in recorded history.

That last item is, of course, not a fact at all but a monumental lie, but you know it wasn't for lack of trying and in any event ought to be true.

Nevertheless, this is your moment, Jeff Chandler -- your chance to score free drinks at every cheap dive from Corte Madera to Castroville, if a 120- mile pub crawl is your idea of hoots and giggles.

This is your chance to separate yourself from the '50s actor of the same name, in case you're ever confused for a man in his 70s.

Best of all for you, though, this is your chance to separate yourself from Cortez and the legion of kickers chased off the company grounds for, well, for being kickers. You could, in fact, be the rarest of all 49er kickers -- a popular one.

Thus, it's all there for you today, and you must surely know it. Your moment will come, and it would be considered bad form to forget where you put your helmet, put your shoes on the wrong feet, or start thinking about what people are saying about you when you take the field.

Just focus on the spot, the snap and the goalposts, son. And remember, they're all behind you.

Seven percent, give or take.

Tell us what you think on the new 49ers Clubhouse message board.