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An era of winning in SF gone with Davis trade

Jan. 14, 2012. Candlestick Park. It was one of the most entertaining playoff games in NFL history.

A defensive struggle through three-quarters and an absolute offensive outburst by both the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers in a fourth that featured 337 yards and 28 points combined in the games final four minutes.

The culmination of the big-play onslaught, capping a 36-32 49ers victory and an NFC title game berth, being a 14-yard pass from quarterback Alex Smith to tight end Vernon Davis.

It was dubbed “The Catch III,” after similar plays made by Dwight Clark almost exactly 30 years prior and Terrell Owens in 1999.

The touchdown, hauled in despite smothering coverage by Saint safety Roman Harper, may be the crowning moment of Davis’ 49ers tenure.

After the game-winning score, on a play called “The Vernon Post” by the offense, Davis told Jon Wilner of the Bay Area News Group:

“We went through a lot together, endured so much pain. That play meant a lot.”

Now, after 10 years in red and gold and two Pro-Bowl appearances, Davis has been traded, along with a seventh-round pick in the upcoming draft, to the Denver Broncos in exchange for a pair of sixth-rounders.

The sixth overall pick out of the University of Maryland in 2006, and 2013 second-team All-Pro tight end, is NO. 5 on the franchise’s all-time receptions list with 441. He is also NO. 6 in receiving yards with 5,640, NO. 4 in touchdowns with 55 and NO. 3 in targets behind only Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens.

No doubt one of the most productive players in the history of one of the league’s most storied franchises, Davis’ departure is more than just a salary purge.

More than a tweak to send a struggling team in the right direction. More than a move to fix a seemingly dysfunctional locker room.

The departure marks the end of an era.

Gone are the days of NFC Championship games and heated rivalries. These 49ers have become a punching bag for a deep NFC West division.

After grotesque losses that have led to a 0-3 record and -78 point differential within that division, this 49er team has plunged into the putrid depths of the teams of yesteryear.

Only NaVorro Bowman, Joe Staley, Ahmad Brooks and Alex Boone are holdovers from a time before the success brought by former-coach Jim Harbaugh.

When Mike Singletary once uttered the statement “I cannot play with them. Cannot win with them. Cannot coach with them. Can’t do it. I want winners,” in regards to players like Davis.

The 31-year-old veteran was among the players whose maximum potential was reached under the guidance of Harbaugh.

A group that included Smith and, apparently, Colin Kaepernick who soon after the trading of Davis was announced to have been replaced as the starter.

So it is no surprise that, since Harbaugh was jettisoned, the individual play of much of the San Francisco roster has regressed, leading to very little team success.

Now, like the teams of Singletary, his predecessor Mike Nolan and his Dennis Erickson, positives are difficult to find.

A team just two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance seemingly destined for a top-five draft pick. A pick that 9er fans can only hope isn’t wasted by GM Jed York like he has done so often recently.

And, as the first of what may end up being many seasons of decayed prosperity, 49er fans are forced to bask in the images of a glory that once was.

Images that include an emotional Davis heading to the sideline with tears welling in his eyes, reaching for a hug from his beloved coach Harbaugh.

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