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Farewell Candlestick: The Vernon Post

Posted Dec 5, 2013

Our Top 10 Moments series continues with a dramatic fourth-quarter touchdown by Vernon Davis to send the 49ers to the 2011 NFC Championship game.

Before the 49ers move on from Candlestick Park, their home since 1972, to Levi’s® Stadium in Santa Clara in 2014, it’s time to look back again. Vernon Davis’ historic touchdown catch in the 2011 playoffs lands at No. 2 on Candlestick Park’s Top 10 Greatest Moments, presented by SAP.

Each highlight, which fans voted on from a list of 25 nominations, will be memorialized at a home game in 2013, continuing on Sunday, when the 49ers host the Seattle Seahawks. The piece of history will also be pictured on each game ticket for the final season at the ‘Stick.

It’s time to celebrate No. 2.

PHOTO GALLERY: The Vernon Post

As Vernon Davis remembers it, the 49ers 36-32 NFC Divisional Playoff win on Jan. 14, 2012 over the visiting New Orleans Saints was a “stressful” game with “ups and downs,” and plenty of “pushing and pulling.”

Then was there the smack and thwack.

It started with San Francisco’s safety Donte Whitner’s tone-setting, goal-line hit on New Orleans running back Darren Sproles. It ended with Davis, the 49ers Pro Bowl tight end, surviving – and reversing the impact of – Saints safety Roman Harper’s own blow.

As Davis’ offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, would say: “Epic play to end an epic game.”

When you boil it down: The result – Davis catching a 14-yard touchdown toss from Alex Smith to take the lead with nine seconds left and 69,732 screaming at The ‘Stick – was planned and executed by these two men. Then there was their celebration. It was justified.

The Plan

“The Vernon Post was originally an idea of Geep Chryst,” Roman said of his quarterbacks coach in an interview with 49ers Studios, “and we put it into production, put it on the assembly line, tweaked a few things here or there, practiced it to the right and to the left that week.”

The play was meant for the Saints.

“We were hedging our bets that they would be playing Cover 2; the play was designed to beat Cover 2,” Roman said of the defensive scheme that pushes its two safeties away from the line of scrimmage. “We had a tight end underneath Vernon that had to grab the linebacker and occupy him and then Vernon was going to wrap around the linebacker, and the ball had to come out when Alex hit his back foot.

“We had to be in the end zone. We made the decision that we wanted to go for the win.”

The Execution

The play, if nothing else, is a test of timing. Davis, long a fan of catching passes from Alex Smith, had another reception earlier on the fourth-quarter drive down the field. He’d catch seven balls for 180 yards and two scores overall before the final play.

Then “The Vernon Post” was called.

“I looked at Alex. He looked back at me,” Davis remembered. “I took off, came off with some explosion, got to about 10 yards, planted my left foot, soon as I could turn, the ball was right on me.”

So was Harper.

Roman said: “Needed a great throw, thrown to a spot, and Vernon knew he was going to get blown up after the catch, but he had to secure the ball, which he did.”

The Aftermath

“Delirium, delirium,” Ted Robinson said. “It was not quite Dwight, but close.”

Robinson, the voice of the 49ers, lost his voice calling the play, memorializing – 30 years to the week – the Joe Montana-Dwight Clark touchdon connection. After this game, Robinson actually headed to Stanford Hospital to begin treatment to be ready for the ensuing week’s NFC Championship Game, which San Francisco would lose to the New York Giants.

 “The post to Vernon – it was the new beginning,” Robinson said, “the new 49ers era being born.”

From Roman’s press box perch, the fans in the stadium “exploded.”

The gravity of the moment was not lost on Davis, who celebrated in the end zone with teammates before finding Jim Harbaugh for a hug on the sideline.

“When I got up,” Davis recalled, “all I could feel were tears running down from my eyes.”