Of stocking caps, kickers and punters

Steve Brownlee

There are a couple ways I thought about starting today’s column, but I’ll begin with the most personal.

Well, not really too personal unless you consider a piece of winter clothing as a warm, close companion, which I never have — it’s more something you have to deal with when it’s bitterly cold.

Anyway, I have this winter stocking cap I’ve been wearing for awhile, and I get comments about it maybe once or twice a winter.

It’s mainly maroon colored with a couple logos emblazoned on it. The logos are of the San Francisco 49ers.

People that ask me about it usually say, “Oh, you’re a 49ers fan” and then I feel obligated to say, “No, not really. It’s just a hat I got.”

Which is true. I’m still a Detroit Lions fan, and for this season, something of a Los Angeles Rams fan as I’m rooting for Matthew Stafford to do well, partly, nah, mostly to show the Lions what a waste of an NFL career they made out of their No. 1 draft pick from the University of Georgia all those years ago.

They drafted Stafford in 2009 coming off their infamous 0-16 season, a satisfying season for me as it ensured that Matt Millen would be fired as their general manager.

But I digress, so let’s get back to my cap. I seem to remember getting it in the late 1990s, right around the time that Iron Mountain native and Northern Michigan University alumnus Steve Mariucci coached the 49ers.

I’d even had a chance to do a phone interview with him on the eve of San Fran hosting Green Bay in the NFC Championship game in January 1998.

I don’t remember where or how I got it — maybe it was an eBay purchase I made when I made more trips to that site. Or were the late ’90s too early for eBay?

The cap gets washed probably once a year after I’ve worn it for a couple weeks or a couple months — this winter it’s going to be months — when it’s too cold to just wear my usual baseball cap.

It’s so old now that I can’t read the label for the washing instructions, so I just guess and do it in cold water, since it’s a shade of red.

I don’t feel an attraction to root for “my” 49ers because of it, as other than Mooch’s five or six years there, I’ve never felt much of a connection to this West Coast team.

There’s no point to this story other than I go around seemingly advertising my appreciation for a team that I really have no affinity toward. Kind of like all those people who wear a big “Nike” or its swoosh across the front of their T-shirts without giving it a second thought.

My other topic for today is about kickers. While I’m not a be-all, end-all fan of NFL kickers and punters, I think they deserve a lot more respect, appreciation or whatever it is they need, especially after each of last weekend’s four playoff games was either won by a field goal or sent to overtime by a 3-pointer.

I’ll just leave it at that, but I’ll be ready to pounce on the subject again if something similar happens in one of the season’s remaining three games — well, four, if you count the Pro Bowl.

Yeah, you’re right, there’s three games left.

Onto the picks for two-thirds of them:


AFC Championship, No. 4 Cincinnati (12-7) at No. 2 Kansas City (14-5), 3 p.m. Sunday, WZMQ-CBS (replacement for WJMN) — This would seem to be the easier pick of the weekend’s two games, as the Chiefs have been in several Super Bowls with most of the current assembled cast, while just a couple weeks ago the Bengals won a playoff game for the first time in 31 years.

I heard a few days ago a statement on one of the Sportscenter-like shows that stated that quarterback Patrick Mahomes, at age 26, has more playoff experience than the other three starting QBs combined in this weekend’s games.

Considering we’re talking about Cincy’s Joe Burrow, San Fran’s Jimmy Garoppolo and the Rams’ Matthew Stafford, yeah, that sounds about right.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Tom Brady has more playoff games in than them, too. Oh yeah, I meant Tom Brady during his two-year tenure with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On the other side of the argument, the one that favors Cincinnati, I’m also hearing that while it’s playing with fire for the Bengals to think Burrow can be sacked nine times and still win (as they did against Tennessee), KC probably won’t be able to get to him that many times as their defense is 29th in the NFL in QB sacks.

However, the Chiefs’ defense is also tied for 12th most in interceptions.

As I mentioned in this column just before Christmas, analytics can only take you so far. For one thing, the KC defense started the season like it has been for awhile now — atrocious.

Then it suddenly got better as an infusion of talent apparently took a few weeks to jell. That group seems to have regressed a bit lately, but overall, I think the early season probably depresses some of its numbers.

And there’s the ol’ reverse momentum monster I mention all the time — Cincy came from behind to beat KC 34-31 in the second-to-last week of the regular season. Advantage to the losing team.

With Mahomes also showing rare form last week, I’ve got to take the Chiefs, 27-23.


NFC Championship, No. 6 San Francisco (12-7) at No. 4 Los Angeles Rams (14-5), 6:30 p.m. Sunday, WLUC-NBC — So who do I go with — my hat with the 49ers or my heart with the Rams? I hope neither.

The big factor looming over this game is the 49ers’ current six-game winning streak over this L.A. team. They always say it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season, but when you’ve done that two times over, there must be something to the way this matchup works.

On one hand, all six of these wins came in regular-season games. Another statistic cited on a USA Today website said that when two NFL teams meet three times in one season, the sweep occurs close to two-thirds of the time.

I just find it hard to pick against a Rams’ teams that is so loaded with talent. That is, until now, as they’ve let me down so many times this season.

The 49ers seem more of a plodding team, more like Garoppolo, just surviving till the end. But they’ve been winning when the opportunity presents itself.

And it sure looks like it’s presenting itself now. 49ers, 24-23.


Last week — 2-2, 50 percent. Playoffs — 5-5, 50 percent.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.


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