Handed a 20-17 overtime loss by the 49ers to the New York Giants, fans pouring out the gates at Candlestick Park were subdued but not angry with their team, even though they fell one victory short of a trip to the Super Bowl.
"Oh, so close!" 49ers fan Shane Roth of Santa Rosa exclaimed Sunday night as she left the stadium.
"It was a fantastic season," said the Sonoma County employee. "It's sad to see it end the way it did."
But Roth said he had no regrets about a team "that just missed the Super Bowl."
As a fan, Roth made some sacrifices, working the graveyard shift until 7:30 a.m. Sunday. He got home, showered, ate breakfast and caught a Golden Gate Transit bus to see the NFC Championship game.
"I'm going on 35 hours without sleep," said Roth, a Niners fan since age 5.
Fred Schmidt, who attended the game with Roth, said the Niners exceeded his expectation of an 8-8 or maybe a 9-7 season by going 13-3 in the regular season and winning a thriller over the New Orleans Saints in the NFC West divisional playoff game last weekend.
Lawrence Tynes' 31-yard field goal for the Giants in overtime ended the Niners' remarkable run on a damp, chilly night with intermittent rain.
"Obviously, I feel a little let down about losing," Schmidt said. "But all in all, it was a great season."
Catherine Lindquist of Santa Rosa, standing in the misty parking lot on the edge of San Francisco Bay, was undeterred by the loss.
"How crazy," she said. "I think it was a terrific game."
Two touchdown passes from rejuvenated quarterback Alex Smith to tight end Vernon Davis energized the home crowd, just as two miscues on special teams by Kyle Williams hurt the Niners.
"We're a little shocked by our special teams," Lindquist said. But she was reluctant to focus on the negative, noting that special teams "have been huge this year, absolutely. That's why it's such a shock."
"I'm just so proud of the 49ers," she said. "They did such a great job."
Lindquist and her relatives were dampened by the rain, but she said "it didn't bother us at all."
"We tailgated, we had a lot of fun," she said. "The fans were just as amazing as ever."
Earliler, traffic gridlock on Highway 101 caused a delay for many Niners fans arriving at the stadium.
"It took us almost three hours to get here," said Lalo Barragan, of Windsor.
But Barragan, who considers himself a lifelong Niners fan and paid $820 for a pair of tickets on eBay, said he was thrilled just to be at the playoff game.
Barragan said he lucked into a pair of field passes for after the game, with a chance to meet some of the home team.
Yolanda Vasquez of Windsor said the trick was leaving early -- in her case at 8 a.m.
Vasquez and her tailgating group got to Candlestick at 10:30 a.m., an hour before the parking lot gates opened.
By 1:30 p.m. they were set up and feasting on grilled lamb, sausages, tri-tip, chicken and hot links.
"We've got it all," she said.
Frances Lindquist, a 49er fan for 35 years, flew across the country to join her daughter at both playoff games.