The movie "Patton" closes with the general telling of how Roman conquerors returning from war in days of old enjoyed the "honor of triumph" by way of a tumultuous parade.
"In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments," he says. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot and behind them stood a slave "holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting."
Absent the strange animals, such was the public celebration that greeted those gladiators of the gridiron we know as the San Francisco 49ers following their remarkable victory over the favored New Orleans Saints on Jan. 15.
That 36-32 divisional playoff win ranks among the most memorable Niner victories of all time. More that that, it ignited a week of where-were-you-when recollections, hopeful Super Bowl talk and abundant references to the days of Joe Montana, Bill Walsh and Jerry Rice.
For seven days, Sonoma County, as with the rest of the Bay Area, was ablaze with 49er fever and awash in scarlet and gold. For the first time in years, the 49er flags, clothing and paraphernalia were out in force as the Bay Area prepared for its first NFC championship game in 14 years.
It was a welcome respite from the stories of joblessness, housing stress and budget reductions that weigh heavy on our lives. It was also a welcome reminder of a time when January games for 49ers were an expectation not a fancy.
But then, as quickly as it came, the dream was over. When the game concluded on Sunday, the 49ers had lost 20-17 in overtime to the New York Giants. A team that was known for its relentless defense, uncompromising special teams play and uncanny ability to force turnovers when they were needed most had fallen on its own sword. They lost primarily on turnovers.
But 49er faithful know well that being profoundly disappointed while retaining whatever hopeful optimism can be summoned from such playoff disappointments are not mutually exclusive. It is merely the price of being a fan.
Who among us at the start of the season would have predicted the 49ers would be in the playoffs at all? This was virtually the same team that finished an inglorious 6-10 the year before. About the only thing new was the coach, Jim Harbaugh, who, because of an NFL lockout, had little time to prep his team before the season was under way. Nevertheless, he brought a new approach, a new life to beleaguered field marshal Alex Smith and a renewed expectation for 49er fans — an expectation of winning.
And they did. In the end, they achieved a record of 14 wins and four losses and came within three points of going to the sixth Super Bowl in franchise history.
No, it wasn't enough. But given what Coach Jim Harbaugh, his coaches and his players made of this year, it's a start — of something good.
Congratulations to the Niners on a memorable season. Yes, all glory is fleeting. But as we imagine the conqueror whispering in response to the slave amid the din of celebration, "All the same, it's been a remarkable ride."