Davis’ catch leads 49ers to 36-32 win over Saints

Vernon Davis ran to the sideline with tears streaming down his

face and into the arms of coach Jim Harbaugh, the tight end’s

smeared eye black washing away six years of bad memories.

And in an instant, he forever etched his name into San Francisco

49ers lore.

Davis caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith with 9

seconds remaining, lifting the 49ers to a thrilling 36-32 victory

over the New Orleans Saints on Saturday to advance to the NFC

championship. San Francisco will play the winner of the Green

Bay-New York Giants game next Sunday.

”Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and

that’s all I kept telling myself over and over and over, `Vernon,

you got to step up, the team needs you,”’ Davis said.

The play, which Davis branded ”The Grab,” almost never

happened.

Davis revealed earlier this week that he ”almost wanted to

quit” at times while adjusting to Harbaugh’s complicated playbook,

which has a heavy demand on tight ends. He also kept quiet

throughout the season while his receptions dwindled, taking more of

a blocking role than the one that turned him into one of the NFL’s

best catching tight ends.

”I said, `He’s a great football player,”’ Harbaugh said he

whispered to Davis during the celebration. ”There’s a special

place in your heart for players that play well in big games.”

Davis stuck it out all season – just like he did during the

failed Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary eras – and accepted his role,

becoming one of the key figures in San Francisco’s biggest victory

in at least a decade. Even turning into a surprising leader.

Unhappy with his team only ahead 17-14 at the half despite the

defense forcing four turnovers, Davis delivered a speech in the

locker room that his teammates won’t soon forget.

”He got a little emotional on us on offense and got after us a

little bit,” Smith said. ”Great to see him come out in the second

half and really just stay patient.”

Davis finished with seven catches for 180 yards and two

touchdowns.

”One shot. That was the message,” Davis said. ”You only get

one shot. If you don’t take advantage of it, you go home. There was

a lot of fire within me at that moment, and something just hit and

I had to let it out. When you’re a leader on this team, that’s what

you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to step up, lead the team in

times like that.”

Davis put his stamp all over San Francisco’s victory.

With time ticking down in the final 2 minutes, he took a 47-yard

pass over the middle from Smith, racing down the Saints sideline to

the New Orleans’ 20. Three plays later, he caught the winning score

in the opposite end zone of ”The Catch” by Dwight Clark in the

1982 NFC championship game.

Fittingly, the play was called ”Vernon Post.”

”History. History was going through my mind. It was us against

us,” Davis said. ”That’s all I could say to myself. It was us

against no, us against can’t. All those things. And we managed to

pull it off.”