It’s now or never for the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII

Some of you will see the title of this piece and scoff. “Well no kidding it’s now or never, it’s the GD Super Bowl.”

Which, yes you would be right in that regard, but it’s not just a Super Bowl banner the 49ers are playing for, nor is it just the Kansas City Chiefs they are playing against. The 49ers are playing for something that solidifies this half-decade run they’ve gone on, and they are playing against the sands of time.

Walk with me, won’t you?

In the movie The Gray Man, Ryan Gosling’s character Six is a skilled assassin who works for the CIA. In a flashback scene, we are shown that he was tasked with keeping the niece of his boss safe. Like any action movie, a fleet of bad guys enter the home at night, and Six effortlessly subdues and executes all of them without making much of a peep. The young girl wakes up in the midst of it and asks Six if everything is okay, to which he replies with a confident and confiding smile “Just another Thursday.”

For the Chiefs, that’s what this week will be- just another Sunday. The last five years have been filled with long playoff runs and wins over the best the NFL has to over. They’ve played basically an entire other season worth of playoff games since the 2019 season, and are looking to win their third Super Bowl in five years after groggily sleepwalking their way to an 11-win season and their eighth consecutive AFC West title.

Even so, this felt like the season where Kansas City would finally have an early vacation and where we wouldn’t be seeing them play deep into January. Instead, though, they collectively drank their energy drinks around Week 17 and became the machine we all have grown to recognize (and maybe sort of detest). They ran through the Dolphins in the bitter cold without so much as breaking a sweat before continuing to be the perpetual knife in the side of Josh Allen and the Bills, defeating Buffalo in the playoffs for the third time. Then, by the third quarter of the AFC Championship Game, everyone in America outside of Missouri sat silently in their living rooms quietly muttering to themselves “They really f**king did it again” as they were hit with a Tom Brady and Bill Belichick-sized swarm of PTSD.

This isn’t even extravagant anymore for the Chiefs- it’s expected. But the 49ers? Their season was the total inverse.

While Kansas City was struggling to beat the Jets and losing to the Eagles and Packers in prime time, San Francisco was beating the Cowboys by four touchdowns. Philadelphia by three scores. They were going on the road and beating the Jaguars by 30 and putting up 30-40 points a week while on cruise control. Unlike the Chiefs though, the 49ers have stumbled over multiple hurdles in the postseason and were very lucky to even get this far.

Joe Barry’s defense mixed with a rain shower nearly proved to be the perfect concoction to end the 49ers’ season. Luckily for San Francisco, the Packers missed a field goal, failed a fourth down conversion early in the game, and Jordan Love went full Brett Favre on the final drive (NEVER go full Brett Favre).

Against Detroit, the Lions had the game won. They led by 17 at one point, but failure to capitalize on a fourth down conversion combined with the horrendous decision to go for it on another fourth down late in the game, as well as the swing in momentum as a result of said decisions, came back to haunt the Lions and the 49ers escaped with a win. The 49ers allowed 52 points across two games in the playoffs- the Chiefs allowed 41 in three games.

It’s needless to say that the Chiefs have been the better team when it matters most. But that brings me to the entire point of writing this in the first place. If you asked me who is going to win the Super Bowl, I’d tell you the Chiefs. If you asked me who needed to win more, the answer is undoubtedly the 49ers.

As already stated, this is familiar territory for the Chiefs. They basically have bottles of wine with their names on them and a table reserved for Super Bowl Sunday on a yearly basis. And while nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, Kansas city will without any shadow of a doubt be in this spot again as long as Patrick Mahomes is their quarterback and Andy Reid is their head coach.

The 49ers, and every other team not named the Chiefs for that matter, don’t have the luxury of all but knowing they’ll make it back. They’ve been close plenty of times, but haven’t won a Super Bowl since the 1994 season. They have 17 playoff wins since they last hoisted a Lombardi Trophy, and they have a lot of decisions to make over the next calendar year. This coming offseason, they are relatively light when it comes on players they’ll have to pay or let walk via free agency. Chase Young and Javon Kinlaw are the two biggest names in the bunch, with Randy Gregory also slated to hit the open market. 2025 though? Brandon Aiyuk, Talanoa Hufanga, Arik Armstead, Dre Greenlaw, and Charvarius Ward will all be free agents- you can’t pay all of them. Not to mention they’ll have to decide somewhere down the road how much they’ll pay Brock Purdy, which will bring it its own set of potential problems.

For as good as the 49ers have been over the last half-decade, all of it is for not if they can’t secure a ring. Oddly enough, it’s a spot that Kyle Shanahan’s opposition this Sunday knows far too much about, as Andy Reid’s Eagles went to five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl, but ended up empty-handed. And I’m sure throughout that entire run, a lot of Eagles fans were saying the same thing a lot of 49ers fans have been saying- “We’ll be back.” “We own the NFC.” “Who is a real threat in the conference?” Be careful with that line of thinking because there is no guarantee the 49ers will be back in this spot again.

For the Chiefs, this is nothing more than business as usual. A chance to add another piece of hardware to an already impressive collection while becoming a dynasty in the process. For the 49ers, it’s potentially the last chance to win a championship with this cast of stars before the last piece of sand falls to the bottom of the hourglass.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire