Published November 20, 2014
Ted Ginn Jr. carried the game ball to keep for himself, and packed away two more footballs from his game-saving kick returns to present his twins.
Jim Harbaugh didn't need a single souvenir. Hugs all around would do, from his parents, from his players. He left Candlestick Park on Sunday with that coveted victory over Pete Carroll and the defending NFC West champions in his NFL debut.
Here's the deal, Coach Carroll: Harbaugh is one up at this level.
Ginn returned a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in a minute's span late in the fourth quarter, and the San Francisco 49ers gave Harbaugh a 33-17 win over Seattle in his much-hyped debut and renewed coaching rivalry with Carroll.
"I slept like a baby last night," said Harbaugh, a father of two young daughters. "I woke up every hour crying, making sure these guys were prepared in every way. And they had our back. Our players did a heck of a job."
Especially Ginn, who delivered right when the Seahawks thought the momentum was theirs.
He ran a kickoff back 102 yards moments after the defending NFC West champion Seahawks had closed within 19-17. It was the second-longest kick return at home and fourth-longest in team history. He then scored on a 55-yard punt return.
It was the first time in 49ers history they had a kickoff return and a punt return for touchdowns — let alone by the same player.
"I got an opportunity to go out and show what I had," Ginn said. "It's great. You do it on the video game a lot, but you don't see it a lot in real life."
Alex Smith exhibited the poise and polish Harbaugh believed the 2005 No. 1 overall pick still had in him despite recent history, going 15 for 20 for 124 yards and running for a 1-yard TD. David Akers kicked four field goals in his first game with San Francisco.
New Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson threw a late 55-yard touchdown pass to Harbaugh's former Stanford star, Doug Baldwin, in his Seahawks debut as Matt Hasselbeck's replacement.
Harbaugh pulled Smith into a seconds-long bearhug after he hustled to the sideline after his short TD run just before halftime in which he spun into the end zone to put the 49ers up 16-0.
Ginn saved the game with a huge day on special teams. This is the guy who returned kickoffs of 100 and 101 yards for touchdowns in a 30-25 win for Miami over the New York Jets on Nov. 1, 2009.
This time, Ginn's kids — Kyrsten and Theodore III — get to help celebrate.
The Harbaugh family, too.
With the coach's parents, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, in the stands to cheer him in the opener, the former NFL QB was as animated as ever — waving his arms, pacing the sideline and congratulating his players at every chance.
He embraced Smith for several seconds. He gave Ginn hugs after both TDs.
"It felt really like we were right there to take this game over, and then things just fell apart in the kicking game," Carroll said. "Ted Ginn did his stuff and had two great plays and took our chance of coming back in this game away."
Dozens of American flags whipped in the wind off San Francisco Bay in the parking lots of sold-out Candlestick Park before the game on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. Flags inside flew at half-staff and many of the 69,732 fans sported red, white and blue.
And San Francisco police considered it a well-behaved crowd at Candlestick, where fan violence and a shooting marred the Raiders-49ers exhibition matchup last month.
Rivals dating to their days in the Pac-10, Carroll couldn't complain about Harbaugh running up the score in this one. Seattle's offense had enough problems for Carroll to worry about what was happening on the other sideline. The two quickly shook hands afterward and called it good.
It was Carroll who in 2009 met Harbaugh at midfield postgame with a "What's your deal?" after Stanford ran up the score in a 55-21 rout at Southern California and even attempted a late 2-point conversion with the game out of reach.
In Harbaugh's first season in 2007, the Cardinal traveled to Los Angeles as 41-point underdogs only to stun the second-ranked Trojans 24-23 and end their 35-game home winning streak.
Akers kicked field goals of 27, 24, 31 and 18 yards in an impressive first game with the 49ers in place of the retired Joe Nedney.
Jackson, Brett Favre's backup in Minnesota the past two seasons, completed his first six passes but was sacked twice in as many drives to start the game — by Ray McDonald and Justin Smith — and five times total. He was 21 of 37 for 197 yards and two TDs with one interception.
First downs were scarce and San Francisco's defense was stingy behind defensive tackles McDonald and Smith.
The 49ers were 0 for 9 on third-down conversions before Smith's 12-yard completion to Braylon Edwards early in the fourth. Edwards wound up with three catches for 27 yards in his 49ers debut. He was given a fresh start by another Michigan man, Harbaugh.
Same for Smith.
Back on a one-year free agent deal when most everybody figured he'd turn up elsewhere, Smith generated cheers instead of boos from the home crowd. He made quick decisions and scurried out of trouble several times with defenders coming right at him.
He appreciated Harbaugh's enthusiasm.
"It's fun to come over and see your coach just as jacked as you," Smith said. "We were all pumped up."
The Seahawks, 7-9 last year before stunning the reigning Super Bowl champion Saints in the playoffs for the first victory by a team with a losing record, have their work cut out for them to defend in a division that became known as the NFC Worst in 2010.
One telling moment Sunday: Jackson was sacked by Parys Haralson, who forced a fumble that was recovered in the air by Will Tukuafu on his first career play from scrimmage. That set up Akers' second field goal.
What a difference from last year's opener between the division foes.
The 49ers lost at Seattle 31-6 last September on the way to a 0-5 start that dashed San Francisco's hopes of winning the division. The 49ers returned the favor with a 40-21 home win in December, but it wasn't enough to save then-coach Mike Singletary's job.
Harbaugh was hired from Stanford on a $25 million, five-year deal to turn around a franchise that has gone since 2002 without a playoff berth or winning record.
Frank Gore, with a new $21 million, three-year deal after he missed the final five games last season with a fractured right hip, ran for 59 yards on 22 carries and made three catches for 19 yards. Vernon Davis had a team-high five receptions.
Notes: TE Zach Miller had two catches in his Seattle debut. ... It marked Smith's third career rushing TD and first since Dec. 14, 2006, at Seattle. ... Seahawks FB Michael Robinson injured his ankle in the first quarter and didn't return. ... Second-year Niners CB Tramaine Brock made his first career interception on the final play of the first half.