“It’s unbelievable,” said Rogers, the 49ers starting cornerback who will be the first player from Augusta’s Butler High School to play in the Super Bowl.
“I’m probably down-playing the excitement now because we haven’t gotten to New Orleans. Just seeing what other people have gone through, I’ve heard there’s just no other experience like it. I’ve been in championships and won championships, but not to say you’re the best in the world. The Super Bowl, that’s unbelievable. I just want to have the whole experience and at the same time focus on our goals and that’s to win the ring.”
For the second time in his career, Rogers won a championship in the Georgia Dome as a prelude to a bowl trip to the Superdome. Only in 2004 when his Auburn team defeated Tennessee for the Southeastern Conference title to complete an undefeated campaign, the Tigers didn’t get invited to the BCS title game.
Instead, Auburn had to settle for beating Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl and a final No. 2 ranking despite a 13-0 record. Southern Cal later vacated its BCS title because of NCAA violations.
This time there is no denying the NFC champion 49ers a shot at the Super Bowl.
“I don’t think you can compare the two,” Rogers said. “College is so different. We didn’t get that chance. We played in a very high bowl game. We were mad about (the BCS snub) but in college you quickly get over it and prepare for the next game you’ve got to play. There’s so many other rewards you’re excited and happy about. But this here, I just think there’s nothing else like it.”
A week ago, it looked like Rogers and the 49ers would be denied for the second consecutive season in the NFC Championship Game. It was unraveling very quickly in the Georgia Dome. The Falcons gashed through the 49ers’ defense opening a 17-0 lead. No team in NFC Championship history had ever climbed out of such a deep deficit to win.
By halftime, the 49ers had yielded 271 passing yards and three touchdowns to Matt Ryan and still trailed 24-14.
“You always have concerns but a lot of that was our fault – guys busting coverages; guys not communicating on same page; and guys not competing at the level that we know we can,” Rogers said of the first-half breakdowns in the secondary. “Made a little adjustment at the half, not even much, and just came out and played ball. Offense started moving the ball and we started getting the stops and turnovers. The tide just turned that quickly and they weren’t able to put any points on the board.”
It was Rogers who made perhaps the most critical stop in the second half. The 49ers were on the verge of claiming their first lead of the game at the start of the fourth quarter, but a fumble at the goal-line gave Atlanta the ball.
“At that point we were going in to score and then fumbled,” said Rogers. “If they were to come out and move the ball it would have backed our offense up and we’d start running out of time. We needed to come back and get the ball and get them off the field.”
On third-and-6 from the 5, Ryan hit tight end Tony Gonzalez in the left flat. But Rogers closed fast and hit Gonzalez, driving him out of bounds a yard shy of the first down to force a punt.
“Tony Gonzalez is a big guy but I can use my quickness against him and not let him reach out or get by me,” Rogers said of the play.
The 49ers scored the go-ahead touchdown on the ensuing 38-yard drive to make it 28-24 and the defense held on fourth down late to preserve the second-half shutout that clinched the Super Bowl berth.
It was particularly satisfying for Rogers, who had so many family members and friends at the game that he rented out a luxury suite for them.
“It was real special winning in front of them,” he said. “There were a lot of people there. It cost me, but it was well worth it. Put them in a box suite so nobody would bother them in the stands just in case. You rarely get those chances. Being a championship game made it more special.”
It will be a much smaller contingent of Rogers’ family that will make the trip to Super Bowl XLVII. And it will be a much different challenge for Rogers and the 49ers defense. In many respects, the Baltimore Ravens are a mirror image of the 49ers representing the AFC – right down to the Harbaugh brothers coaching each team. A year ago, the teams met in a defensive brawl with John Harbaugh’s Ravens winning 16-6 over Jim Harbaugh’s Niners.
“Physical team just like us,” Rogers said of the Ravens. “Going to be a real physical game. Last year those guys got the best of us and we’ll try not to let that happen again this year. Two coaches that’s brothers who think alike. It’s going to be real interesting how this game comes out.”
San Francisco is 5-0 in prior Super Bowls and Rogers doesn’t want to be denied the ultimate experience.
“After this, if it works, my next goal is to repeat and go back to the Super Bowl,” he said. “Can’t be satisfied with going once.”