SANTA CLARA -- National TV, one of his idols in attendance, 50th birthday, the final regular-season game at Candlestick Park: How could things get any better for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh?
The 49ers made Harbaugh wait most of the night before providing the answer, with inside cornerback Tramaine Brock breaking up a pass and linebacker NaVorro Bowman turning the up-for-grabs pass into an 89-yard, game-clinching touchdown with a little more than one minute left.
"I was, and still am, happier than a pig in slop," Harbaugh said Tuesday, at his day-after-game news conference.
He spent an inordinate amount of time talking about the magnitude of Bowman's play, comparing it to defensive lineman Justin Smith's forced fumble in a victory against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011 and saying it's the kind of play that doesn't happen often.
"I'll remember that until the day I die," said Harbaugh, who mentioned seeing idol Willie Mays at the game. "I got it at 50. I couldn't have had a better birthday present right at the halfway point. I'm shooting for 100, so I got it right at the halfway point. Happier than a pig in slop."
Later, again when talking about Bowman's remarkable play, Harbaugh paused and burst into spontaneous laughter.
Bowman's interception return was the finishing touch on a 34-24 victory and helped the 49ers clinch a playoff berth for the third consecutive season.
At the time, the Falcons were at the 49ers' 10-yard line and seemed destined to tie the score, at worst.
TV cameras caught Harbaugh jumping for joy, removing his headset and running down the sideline as Bowman sprinted toward the end zone.
"It's the defensive equivalent to as good as it gets in a football game," Harbaugh said. "It's the best thing I've been associated with that's happened to my team."
Harbaugh said he isn't in to ranking things. However, he made it clear that this is right up there with Vernon Davis' game-winning catch against the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs two years ago.
"I don't know how many kind of plays a coach has like that in his career," Harbaugh said. "It's probably so few that you're just going to remember them your entire coaching career. That was one of those memorable plays."
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