The 49ers on Sunday tried to replicate "The Catch." But like most remakes, it wasn't as good as the original.
In front of about 8,000 fans who arrived at Candlestick Park for the team's annual "Fan Fest," coach Jim Harbaugh decided he would practice what he called a "classic" two-minute scenario. So he went with the classic, the one that occurred in the 1981 NFC Championship game and ended with a certain Joe Montana pass to Dwight Clark in the north end zone.
Sunday's drive began at the same yard line and with the same amount of time - 4:54 - remaining on the clock. The offense was going in the same direction. The scoreboard even read Cowboys 27, 49ers 21 as Alex Smith and the first-team offense took the field against the 49ers first-team nickel defense.
Smith drove the 49ers downfield just as Montana did, but he never found a latter-day version of Clark in the end zone. Here's how the last few plays went down:
* 4th and 8 at the 20 yard line: After calling timeout, Smith finds Joshua Morgan on the left size of the field for nine yards and a first down with 1:15 to go.
* 1st and 10 at the 11: Smith's pass is batted down at the line of scrimmage.
* 2nd and 10 at the 11: Ted Ginn makes a diving catch at the 3-yard line in front of nickel cornerback Chris Culliver with :34 remaining.
* 3rd and 2 at the 3: Smith's pass to Vernon Davis is tipped by Aldon Smith and falls incomplete. (The second-team defense was on the field for the final two plays).
The crowd was already amped up during the drive and the fourth-down scenario made it even more raucous. Smith, of course, was being peppered with cat calls - some positive, many not - throughout the afternoon and especially during the drive.
* 4th and 2 at the 3: Smith drops back and can't find anyone, he double clutches, finally pulls the ball down and takes off to his left where he is touched down by a defensive player. Drive over. Lots of boos.
Harbaugh, however, saw plenty of value in the drive.
"Well, we didn't get it in the end zone, but I thought it was a good drive," he said. "There were a lot of things we learned from it. ... Frank (Gore) should have run the ball when we got down there in that goal-line (situation) with that much time left with two time outs. Yeah - good experience. I think it kind of gives a mental picture for our guys. Shoot, we're in this stadium, going in that direction. So what the heck - it's a good deal."
Harbaugh confirmed that the 49ers would "kick the tires" on veteran quarterback Daunte Culpepper on Monday. Culpepper, 34, last played in the NFL in 2009. He started for the UFL's Sacramento Mountain Lions last year. "It's an opportunity to look at a veteran quarterback, put a third guy on the roster who's been there before and has game experience," Harbaugh said. "So, see where he's at physically, see where he's at mentally, emotionally and having a workout. Looking forward to a good workout."
A number of previously injured 49ers were back at practice today, including starting nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, cornerbacks Shawntae Spencer and Tarell Brown and tight end Colin Cloherty. Sopoaga and Brown practiced throughout the afternoon; Spencer appeared to take it easy in the second-half of the session. The starting cornerbacks remained Carlos Rogers and Tramaine Brock with Culliver entering on passing downs.
Dashon Goldson also practiced in full. In fact, he was one of the starting safeties, alongside Donte Whitner, throughout the afternoon. C.J. Spillman and Madieu Williams were the second-team safeties.
Linebacker Scott McKillop, who did not make the trip to New Orleans, also practiced. McKillop was on the NFL's transaction list as being cut on Friday. McKillop said he thought that report may have been related to last year when he injured his knee and was cut before being placed on injured reserve. McKillop said his release then also occurred on Aug. 11. McKillop said he was working out at the 49ers facility Friday when "my phone blew up." He called his agent, who called the 49ers, who said it was a mistake.
One player who did not practice was running back Anthony Dixon. He was walking somewhat gingerly but did not appear to be seriously hurt.
-- Matt Barrows