49ers-Cowboys epic rivalry shaped Shanahan's childhood


Kyle Shanahan had just turned 15 years old when the 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 15, 1995, at Candlestick Park to punch their ticket to Super Bowl XXIX. That truly might have been the best day of his life to that point. 

Shanahan's father, Mike, was the 49ers' offensive coordinator and his success that season led to him being named the Denver Broncos coach before the 1995 season. The showdown in San Francisco was the third straight year the two squads squared off in the conference championship. And after the Cowboys ended their season for two years in a row, the 49ers finally took down Dallas. 

Fast forward 27 years later, and the younger Shanahan now is the 49ers head coach and his team will face the Cowboys on wild-card weekend for the first playoff game against these two former rivals since that January day in San Francisco. Shanahan's football life has truly come full circle and he couldn't be more excited for Sunday's battle at Jerry World. 

"Oh, I think that's as cool as it gets," Shanahan said. "That's the coolest part of my childhood growing up I feel like. My senior year in high school, my dad was with the Broncos and they were able to beat the Packers in the Super Bowl, which was unbelievable.

"But before that, it was seventh grade, eigth grade, ninth grade -- '92, '93, '94 -- every single year I thought we were the best team in the league." 

Like a football encyclopedia, Shanahan then rattled off details from all the conference championship games between the 49ers and Cowboys. From Steve Young to Ken Norton, Deion Sanders and Eric Davis, Alvin Harper and Michael Irvin, Shanahan remembered it all.

He wasn't surprised one bit that the winner of the NFC championship went on to win it all each of those three seasons. 

"That was a part of my childhood that was just such cool football, because everyone knew those three NFC championships, those three years, those were the Super Bowl," Shanahan said. 

The coach turned 42 years old one month ago. His oldest player on the 49ers is 39, but they have 26 players who are 25 years old or younger. When I asked if his players understand the gravity of this old rivalry, he didn't hesitate with his answer.

"Not at all," Shanahan said immediately with a laugh. "I wish I could say yes, but I mean, some of these players were born in the 2000s. You would like to say so." 

For someone who turned 30 last summer, Shanahan then even made me feel old. 

"Every day in the quarterback room I ask them questions from 'Wedding Crashers' and stuff, and they don't know what that is sometimes. You'd be very surprised at the difference in some of this stuff."

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That doesn't mean the moment isn't lost on his players. This season has been a roller coaster of emotions and the ride continues with what was once the biggest rivalry in the NFL.

It's also the first time the 49ers have been in the playoffs since blowing a lead and losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. They've been waiting for their revenge, and what better team to get it from than the Cowboys. 

"Our guys know how big of a deal the playoffs are, and our guys are pumped for this game -- no matter who we're playing," Shanahan said.

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