As men's memories become more compatible as they grow older, this year's Washington Redskins will be able to comfort themselves in the belief that, at least in their last game, they gave it their best shot.
Comfort, but not content, because they can never, ever forget that it ended with a cartoon, a caricature, a cruelly ludicrous burlesque of painful reality.
San Francisco's massive nose tackle, Michael Carter, covering all those yards with all those little steps, looked like Mr. Belvedere in distress in one of his less dignified comic situations.
Read into the scene what symbolism you will of the fact that the most serious attempt to catch Carter was made by Art Monk, the paradigm of the Redskins coaches' maddening buzzword, "consistency."
Carter's slow gallop for 61 yards in the final minutes merely tightened the 49ers' noose at the final score of 28-10. His was the cadence of a recessional, the Redskins' exit march from a season in which the little things meant too much.
It was a season of long, laborious minutes of sincere, intelligent and effective work, too often nullified by seconds of silliness, or thoughtlessness. And, one more time, Mark Rypien personified both.
He did big-league work again, completing 27 of 48 passes for 361 yards -- 87 more than Joe Montana in his magnificence -- and throwing for the Redskins' only touchdown. He moved his underdog team confidently, efficiently to a 10-7 lead in the first quarter.
And, one more time, there were the three interceptions that foreclosed the Skins' chances again.
The quarterback faced the music, as usual, copping a mea culpa for the throw that never reached Monk in the end zone midway of the third quarter, when winning was still possible.
Early in the fourth Rypien found Monk for 40 yards, then 14, Gary Clark for 12 and Monk for 9 more. On first-and-goal at the 15, Rypien aimed for Monk in the end zone again. But his arm was hit as he threw and the dying-quail pass came to rest in 49er Darryl Pollard's arms.
There were more than 10 minutes left, plenty of time for miracles, when Monte Coleman proved Montana human with an interception and returned it to the 49ers' 19. Once again the Skins' offense couldn't move the ball and Rypien had to throw on fourth down. He threw a touchdown pass.
But cornerback Eric Davis' defense against Clark in the left corner of the end zone was quite offensive. Clark removed his helmet to make his views clear to the official. His oration in a midseason game would have merited an ejection, and coach Joe Gibbs robustly seconded him, but nobody dropped the handkerchief.
It was a bad non-call, but the fact remained that life had imitated art again. Three times in a few minutes the Redskins had lived out 3-handicap Rypien's analogy: They had driven many yards, straight and true, laid the iron shot stiff to the flag -- and missed the putt. They'd done that too often, he said last Thursday. They'd made lots of pars, but missed lots of birdies.
"We had chances inside the 20 again," Rypien said, and shifted pronouns: "But I didn't get it done."
The silly things that spoiled the good work all season weren't all ill-advised or underthrown passes. There were too many dropped passes, missed tackles, dumb penalties.
The losing, as well as the winning, has been a team effort. But the simplistic answer is that Rypien has been good, but not good enough. It isn't fair, but it is a consensus in the supermarkets and bars and gas stations. It is a tide of opinion that is probably not reversible any more.
A measure of the season's cumulative frustration came when Darrell Green lost his cool. The dandy little cornerback and Jerry Rice, the 49ers' nonpareil wide receiver, are a mutual admiration society and they will resume their cordial agreement at the Pro Bowl.
Their "matchup" is almost grotesque: Green, 5 feet 8, might fulfill the 170 pounds allotted him on the scorecard if he carried several rolls of quarters; Rice, 6-2 and 200, is a custom-built "wideout."
But the good little man picked up the good big man as if he were a bag of laundry and slammed him to the turf. Rice had affronted Green by catching a pass.
Green was assessed 15 yards for unnecessary roughness. In the post-combat calm he agreed it was unnecessary, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.