Plenty of variety on 2005 49ers schedule

It begins at home against the team's longest-standing nemesis and ends on New Year's Day against the youngest team in the NFL. In between those two encounters, the 49ers' 2005 regular-season schedule features a southern sojourn to Mexico, a transcontinental flight to play the defending NFC champion, a brutal swing of three consecutive road games in December and enough long-distance trips to make San Francisco once again one of the most well-traveled teams in the league.

Before coach Mike Nolan's debut season finally ends on Jan. 1 against the upstart Houston Texans at Monster Park in San Francisco, the 49ers will have spent 30,506 flight miles in the air on their way to and from their eight road games – which includes distant trips to play Philadelphia, Washington and Jacksonville.

The team's away schedule, however, is highlighted by an Oct. 2 nationally-televised Sunday night game against the Arizona Cardinals at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. It will be the first regular-season game outside the United States in NFL history.

That will be San Francisco's only appearance on national television, marking the second consecutive year the 49ers – once regarded as one of the NFL's top attractions – won't be featured as part of the league's Monday Night schedule.

The 49ers kick off of the season at home for the third straight season when they host the rival St. Louis Rams, an opponent the Niners have faced off with twice yearly since the team was born 60 years ago in the old All-American Football Conference. The Rams and 49ers have met 111 times since they played for the first time in 1946 – the most of any San Francisco opponent.

That begins a rough early stretch for the Niners, who must travel to play defending NFC champion Philadelphia the next week. After a home game against Dallas and the trip to Mexico, the Niners return home to face reigning NFL MVP Peyton Manning and the defending AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts. That game will take the 49ers to their Oct. 16 bye week.

The Niners return from their bye with games against five consecutive NFC opponents. That stretch includes San Francisco's only two-game homestand of the season, an Oct. 30 game against Tampa Bay followed by a Nov. 6 meeting with the New York Giants, when the Niners will face Manning's younger brother, Eli.

San Francisco then will play five of its next seven games on the road, completing that stretch with consecutive visits to Seattle, Jacksonville and St. Louis on Christmas Eve before ending the season at home on the first day of 2006.

In addition to home-and-home games with their three NFC West foes, the 49ers will play all four teams from the NFC East and all four from the AFC South in addition to Tampa Bay of the NFC South and Chicago of the NFC North – the teams that, like the Niners, finished last in their respective divisions in 2004

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