Last Saturday, when Beth was here, we headed out with some friends to McGreevy’s to watch the 49ers take on the Saints. I have become a full on 49er cynic over the past decade, so I had no hopes of a victory…just wishing for a good game. My non-expert opinion about the 49ers on January 14th was that they were a nice story with some good players, a great defense, a coach who was leading them in the right direction, but a likely inflated 13-3 record. No way they beat a “real” team with a “real” quarterback like the Saints and Drew Brees.
But they won and they won in epic fashion and suddenly I was swept into full on nostalgia mode.
Here’s the deal: I love baseball. If I could only take one professional sport with me to a deserted island I would take baseball. But the thing I’ve realized with the 49ers here recently is how deeply the niners (and football) are ingrained in my sporting memory. I don’t know that I enjoy sports as much as I do today without the 49ers.
The first sporting event that I really remember in great detail is the 49ers-Bengals super bowl with “the drive” (49ers won 20-16 on a last second Montana to Taylor touchdown pass). I literally remember almost everything about that game.
I also remember in great detail the next season (89/90), when the Niners dominated professional football and capped the year off with a 55-10 pounding of the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
And I remember the next season as well (90/91)…I remember going to the Monday night game that pitted the 10-1 49ers vs. the 10-1 NY Giants. I remember being freezing cold and the Niners winning a brutal 7-3 slugfest. That game was huge because it gave the 49ers the inside track to home field advantage for the playoffs.
And I remember the rematch in the NFC Championship game when the Giants won 15-13 on five field goals. In 8 quarters the Giants never scored a touchdown against the 49ers that season. I remember watching that last second field goal go through the uprights and thinking it was a mistake. In my 10-year-old world, the 49ers DID NOT lose. It couldn’t be real.
That game was the first time I had ever felt utterly devastated after a loss. I was too young to remember the SF Giants meltdown against the Cardinals in 1987 NLCS. And while losing the 1989 World Series to the A’s was a bummer, that whole experience was defined by the Loma-Prieta earthquake. Even as a nine-year old I knew bigger and more important things were going on. Plus the 49ers were well on their way to winning another Super Bowl.
That 1990 team, the team that certainly could have/should have become the only team to win 3 straight super bowls, was my first genuine sports heartbreak. It prepared me thoroughly for what the Giants would do to me over the next 20 years. And it tought me to cherish championships because they do not come every year, even though it felt that way as 10-year-old 49er fan.
Furthermore, the Niners were a family tradition. My grandfather loved them , my dad loved them, his brothers loved them. Stories were told of trecks to old Kezar Stadium. We watched plenty of games at my grandparents house back in the day. Those are some of my most vivid extended family memories.
The 49ers played on Sunday and we had a lot to do on Sunday as a pastor’s family, so there was something beautiful about listening to the first couple of drives on the radio on the way home from church and then the fam crashing in the family room around the TV to cheer on the team that would win almost every week.
So, watching Alex Smith lead the team to a last-minute victory, watching Candlestick Park explode with euphoria…those images unlocked some deep memories and powerful waves of nostalgia.
But here’s the other thing I’ve learned. I’m a baseball guy. I’m bummed the Niners lost on Sunday and won’t be going for their 6th Super Bowl in my life time. I’m kind of relieved though…I live in Boston. I’d have to hear about this thing from the Patriots perspective for two weeks. That might have been unbearable.
Nothing feels as bad as when the Giants lose in the playoffs…when the baseball season is over. And nothing in my sports watching life has been as satisfying as when the Giants won the World Series.
Love the Niners, yeah, but man, I really love baseball!