NFL San Francisco 49ers and the Church of Football
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In the classic film, "Bull Durham," (1988), the actress Susan Sarandon playing Annie Savoy delivers a stirring monologue on "The Church of Baseball." To this day, it is the most quotable monologue about any sport.
Annie was voicing a dirty little secret that no one had talked about before. Sports fans worship their sport with all the loyalty, devotion, vitality and energy of any religious enthusiast.
The first time I attended a professional football game in Candlestick Park, back in 1979, I was impressed at the infectious energy in the stadium. I arrived a skeptic with a wry, knowing smirk on my face, and I left with a whole new vista to explore.
The stadium, watching the local team lose badly, was electric. At times the seats shook like an earthquake from the stomping of feet and the jumping of people excited by a single play. The seats of the very firm stands shook, rattled and rolled. One almost needed Dramamine to prevent motion sickness.
At first that was scary; so much energy, so much deafening noise, so much movement all around me from people who were not passive watchers. They were live, excited, nervously jumping about participants in a complicated ritual that, although organized, had an undetermined outcome. They jumped, they booed, they yelled so loud no one could hear them. They pouted, they cried and they laughed. It was an emotional climax a minute.
I was in awe of the crowd. I had not seen such energy since a tent revival in the deep South a decade earlier, and that only sported a hundred people. This arena had tens of thousands of people, all in full throat and fury.
It was a tent revival, a holy roller, a rock and roll concert, a hundred high school Friday nights rolled into one. I had to know more. I was hooked.
The next year the pitiful team we watched lose that night at Candlestick started the climb to becoming something special. A new coach started a revival into what in NFL circles is known as a 'dynasty.' For 14 years, from 1980, (Joe Montana’s first year that went 6-10, a distinct improvement over the 2-14 record of 1979), until 1994 they blew away the league. They became the famous San Francisco 49ers, permanently changing the character of the game as they went.
Then, for the next 17 years they slowly faded out with a few playoff highlights. By 2010 they were seemingly hopeless losers again.
But the stands still filled. The faithful never left the temple of football.
In 2011 the 49ers came alive again. Sparked by a new coach with a vision they had a winning season and went to the playoffs, missing the ultimate nirvana, the Super Bowl, by the bounce of an oddly shaped ball.
The faithful said they always knew they would. And in 2012 they almost won it all, losing the Super Bowl in the last few seconds.
All this time the fans stayed with them. Known as the '49er Faithful' they still cheered, cried, yelled, stomped their feet and booed. They did not give up the fervor required of their faith.
So, now it is only two weeks from August, when the preseason gives the fans some more demonstrations from their favorite team. Then, just six weeks away, the start of a new season, with some new players, a new starting quarterback, and certainly some new plays that will astound and entertain.
This is the last year at Candlestick; the new stadium will be ready for 2014.
And there is talk of the start of a new dynasty, with Colin Kaepernick at the helm. After two winning seasons the Niners seem poised to be unstoppable.
One can feel the anticipation, the underground energy rising in the atmosphere. The faithful are getting nervous. It is almost time for the stands to shake, rattle and roll again.
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