A Long Way from Kezar: Starting Season No. 64 As a 49er Fan
As we approach the 2009 season, there is more hope for this 'Niner team than any in a long time. Speaking of a long time, I guess my run as a 'Niner fan has been one of the longest.
It began when I was a child of three and my dad took me for a walk across the street in Golden Gate Park. Living on Fulton Street, we crossed into the park and behind Spreckels Lake to visit the Polo Field.
There was the new professional football team in town, the San Francisco 49ers. It was 1946. He pointed to these guys wearing red shirts and said, "That's your team." How right he was.
The next year, I attended my first game against the New York Yankees and also got to see us play the Buffalo Bills. It was nice having four uncles, all with season tickets, and all of whom lived only two blocks away and loved to take their young nephew with them.
One of the most memorable games of all occurred when I was just six. It was 1948 and the undefeated Cleveland Browns came to Kezar. They were 12-0, the 'Niners were 11-1 and this was the game of the year.
All 60,000 tickets to the game were sold out weeks in advance. The undefeated Browns and the exciting, high-scoring 49ers were the talk of the professional football world and the rival NFL and their champion Chicago Bears didn't exactly like the competition.
In their first meeting in Cleveland, the Niners had lost a 14-7 squeaker. Although outplayed, they still had blown their opportunities to win the game. Forrest Hall fumbled the opening kickoff leading to a 7-0 Browns lead in the first minute of the game.
Alyn Beals, one of the most sure-handed receivers in the game dropped a TD pass, and reliable running back, Johnny Strzykalski, fumbled to end a long drive.
Revenge was approaching. Although only six (6), I have vivid memories of that day. It was a wild and crazy game that went down to the wire. The 'Niners took a 14-10 halftime lead, only to have the Browns run up 21 points in an explosive third quarter.
The 'Niners rallied but lost a 31-28 heartbreaker. Cleveland went on to finish the season undefeated—the only team besides the Miami Dolphins to have ever done so.
As I sit here looking over my program from that day in 1948, I am examining the names of some of the Browns that jump off the page.
Quarterback Otto Graham, perhaps the greatest QB in history; fullback Marion Motley; kicker Lou Groza, punter Horace Gillom, receivers Dante Lavelli, Mac Speedie, and Dub "Special Delivery" Jones. The names Lou Saban and Ara Parseghian also stand out.
A loyal 'Niner fan to the core, I waited until 1981 (a long time from 1946) to experience the thrill of winning our first Super Bowl and enjoyed every victory along the way. During those years I learned a valuable life's lesson: PATIENCE.
In my humble opinion, the 1984 49ers were the best 'Niner team ever, and the greatest football team of all time—period.
Now we approach the 2009 season with a lot of hope for the future. Mike Singletary is a man with a mission and will become a great coach for the 'Niners. He has added considerable talent among the coaches including Tom Rathman, Jimmy Raye and Al Harris.
I fully expect that this year's team will win the NFC West and begin another run as a perennial winner. Looking back over the years, I have to consider myself one of the luckiest people alive to have had this opportunity. I'll always love the 49ers.
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