I have to preface this trip down memory lane with a disclaimer: I was born in San Diego but loved the 49ers as soon as I really started following football.
I guess I was a bandwagon jumper in my early sports life. When I was growing up, the Oakland A's and the San Francisco 49ers ruled the West Coast.
I had a brief infatuation with Oakland back when they had the Juice, er, Bash Brothers. But I shunned the team up north for the San Diego Padres.
With my baseball team destined to be mired in mediocrity, I decided to root for San Francisco.
Anyone growing up in Southern California in the late 80s knows that the Red and Gold were all over the TV. If you didn't know any better, you'd think you were living in the Bay Area.
The first time I remember watching the 49ers play was when I was in second grade. The first game I watched was Super Bowl XXIV, San Francisco's 55-10 blowout over Denver. From that point on, I was hooked.
I went to school the next day and proceeded to tell anyone who would listen how awesome MY Niners were. I guess most kids in second grade don't give a rip about sports, because all I got in return were a bunch of empty stares.
I became a die-hard fan very quickly. I remember the NFC Championship Game the next year. When Leonard Marshall crashed into Joe Montana and Matt Bahr hit the game-winning field goal, I was devastated.
I had a 49ers hoodie on at the time. I went to my room, took off the hoodie and jumped up and down on it until I was in tears.
I can't remember ever feeling so frustrated or upset in my life prior to that moment. It was a turning point, one that converted an eight-year-old kid from a big fan to a hardcore junkie.
The years that followed after Montana's injury were, for spoiled San Francisco fans, like 40 years in the wilderness. The next year, 1991, the 49ers went 10-6 but didn't get to the playoffs.
They hadn't missed the postseason since 1982. Then there were the "Cowboy years," as I hate to call them, when San Fran couldn't get by "America's Team" (or as Jim Rome liked to call them back then, "America's Crackwagon").
The only real comfort I got in those years is when Don Beebe stripped world-renowned idiot Leon Lett to keep Dallas at 52 points in the Super Bowl, which kept SF's record of most points in a Super Bowl safely intact.
Believe it or not, I remember there being a great deal of uncertainty coming into the 1994 season. Fans wondered very loudly if Steve Young was capable of leading the team that Joe Montana shepherded to four Super Bowls in a decade. Fans also questioned if George Seifert had just rode Bill Walsh's coattails to that 1989 Super Bowl.
As it turns out, 1994 was the year the team got back on top. That year will stick out to me for a number of reasons. First, San Fran actually played the Chargers at San Diego during the regular season, and that was the first NFL game I ever went to.
When my dad showed me the tickets, I about fainted. I was so excited I couldn't contain myself. I remember how many 49ers fans were at The Murph that day. (Way back when, San Diego's stadium was Jack Murphy Stadium. God knows what it's called now. Is it still Qualcomm?)
It looked like the stadium was half blue, half red. I vividly remember a 49er fan turning around to his friend and saying, "So many weapons," in reference to the offense that consisted of Young, Rice, Taylor, Jones, and Watters.
Late in the game, Deion Sanders picked off a pass from Stan Humphries and returned it for a touchdown. He did his patented high step in the process.
Deion was one of those guys you loved if he was on your team and detested if he was on the opposition. He only wore 49er gear that one year, but it sure was worth it.
The other thing that sticks out to me about that game is that SF won 38-15. A few months later, the 49ers beat the Chargers by that same margin of victory, 23 points, in the Super Bowl.
All the loud-mouth Charger fans had been giving me hell for the two weeks leading up to the game. Afterword, not a sound.
The game itself was more like a game of Madden on rookie mode or something. SF scored seven touchdowns with relative ease, and San Diego couldn't do a thing to stop the 49ers.
It wasn't like they had a crappy defense either. The offense was just one of the most dynamic offenses in league history.
The year was special because we finally got past the Cowboys, the proverbial fly in the ointment. If you're a real San Francisco fan, you learn to hate Dallas very quickly, and I'm sure the opposite is true. Getting to stick it to them really felt good.
The Super Bowl victory also was vindication for Young. In the closing seconds of the game, he famously went over to teammate Gary Plummer and asked him to "take this monkey off my back."
He had lived under the shadow of Montana for so long, and it really wore on him. To see a man be freed from that was truly an inspirational experience.
The last reason I will remember 1994 forever is because it was the last time my team was really worth a damn. It's been a long 15 years since that glorious season.
In that time I've had to experience eight losing seasons, a six-year playoff drought, Dennis Erickson, Ken Dorsey, John York, T.O., etc.
Maybe this is my punishment for jumping on the Niners' bandwagon in my younger days. I may be suffering now, but that 1994 season made it all worthwhile.