Forty-Niner Fanhood: From the Past to the Future

D MillerCorrespondent IMay 20, 2009

3 Dec 2000:  A general view of a San Francisco 49ers fan during the game against the San Diego Chargers at the QualComm Stadium in San Diego, California.  The 49ers defeated the Chargers 44-17.Mandatory Credit: Stephen Dunn  /Allsport

When people meet my dad for the first time, it only takes them one glance to see that his nose has been subject to some abuse during his time.

While many of the stories surrounding my old man's crooked beak are worthy of retelling, if you ask him which one stands out the most he'll tell you my favorite story, which involves me, even though I don't remember it.

I was about two or three-years old at the time, and my dad and I were on the living room floor, perched in front of the television as both my parent's beloved San Francisco 49ers took to the field.

As the story goes—the best I can retell it—Joe Montana (the first hero of my childhood) had just hooked up with Dwight Clark, and number 87 was rumbling his way toward the end zone.

From my front row seat in good ol' Dad's lap, I joined in the cheering..."Go! Go! Go!"

And as we rocked back and forth in anticipation of a 49er score, I swung my head  forward, then back, and CRACK...I jumped up and down celebrating while my dad lay behind me nursing yet another busted nose.

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Now for all I know, it could have been Mike Wilson or Freddie Solomon scoring that touchdown. The story can get pretty fuzzy when a guy tries to replay it to you some 20 years later.

The important part is it illustrates something I was born into—the 49er Faithful.

For those of us that were kids growing up in the 1980s or 90s, being a 49er fan was a no-brainer. They were the class of the league, rarely lost, and each year they gave us legitimate Super Bowl hopes.

For our parents and grandparents, they had a rougher stretch. The stories I used to hear 15 years ago from fans that forged through the mostly hopeless years of the 60s and 70s seemed so foreign to me then—that is until the Yorks assumed control of the team earlier this decade.

My generation of course is still the most spoiled.

For the first 20 years of my life, they missed the playoffs only four times, which is one less the amount of Super Bowls they brought home.

During this stretch we spent our Sundays watching some of the greatest football ever played, by some of the most talented teams ever assembled.

We were treated to performances by multiple figures that were arguably the greatest at their respective positions in NFL history: Joe Montana at quarterback, Jerry Rice at wide receiver, Ronnie Lott at safety, and Bill Walsh at Head Coach.

Figures such as the aforementioned group carried rock star status in the Bay Area, revered by a diverse community made up of people from many walks of life, a population that had 49er fanhood as its one common denominator.

Those of course were the good old days.

As I've navigated through my 20s and started viewing the NFL as a whole, and not a 49er playground, I'm almost bothered by the fact that a San Francisco loss doesn't have me seething for an entire week until the following game's victory eases the previous week's pain.

It's the result of team mismanagement and the disappearance of the the 49ers winning culture, which took so many years to build, yet less than a decade to vanish.

And that makes me wonder—will the next generation of kids in the Bay Area find it so natural to pledge allegiance to the Gold Rush?

Will my own kids gravitate toward the 49ers like I did, or will I have to convince them they really are worth following? If I do convince them, will the team back me up?

It was looking like the next generation of the Bay Area would have the San Jose Sharks to hold in highest regard, but while they are the current winningest team out here, an entire population isn't going to put all their faith in a consistent choker—as much as it pains me to say it.

For a kid like me, whose grandparents still have pictures of Lott and Montana over the mantle amongst the rest of the family, there was never a question.

But if my own nose is ever going to get busted up in my own son's heat of 49er passion, suffice it to say, this team's going to have to pick up the slack.

From where I sit, the greatest source of hope for a return to glory isn't so much in the coaching staff or the on-field talent, as important as they are.

It's another kid from my generation, that generation of spoiled 49er fans that know what it's like to see back-to-back Super Bowl wins: who remember when there were no moral victories in San Francisco—only rare, unacceptable losses.

New team President Jed York may barely have a shred of experience as an NFL executive, but right now I'll take the other experience he has from growing up in the 49ers' winning culture of the 80s and 90s instead.

Because, as I recall, his uncle didn't have much experience either when he took over, but York was raised in that winning culture his uncle Eddie Debartolo Jr. created.

And there's a lot more to be excited about knowing one of "us" is at the helm.


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