Although I was never an official card carrying member of Berkeley Farm’s 49er Minor Club, I always managed to sit in that far end zone section during those lean years when our boys were a doormat for the rest of the NFC West. This was back in the day when Namath was closing out his glory years, and I watched the 49ers sack him so many times during one game that I almost felt as if the remains of his panty hosed knees were left somewhere on the artificial turf. That victory over the New York Jets was one of only a few victories I had watched while seated in the 49er Minor Club section, but the games were always free.
In many ways, the 49er games back in those Minor Club seats reminded me of the Saturday afternoon movie matinees at the Coliseum Theater on Clement and 7th Avenue. With these 49er games, my softball coach Mr. Lau would pile many of us in his little compact car, and we would putter on side streets, the poor tires most likely unable to bear the weight of too many youth passengers sitting on laps, trying to poke fingers at the AM pre-set dials. Once at the stadium, we made our way to the 49er Minor Club section, where we were free to throw popcorn and switch seats, something we seemed to do with each passing quarter as the 49ers stumbled and fumbled their way to consecutive fourth downs.
Perhaps during the first 49er Minor Club game, my friend and I tried our best to behave ourselves. We sat with our hands politely on our laps, cheering the team and trying to pay attention as the Minnesota Vikings seemed to march across to the end zone as if they were rolling a Sherman Tank over the 49ers. Football, however, can be a very long game, especially fi the team is losing. We managed to keep our composure, although our attentions began to drift in the third quarter. We tried to maintain our awe as we watched Fran Tarkenton, who had been on our TV sets in razor blade commercials, but we ended up walking through the stands until the game was finished.
By the time we attended our third 49er Minor Game, we participated in the mayhem of popcorn tossing and seat switching with the rest of the lot. It was chaos and fun, and we made temporary stadium friends that we would laugh with until it was time to go home. We never spoke of them, forgot names and quickly filed the experience away under “another 49er loss”.
As the San Francisco 49ers open the new Levi Stadium, I doubt there is that specific section designated for youths. In fact, modern football seems to be all about licensing and corporate boxes, especially in the case of the 49ers, who only had to open a stadium in Silicon Valley for most loyal fans to understand that the old Kezar Stadium holders could never match the financial clout of tech money. This sort of thing is great for revenue and business, but does it potentially block out the sort of youth that might develop roots that would grow into a deeply loyal fan?
The San Francisco Giants have been masters in grooming a loyal fan base from the local youth back in the Horace Stoneham days. We were the ones who obtained game tickets for those long summer school days where we were given obscure seats in the upper decks. We were allowed to go to many games, mere children who were given the chance to watch free, live baseball so that we could sink our roots into the stadium, the astro turf, the flying hot dog wrappers and, most importantly, into the orange and black. Childhood friends clutched their own toddlers to their heart, indoctrinating them early on to San Francisco Giants baseball and loyalty while so very young in hopes of continuing a tradition that began with their own parents. When the team kept threatening to move, many of us took to the grass roots efforts to keep the team in San Francisco. We mailed postcards to the O’Malleys in Los Angeles, hoping that the Dodger ownership would be instrumental in keeping the team back in San Francisco. We stood in the street asking for signatures on voting measures, and we discussed these issues at length with others to keep it in the forefront of our collective minds. When the team finally won the World Series in 2010, it was our generation who shed the tears of relief, having stood by our team so loyally for no other reason than pure, deeply dedicated love for a team that we had coddled in our hearts since childhood.
In the same vein, I have watched the 49ers since childhood. We watched the cars slow in our neighborhood as fans looked for parking spaces near Golden Gate Park. We took Mr. Lau’s slow car to Candlestick to watch what we already understood would be a loss, but none of that mattered. The team mattered the most, and our loyalties would eventually be rewarded with Super Bowl after Super Bowl.
Now, however, the team has moved away to Santa Clara, into their new state-of-the-art stadium that, for all intents and purposes, does not seem to need a 49er Minor Club section to develop youthful loyalties to the club. Perhaps the belief is that anyone will watch America’s most popular game. That might be the case.
However, I live in an area that has not enjoyed NFL football in quite some time. There are no riots demanding for its return. No one is crying into their beer. The traffic to the beach is still heavy, and people in Los Angeles now cheer for the San Francisco 49ers. If a team decides to move into town, the allegiances to the 49ers will easily be broken as Southern Californians pour attentions towards the newer club. So long as somebody gets paid, who cares?
For me, football seems to have become a game played by people who should be characters in Grand Theft Auto. Michael Vick’s abuse of dogs, violence against females and a laundry list of other crimes are washed and given redemptive story arcs as if we were watching football and episodes of “All My Children”. Combined with my general dislike of the 49er ownership, my allegiance to football has drifted into oblivion.
Still, there is that part of me, that red and gold heart forged by the Joe Montanas and Dave Wilcoxes of the gridiron, that watch the sport because it is the Fall sort of all-American thing to do.
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