As I am now home resonating on the past five days, I find it both perplexing and gratifying to realize all the history I have just experienced. This is not your typical article that you would normally see me write.
No. It’s more personal.
By now, some of you know the story on how I came about being a Forty-Niner fan. Yes, it was my love for Nebraska football and for Roger Craig. In 1983, I made the choice to follow this unique and humble running back, to what is now known as one of the most talked about dynasties in American football.
I can recall many games in my mind through out these past 30 years. I can recall the heart ache. As my favorite sports broadcaster, Jim McKay, would say, “the agony of defeat.” However, I, also, remember our glory years.
Our star players who would never win a ring. Garrison Hearst who had one of the most remarkable comebacks in NFL history, twice. Our quarterback acquisitions that made me scratch my head, especially after embracing the likes of Montana and Young. I mean, Drunkenmiller? Detmer? Really? (Kidding).
When we had gotten Mike Singletary as a linebackers coach, (even Tom Rathman as running back coach) I had felt like a whole new energy — filled with an unexplainable cavalier-like resurgence — had come over me. Perhaps it was long overdue hope. Maybe we could start rebuilding our team.
As with any other football fan, we have our roller coaster of emotions. We take the good with the bad. We take the hard licks, we take the triumphs. It happens.
This is football.
Upon arriving in San Francisco, I, unexpectedly, met and briefly chatted with Paul Walker (Fast and Furious, Varsity Blues) in the airport. His brother and he were attending the 49’ers football game on Sunday. Nice guy!
I, then, was taken to Candlestick Park. Standing on the outside of the fence, it was hard to take in all those years of sentiment. Was I a kid again or what? I was thinking about all those games that had been played since 1971 in this stadium. All those moments, all those records made, all those coaches under Bill Walsh and all the other 49’er fans that have been able to endure the game.
What I was feeling at that exact moment is indescribable. Really.
This season is the Farewell Season for Candlestick Park. As they are in the progress of building Levi Stadium, in Santa Clara, many Niner Faithful are coming to ‘The Stick’ to pay their last respects. Myself included.
The untold blessings about this franchise and their fans are the friendships. In fact, I am not so sure that it could be restricted to being called a friendship. This past five days was more like a family reunion! So, I stand corrected. They are family!
The gal on the left in the pic above (Michele), is who I met in Canton, Ohio, three years ago during Jerry Rice’s induction into the Hall of Fame. She lives in South Carolina. I live in South Dakota. Our paths crossed in Ohio and we have been enjoying this journey together since. In fact, she insisted on being there, this past week, when I went to Candlestick for my first time. She did not disappoint.
As Friday went on, we meandered down to the famous Fisherman’s Wharf. There is a ton of diversity walking the sidewalks of Pier 39. People from all over the world coming to take in the sight of the bay area. Including the Indianapolis Colt’s fans.
I knew I was not alone.
All the fresh seafood, the colorful businesses, the different smells. Walking from one shop to the next you could smell lotions, then fresh baked sourdough bread, then the sewer, then newly made chocolate…it was an intriguing atmosphere.
We had walked over to the NFL Shop and low-and-behold we had seen a banner that said “Bubba Paris.” We had thought that they were hanging the banner for the next day considering it was 6:30 pm. That wasn’t the case. There Bubba sat behind a table signing autographs.
I felt like I had won a teddy bear at the fair! Enormous in size, playful at heart. Although, do not ever approach Bubba and tell him you’re a Nebraska fan. Not suggested. He has a ton of banter material waiting – considering he’s a Wolverine. (I can’t imagine what the locker room and exchanged barbs were like between him, Roger Craig or Tom Rathman).
On Saturday, we were blessed with a complimentary ferry tour to the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the Bay Bridge. I am telling you, these Niner fans want to make sure that your first time here is memorable! It just so happens, that a Niner fan, we know, works for the tour company. Another bonus!
Most people are excited to have the opportunity to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time. Well, we went under the bridge! I am always one that “dares to be different.” I will have to admit, I never did travel over the Golden Gate Bridge (…this time).
If you ever get the opportunity to take this tour from Pier 39, do it! There is a ton of history to this city, it’s structures (including Alcatraz) and the founding people that you would not normally learn about by just walking the sidewalks of the Wharf.
By this time, I am truly grateful that I am a Niner fan. What other city could offer this much?
And it is only day two?
Next, we ventured over to the famous Lombard Street. The easiest entrance to it is at Hyde and Lombard. The crookedest street in the United States. Truly giving a good photo opportunity, you’re able to see the climbing hills and streets of the city and the flowers that line Lombard street are beautiful as well. (Plan on at least 30 minutes for this tour due to high traffic).
Another small treat to this trip? America’s Cup. We seen the Oracle Team and was excited to which USA came back and beat New Zealand for the title. USA!
Later Saturday afternoon, we met friends in San Jose at Los Gatos Brewery. This is a divine meeting place that has excellent food! Beware of the (San Jose) Sharks! The SAP Center, home of the “Shark Tank” is only 3 blocks away! They had a preseason hockey game going on while we were dining.
For our night cap, we walked down to Sherman Cellars Wine Tasting Room. Of course, it was after hours, but owner Larry Sherman gave us the presidential treatment. A nice, quaint meeting place amongst friends. Grab a bottle of Creekview wine and some chocolates. You will thank me later!
Day three has arrived! Game time at the Stick. We arrived in the parking lot at 9:00 am and started tailgating with Club 49. Food and drink for days! I can not recall the last time I was cracking a beer at 9:00 am, but hey, if you can’t beat ’em….
Club 49 is known for the notorious cow bell. When they ring this thing, you either get in line or RUN! That sound means it is shot time! Patron, Peach vodka, Wild Turkey, whatever you desire! Shot time among Niner Faithful is like a family tradition… <queue music>
“When that doctor asked me
Son how did you get in this condition?
I said hey sawbones I’m just carryin on
An old CANDLESTICK tradition!!”
Normally, Club 49 will take their group photo an hour before the game. Considering we wanted to visit other tailgaters, I organized a quick group photo so that we could mosey on. (Truth be told, I was going onto my third shot). These guys know how to tailgate!! Yes, you guessed it! Another bonus!!
As we made our way into Candlestick Park, we stopped in and seen the Hall of Fame Museum. And so, the history began. Leo Nomellini, YA Tittle, Joe “the Jet” Perry, Ronnie Lott, the five Lombardi trophies, this enriched history into the franchise was overwhelming to see up close.
I promise you that it is extremely difficult to digest all this in a matter of minutes, let alone five days. Life has become a cloud. You are floating, yet walking. You have no care in the world, yet you are trying to retain all that is going on before your eyes.
Once we were in the stadium and me seeing Bill Walsh Field for the first time, elation came over me and I will not post those photos. Trust me, I was moved!
We had gone down to the field railing seats to which I was able to encounter, meet and speak with former linebacker Keena Turner. Are these bonuses ever going to stop?!?
I am starting to think like tightrope walker Nik Wallenda and his journey across the Grand Canyon in which he thanked Jesus about twenty times?
Thank you, Lord! For I am truly blessed!
Jerry Rice had just passed in front of us, waving. Bryant Young was there as well. All the cheerleaders of the Niner’s past were there giving a halftime show. I even met and shook hands with Paraag Marathe, the Chief of Niner’s Operations.
After the game, in which we lost to the Colts, 27-7, we drove down to Fremont to Jack’s Brewery to meet the original member of the Niner Empire booster club.
The Husker fans also meet here! Huge Nebraska presence!
Although, it was not exactly the Victory Dinner we had planned, does it really matter at this point? Our respective teams lose at times and honestly, I was just happy to be amongst family to share stories and talk football. This was all a win for me!
On Monday, we put on our fitness clothes, tied up our running sneakers and was going to Edgewood Park to go endure the “Hill.” You know the one. The infamous “Hill” that Roger Craig, Jerry Rice and other Niner football players have trained on.
If you get the map for this online, do not get discouraged, just follow the directions. You will be more concerned as to whether you can make it to the top than you will about getting lost. There is actually no way to get lost, you just have to stay on the right trail. Stay hydrated!
By staying on the right trail, you will know. Your thighs start burning, the incline is not your friend and if you are in the ages of being “not in shape”, it is okay. You’re just going to sweat a lot and just think you have died. HA! This is not the case for me. I was anxious, motivated and proceeding in a good pace. Um…walking.
I won’t try to make it sound like I was training for the Olympics or anything, I would indeed wind up in the hospital if I tried to run this hill, but even walking it is exhilarating. I promise.
No wonder these guys won so many Super Bowls! I can not imagine running this hill. Nonetheless, it was a spiritual awakening for me. The smell of the sage is abundant. The views are outstanding and to finally reach the top, knowing that this is where Roger, Jerry and the others stood…very rewarding! By this time, you would have to ask yourself, does this trip to San Francisco ever end? Well, we had one more stop to make.
The grand finale.
A private tour of Candlestick Park. This was a surprise for me. My “family” had known about this and everyone played it off beautifully! I am not even thinking about paybacks at this time, but this surprise was definitely overwhelming!
Here we go with more history. Only this time, I will stand where they stood. I will be a part of their everyday life as football players, as 49er’s and as world champions. That moment. That very moment when you get a sense of one.
As a fan, I am not worthy. As a sports writer and broadcaster, this is why we do what we love. To be connected to the greatest athletes, the most honorable coaches and the Hall of Famers that have come before us.
The Farewell to Candlestick tour could not be complete with out the Ladies of the Empire and Amanda at Tour the Stick . Fabulous job!!
Their passion that they share with fans to give you the ability for a hands on experience is priceless!
As I sit here at the airport waiting for my flight to board, there is a humble reflection taking place! On my flight over and now my flight home, I will continue reading my “travel” book. I read Chris Kyle’s American Sniper while I am traveling on flights.
This book not only makes me realize what our brave men and women have sacrificed for my family and I, Chris’s service along with millions of others before him (and currently) are a grateful reminder that I am able to enjoy these moments.
I am always about perspective.
To my family (and to the city) that gave me the warmest welcome to San Francisco, I sincerely thank you. For we may have been brought together by a football team, these moments you shared with me are more than I could ever envisioned.
Three decades of waiting was worth EVERY minute.
To be able to travel, be one with others in a fellowship like this, to witness the Farewell to Candlestick and to be a part of a team fan-base that embraces first-timers…I would not have wanted it any other way.
For those I met along the way, when I told you this was my first game as to which you all replied, “What took you so long??”
I could only tell you now, “It’s timing. It is all about the timing.”
I am proud to be a San Francisco 49’er…but most importantly…
I am proud to be an American!
Until next time San Francisco….