BERKELEY, CA – So the MTM press passes came through, I went to the Niner game on Saturday. This, dear readers who may remember my MLK Day phone-ins of the past, is an annual dudes’ weekend for me and some lifelong pals up in Berkeley, Ca….which means three days of gastrointestinal power mashing and a marathon imbibing of all kinds of libations. The courtesy parking passes behind the recycling plant nearby were a real plus (seriously, free parking, one of the plant workers was leaving and happily waved us into his spot, right amid a whole row of tailgating fans…a good start to the day. There was a guy who wanted to park across the street but was told by another worker “You got the ‘who dat’ you got to go.”) Yes, if there’s a fan base out there that knows how to turn out for a playoff game, it’s the Niners, and they had been waiting for this one for a long time…
…Nine years, in fact, since January 5th, 2003, when Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens led a Niners team to 25 unanswered points (along with a dubious non-pass-interference call on a botched snap at the end), stunning Kerry Collins and the Giants by one point, 39-38. I saw a lot of vintage jerseys yesterday, lots of Montanas and Youngs, even a Tom Rathman, but not a single Garcia or Owens.
Huey Lewis and the News were singing the National Anthem as we were escorted to our seats down in the obstructed view section–the MtM ticket negotiator really did a great job–the section that has a great field level view of one end zone, and a giant grandstand in the way of the other. This is where the ticket rejects go, where they stick the ex-girlfriends and the military personnel who were invited for free (including the crew who flew The B-2s overhead for the opening, that’s what you get for flying faster than sound and still timing your arrival perfectly with the crescendo of a song you can’t hear). Never mind that, the crowd down there was fervently excited, the whole place was rocking, not a person sitting. This is a crowd that had at one time gotten used not just playoff appearances, but victories, and even if the sense of boastful confidence felt a bit dutiful–they were home underdogs to the red hot Saints after all–this is a crowd that doesn’t need any “Ram Rules” to know how to act during a playoff game.
Check out the mullet & short shorts at around 2:30:
Maybe they remembered how it felt on January 15, 1994, when Ricky Waters of all people scored five touchdowns in a 44-3 drubbing of the Giants that ignominiously ushered Phil Simms’ career to a close.
That was a long time ago, and San Francisco has endured some lean years since, particularly those coinciding with the Alex Smith era. But today the beer was flowing and the smell of garlic fries filled the air, dulling the sense of inevitability of choking up the lead…and a feeling of desperation gripped the masses, that loud cheering could perhaps ward off bad luck. This is a franchise that knows painful losses, and when the Saints finally broke through something felt inevitable about this one…
…did if feel the same way on January 20, 1991, when Matt Bahr single handedly outscored Joe Montana in Montana’s last NFC Championship – his last playoff game as a Niner? That game spring-boarded the G-Men to the “Wide Right” Super Bowl victory, would this Saints team get a similar boost?
We there on Saturday afternoon witnessed the coronation of Alex Smith as a legitimate NFL quarterback, and when the climactic action took place in the end zone right in front of us, sincere delirium took hold. Military servicemen and civilians were hugging, the tide of fans on the way up the aisles parted to let an old man in a wheelchair through, high-fiving everyone on each side. At the top of the stairs a woman was wiping away tears. Before we were even outside the stadium, the smell of garlic fries was replaced with something Tim Lincecum would’ve been happy about. This was the pandemonium of euphoria, and all anyone could think was that it would be really, really cool if next week’s game was here as well. For that to happen, though, the Giants would have to win in Green Bay against a 15-1 team…
…and last night, the Giants accommodated with a thorough smack down of a disoriented Packers reeling from in-house tragedy as well as what I’m hoping will become known as the Discount Double Check Curse. And so now the NFC championship returns to the thoroughly charming Candlestick Park, between two franchises that faced each other four times between 1981 and 1986, splitting them all, with the winner of three of them going on to win it all. This should be a terrific game. And one thing’s for sure, for the first time in a long, long time, thanks to these AFC teams still in it, I’m guaranteed of rooting for the NFC team in the Super Bowl this year.