Before we get started, there is something you should know about me. I am a 49ers fan. Yes, I live in Seattle and yes, I root for the 49ers.
For years, this fact didn’t seem to matter much to my Seattle friends. Maybe it was because both of our teams were bad during those years. But something has definitely changed as of late. In the last two years Seattle has found itself a hero in its football team, and rightfully so. Unfortunately for me, in order for there to be a hero, there needs to be a villain. And Seattle has given that honor to my team.
I have been rooting for the 49ers since I was 6, sitting in my Bay Area living room witnessing the greatest moment in 49ers history: The Catch. I don’t remember if I actually saw The Catch happen live, but I do remember seeing a room full of family members and friends scream at the top of their lungs, hug, jump up and down, and throw me in the air in celebration after Joe Montana connected with Dwight Clark on a miraculous play that sent the Niners past their rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, and into their first-ever Super Bowl. It was the first of many moments in my life where I have celebrated a San Francisco team’s win with family, friends and perfect strangers.
The latest of these occurred last month when, on a trip to the Bay Area for the holidays, I was lucky enough to be in town during the final game at Candlestick Park, a shrine where I had seen countless 49ers and Giants games and where I had celebrated and suffered with fellow fans. It was a dump of a ballpark, let’s be honest. However, it was our dump, San Francisco’s own sandlot. As I watched the 49ers play against the Atlanta Falcons in that final game and took in the ceremonies memorializing that old park I found myself choked up, remembering so many amazing moments I had spent there. Moments that made me hug every stranger within arms reach as if we had all just won the lottery, moments that made up for the countless others that resulted in deep despair or the early stages of hypothermia that could set in if you sat in your seat for too long. (It may seem unbelievable that San Francisco could get that cold, but a combination of a terrible location that was better suited for a wind farm than a sports stadium, and the heavy fog of the marine layer, made it so that Candlestick Park was one of the coldest and windiest places to see a game, especially during baseball season.)
All that week I heard countless people from the Bay Area share their favorite memories of Candlestick Park. I’d hear the stories as I stood in line at the grocery store, as I turned on the local sports talk radio and as I sat at the dinner table with my family. I talked about what it was like to see Joe Montana lead comeback after comeback, to watch Steve Young turn blown up plays into miracles with his running abilities and to see Ronnie Lott crush players from the other team on a weekly basis. The tales told by those who were older than me always seemed to include where they were when The Catch happened. I remember seeing the play replayed on the TV, over and over again, as my dad repeated the words, “I can’t believe it” and “finally.” Thirty-one years later, as I heard those personal accounts of The Catch told by countless others, I kept hearing that word again: “finally.” “It finally happened.”
Prior to The Catch, the 49ers were pretty terrible. For years they had fallen short to the Dallas Cowboys, who always seemed to be on another level, the roadblock that kept the 49ers from moving forward. The city itself had never won a championship and it wasn’t until that moment in 1981 that 49ers fans and the people of San Francisco knew that they had a real team, a real franchise, and most importantly, the hope that there would be reason to celebrate in the future.
I have to admit that hearing those stories of where the 49ers were before The Catch reminded me a lot of where Seattle is now. The 49ers fans were and still are passionate about their team, but it seems the rest of the country’s football fans didn’t take them seriously back then because they lacked any real winning history. I hear my friends talk now about their Seahawks and I watch as they get into debates over whose team is better on a daily basis. I enter those debates from time to time and, yes, sometimes I’m not very nice. But I recognize that any disrespect thrown their way must be no different than the kind of jabs that were likely thrown at 49ers fans before Joe Montana and Dwight Clark changed everything with that one play.
I love Seattle, I truly do. The people here are kind and eager to celebrate. The city itself has provided my family opportunities that our Bay Area home couldn’t and for that I am grateful. And even though my team loyalties will never change, I will debate anyone who thinks San Francisco is a better place to live than Seattle.
So from this 49ers fan to all of you Seattle Seahawks fans, I just want to say that I truly hope that you have your own moment with years of amazing games, favorite players and memories to follow.
One of the things that sports fandom has taught me is that winning teams have a unifying effect on a city, bringing folks from all walks of life together in celebration. My hope is that my friends and neighbors here can experience what my old friends and neighbors did back in 1981.
So, here’s to years of amazing memories, of dramatic games that make you reflect on where you were when “that play” happened, to hugging strangers in the stadium or in your neighborhood bar when your team wins a big one, and of making it to the NFC championship in the most dramatic fashion, only to lose to San Francisco.
Read the rest of Seattle Weekly's collection of stories and essays inspired by this year's Seahawks team here.