At 9:59am on Sunday, September 23rd, I very reluctantly tuned in to watch the 49ers do their thing versus the Vikings.
I sat on the couch, remote in one hand, cocktail in the other...but this football Sunday was different. Something was out of place. Somehow, some way, things just didn't feel right.
On the opening kickoff, the 49ers were flagged for a block in the back...which would have been the right call if they were the receiving team. You see, there is no such thing as a block in the back on the kicking team...it is a non-existent call.
Needless to say, I erupted. I took off my cap, flung it to the floor and cried, "That call is impossible to make because the rule doesn't exist, you morons!"
A stream of profanity that would have made my Drill Instructors blush followed...and just about that time, I realized what was wrong. After the first bad call/misstep/outright blunder of every 49er game that we aren't watching together, my Dad almost always calls.
Invariably, he'll say, "Don't worry kiddo, things will work out. Just watch."
But today there was no call. You see, my Dad finally lost his battle with multiple myeloma on the evening of Saturday, September 22. I was there by his side with the rest of my family, as we had been all week long. To say that this had already been the worst week of my life would be a euphemism of tremendous proportions.
As I watched the game go on, and watched the Niners' chances of winning become more and more remote, my thoughts kept going back to Pop.
He was the guy that taught me to throw a football. He was the guy that taught me to tackle. He was the guy that let me in on the fact that we were related to legendary Navy HB Joe Bellino. He bought me my very first 49er jersey (Freddie Solomon, #88). He was a huge part of my love for the sport, and of the 49ers.
We watched each and every 49er Super Bowl together with the exception of XXIX, which I was forced to watch from work on TV in the bar at Chili's in Mountain View (such is life for a college kid waiting tables).
In January 1982, while I was trying my best to remain optimistic in the face of a blistering comeback led by Bengals' QB Kenny Anderson, Pop told me, "Just watch kiddo. The Niners will hold here. Goal line stand coming up, right now."
Pop was right. Three plays later, Danny Bunz made the most awesome goal line stop I have ever seen.
In January 1985, we sat side by side on the couch at grandma's house, biting our nails when rookie lineman Guy McIntyre mishandled a squib kick late in the 2nd quarter, giving the Dolphins a last second field goal. Pop casually looked at the clock and said, "Let's go play catch. Then we can come back in after halftime and watch the Niners take these guys apart in the second half. They'll be fine. You'll see."
Yet again, my old man had proven to be an outstanding prognosticator. By the end of the game the 49ers had put on a clinic, winning in a rout, 38-16.
In January 1989, late in the 4th quarter, we watched the final drive begin at the 49er 8-yard line. Cincinnati's defense had been keeping the Niners' explosive offense in check all game long. When they were flagged for holding, making down and distance 2nd and 20 with time running out, he told me, "Rice is gonna go deep here. Watch. They'll convert. Everything will be fine."
Less than 2 minutes later, we were jumping up and down in the middle of my grandparents' living room...Joe Montana and John Taylor had just secured the 49ers third Lombardi Trophy. Dad was right again.
January, 1990: Denver had been there before
and lost every single time. Pop called this one early. "Kiddo", he told me, "this is going to be a blowout."
Three hours later, we looked at the score in stunned silence. No team had ever won a Super Bowl by 45 points. The 49ers had prevailed, 55-10...and just like that, they had won four Super Bowls. Oh, and Pop was right again.
But for all of the good times we had watching the 49ers, we had some rough ones, too. The seven seasons between the departure of Steve Marriucci and the hiring of Coach Harbaugh dragged on like a decade of water-torture. There weren't very many happy Sundays in the Bolino family during that stretch. Not many at all.
That is what made last season so special. Getting the chance to watch the 49ers return to prominence with him was huge. It was a chance to really love football again. It was a chance to see my Dad smile again. It was a chance to reminisce about how much fun Sunday afternoons were in the dynasty years. It was a chance to talk about how much fun we were going to have watching this new and improved 49er team make some noise going forward.
The Monday after the 49ers pulled out their opening week win against the Packers at Lambeau, Pop gave me a call at the office.
"Have you checked your blood pressure since that (non-called) block in the back? Bad calls or not, the 49ers really kicked their asses and took their lunch money didn't they? Mark my words; they're going places this season, kid. Just watch."
We both laughed harder than either of us had in a long while. The Niners were worth watching again, and all was right with the world. As fate would have it that was the last time that he and I would talk football.
As Sunday's game wound down, the booze ran out and the 49ers' record fell to 2-1, I sat on the couch, quietly trying to make sense of all that had happened over the past few days. This was my first Niner game without Dad. Though it seemed that things couldn't have gotten much worse, I felt a strange sense of peace come over me. And it was then that I realized exactly what Pop would have said had he been there: "Things will be alright, kiddo. Just wait. You'll see."
And do you know what? As usual, he'd be absolutely right.
Date: October 7, 2012 at 5:02 PM
Comment: Beautiful story. It seems like you and your father not only shared the love of the game but the love of a father and son. I can only hope that I can be a role model for my sons like your father was to you. Very inspiring
Date: October 2, 2012 at 12:59 PM
Comment: Thank you do much for sharing. I lost my fad 29 years ago. He was the one who introduced me to Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott and Bill Walsh.
What a well written piece. There is a heaven specifically for all 49er fans when our time comes. Where every Sunday will always be like that.
Date: October 1, 2012 at 4:15 AM
Comment: That was an amazing article, brought tears to my eyes. Through your pain you shared with your readers the special bond you had with your father & the 49ers. How through the years the this special bond brought you & your father so close. Always remember your Dad & Grandma P will be on both sides of you following the game with you!! Cheering you on no matter the outcome of the game. Keep up the great work, things will get easier in time. Keep the passion & memories alive with your son. Its not important if you win or loose the game, it all in how you play. You my friend have always played hard & the outcomes shines in the amazing man & father you are today!!
Date: September 30, 2012 at 5:19 PM
Comment: Wow. That was good stuff. I lost my Dad too but quite a while ago. Good memories like those are the salve that soothes the heartache of losing someone you love..
Hope your pain is soothed by them
Date: September 30, 2012 at 1:38 AM
Comment: Evocative article. Well done. I kinda think Leo Nomellini would have liked reading this one. Woulda warmed his heart...
Date: September 29, 2012 at 9:51 PM
Comment: Sorry for ur loss. Great read, keep up the good work
Date: September 29, 2012 at 8:00 PM
Comment: Thank you for sharing your dad with us, AJ. You've touched a chord with so many of us who love the Niners and who have loved and lost a father. Which only makes the comment by Terry B aka Ken even more discordant. The thing about catchphrases is they are common. Just because one sportswriter used it in a story doesn't mean it's off limits to everyone else. Keep up the good work and I look forward to more stories from you.
Date: September 29, 2012 at 5:32 PM
Comment: Hey brother, that was a great article. I lost my dad 4 years ago. It's terrible but take it from me it does get easier to deal with in time. (1 1/2 years for me). You, me, millions of Niner fans and yes I believe even our dads have lots of good 49er football to watch. God Bless.
Date: September 29, 2012 at 6:17 AM
Comment: Oh wow. This made me cry. Sorry AJ.
By: Adam V
Date: September 28, 2012 at 9:09 PM
Comment: That was a great read and I for one believe your pops cause he believed! LETS GO NINERS!
Date: September 28, 2012 at 6:00 PM
Comment: I grew up with my Dad in much the same way that you did - your story brought back a lot of memories for me. He passed away the year befoe Harbaugh came to SF. I wish he was here with me to see pride return to the 49ers. You were lucky to have had that experience. Thanks for sharing and for the trip down memory lane! Great article.
Date: September 28, 2012 at 3:28 PM
Comment: WHAT KIND OF GRUB USES A DEEPLY HEARTFELT EULOGY TO DELIVER AN EGOTISTICAL DIATRIBE UNDER THE GUISE OF A LESSON IN JOURNALISM? MAY I JUST SAY: KEN, YOU SEEM TO BE A PERSON WITH A SOMEWHAT BLOATED SENSE OF SELF. AND IN THE FUTURE, CONTROL YOUSELF.
By: Lucky Phil
Date: September 28, 2012 at 3:18 PM
Comment: Beautiful story AJ. Thanks for sharing it with us. The Niners have always been that escape every week, the one game I never miss and always look forward too. I know your father is still watching those Niners, a fan this large never goes away. I am sure he has the best seat in the house. And thats sitting with you every sunday, AJ. His spirit will always be with you. Best wishes to you and your family.
Date: September 28, 2012 at 1:54 PM
Comment: Sorry to hear about your dad. I remember going to kezar with my dad, he worked so much we didn't have much time together. He told me Eddie d's father Mr D would not let his son or the 49 ers lose. He was correct. Things have changed so much recently, I hope our kids & grand kids can have the same kind of memories. You & I had.
Date: September 28, 2012 at 1:31 PM
Is your name really Terry?
BS from other commenters aside:
This is one of my favorite articles you have written. It captures your love of all things football and 49ers, and your relationship with your dad. Who's going to tell you to calm down on Sundays now that he's not around?
By: Dallas Niner Fan
Date: September 28, 2012 at 12:46 PM
Comment: So Sorry to hear about your Dad, but at least those wonderful memories will stay with you forever. I understand how you feel. I remember watching the great Juan Marichal of the Giants pitch a no hitter at Candlestick with my late father and my brother. Memories never die.
Date: September 28, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Comment: Great read! I've never really bonded with pops outside of sports. Growing up in the late 80's to 90's my pops would record ALL the SF Giants and niners playoff games and play em all year long. I've became a die hard ever since I was 6 (89 World Series, SB XXIII) In 2010, my buddies invited me to see the WS at bar in the city but I made the better decision to watch at home with pops and got to experience something that truly is once in a lifetime. A Championship. And yes... the Niners will be alright!
By: fuckin David man
Date: September 28, 2012 at 11:12 AM
Comment: man dude im glad to hear about the relationship between you and your pops was a good one, i think survival the most important sense one should have in life, and if your dad were alive he'd tell you absolutely. i've been through hardships throughout most of my life and my father passed away when i was 16, and it was very hard for us to have a good relationship for other reasons. i had so many problems in life caused by this emptyness that i've carried for so long, but im through all that and i got up fighting my way out of this. it wasnt until his mom passed away that i learned that life feels so much better when you spend your time with people that genuinely care about you. I'm from texas unfortunately and we hail the 49ers, why because were the underdogs m/
Date: September 28, 2012 at 11:02 AM
Comment: Wanted to say thank you for sharing. In the midst of our frustration with the loss, it's good to remember there are far more important things in life. As I enjoy this season with my 1st born child, I want to convey to him that no matter what happens, win or lose, things will always be alright.
I hope my son grows up and feels about me the same way you feel about your dad. May he rest in peace.
Date: September 28, 2012 at 10:58 AM
I am touched by your story.
My father passed away on Sept 2.
Dad started taking me to 49er games when I was 6 years old. Everything seemed bigger than life. Leo Nomellini, John Brodie, and RC Owens were my heros.
Like your father, my dad never gave up on his beloved team. We loved beating the favored LA Rams and Baltimore Colts in the 60s. We suffered thru so many losses to the Cowboys in the 70s. The 80s and 90s brought the glory days of Super Bowl runs and Montana or Young to Rice.
Now as we approach the rise of a new great 49er team, I will miss having my father here to root them on.
But like you I will keep my hope high, win or lose.
Date: September 28, 2012 at 10:53 AM
Comment: Wow, AJ, I would have agreed with all of the other posters had you not cheapened your eulogy at the end by using your father's death as a means of defending yourself against a plagiarism charge. So you get caught ripping off PFT, and then you claim that the phrase in question was actually your father's dying words from a weak before? This is more than a little exploitative and requires us to believe that you live in a world of amazing coincidence. Even Sydney Mayhew did not stoop to that level when he got caught plagiarizing. And it's more disappointing coming from you because, unlike Sydney, you can craft a coherent sentence. Your need to use your column as a bully pulpit to take swipes at those who disagree with you or to settle personal vendettas has always been the weakest part of your writing. You must learn to control this impulse in your writing if you ever hope to rise above the level of fan site columnist.
Date: September 28, 2012 at 10:22 AM
Comment: What an amazing story, it really puts everything in perspective. AJ god bless you and your family!
Date: September 28, 2012 at 8:34 AM
Comment: THIS IS A VERY MOVING STORY. THANK YOU FOR WRITING IT. AFTER AWHILE, HOPEFULLY YOUR PAIN WILL MORPH INTO A THING MORE TOLERABLE, BUT IT IS NOT THE WAY OF GRIEF TO JUST UP AND GO AWAY. IF OUR SORROW IS TO DO US ANY GOOD AT ALL, MAYBE IT'S BETTER THAT WAY, TO KEEP THE LOVE WE FEEL ALIVE.. I LOVE THIS STORY FOR SO MANY REASONS, ONE BEING THE MEMORY OF MY OWN MOM, A PRETTY RABID NINER FAN. I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR REMEMBERING YOUR DAD THIS WAY, YOUR WORDS REMIND ME THAT ONCE WE HAVE LOVED SOMEONE, OUR LOVE MAY CHANGE OVER THE YEARS, BUT IT REMAINS ALIVE FOREVER.
Date: September 28, 2012 at 8:04 AM
Comment: Sorry for your lose, my 49er Brother. I knew I was going to need a half a box of Kleenex to finish this article as soon as I started reading. My dad took me to my first 49er game when I was a kid in the 70's. They sucked that year but beat the Lions that day. They went on to win the next three games and my dad told me I must be good luck. He knew a guy, that knew a guy, that knew Gene Washington's agent and got me a football signed by all the 49ers. Die hard fan ever since. I have tuned my son into a die hard 49er fan as well. He is away at college, but we always text each other on game day. "Go Niners!!". He always asks me about the glory years and what that feels like when your team wins a Super Bowl. I just tell him, "You'll see son, you'll see."
Date: September 28, 2012 at 7:22 AM
Comment: Thanks for sharing. I am going to speak with my father today.
Date: September 28, 2012 at 7:17 AM
Comment: well put,amazing how personal these games are to us fans
Date: September 28, 2012 at 5:40 AM
Comment: VERY TOUCHING... THANKS FOR SHARING THAT .
Date: September 28, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Comment: great story!!
Date: September 28, 2012 at 12:19 AM
Comment: Our sympathies for the loss of your Father. This is the reason I Fold 24/7 and here is hoping that nobody should go through what you and your family have in the future.
It sounds like I would have liked your Pops had I had the good fortune to meet him. He said many of the same things that I had said when we were sitting on the couch watching those games. The 9ers were never out of it when the pressure was on. He was only partially correct regarding XXIII though. The ball went to Taylor but I'm sure you know that and could overlook that when it happened and will have a happy memory in the future that no matter who it went to your Father couldn't have predicted the outcome any better.
I am better for having read this and know that you and yours are in our thoughts during your time of sorrow.
Date: September 28, 2012 at 12:17 AM
Comment: This was one of the best articles I have read in a while. I lost my mother last year to multiple myeloma as well. Thank you for writing this, it's a beautiful story.
By: Elaine Berry
Date: September 27, 2012 at 11:59 PM
Comment: I am sorry for your loss. You're article was very moving and well written. Hang in there. Good memories are what keep a person moving forward.
Date: September 27, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Comment: Sorry for your loss. It was a good read, are prayers from niner nation go out to you. Now let's take care if these Jets on sunday and get back on track!
Date: September 27, 2012 at 10:33 PM
Comment: AJ, sorry about your Dad. Praying for your strength in this tough time and I'm happy you guys have that bond. Me and mine certainly don't, unfortunately. Grace & Peace. 'Go Niners'
By: Steve Cardinalli
Date: September 27, 2012 at 10:20 PM
That is perhaps the best thing I have read in a long time.
Date: September 27, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Comment: What I thought was going to be an easy division west series is going to be a tough fight. then after that seattle mess if they take it because of that call I'm going to Seattle and pooping in the parking lot. We are defintely gonna have to earn it.
Date: September 27, 2012 at 9:53 PM
Comment: I love my 9ers, and look forward to reading all the insight and different perspectives from journalists. Every once in a while, I come upon a heartfelt article like this one, and it puts everything in perspective. I lost my dad 13 years ago, and like you, we were very close. I'm very sorry for your loss. It does get easier with time. Loved your article. Oh, and "Go 49ers"!!!
By: Kendrick wells
Date: September 27, 2012 at 9:51 PM
Comment: Great story man. Sorry about your dad. I know your heart is heavy but i know you smile as the tears flow. You have a great dad. He met you in a great spot. He will be right again, the niners will be champs again. This minesota game doesnt quite feel like that philly game in 94 but it feels kinda like those 84, 88 & 89 years when we would play like monsters then stink it up against an AFC team that didnt matter. Your dad stuck around long enough to check the temperature of this season. He knew it was OK to go now. Prayer to you and your family. Pass these memories on to another kid with a sparle in his eye like the one your dad saw in your eyes.