Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

49ers’ playoff-clinching win vs. Rams has added meaning for me

Jan 11, 2022 at 8:10 AM--

I was 16 years old when the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys last met in the playoffs. Twenty-seven years later, they are preparing to do so again. The 49ers got there with a thrilling come-from-behind 27-24 overtime victory over the division-rival Los Angeles Rams.

In 1995, my 49ers fandom was springing to life. I remember watching the seasons leading up to that one and seeing my father frustrated by previous playoff exits at the hands of the Cowboys. I occasionally watched, rooting on the Bay Area team because of my father. It brought him joy, as it would for me in the years that followed.

However, there was something different about that 1994 campaign, and my father knew it. The 49ers were on a mission, loading up on talent and setting their sights on overcoming their NFC rival—the playoff barrier they couldn't get past. That ended on January 15, 1995. The 49ers were headed to the Super Bowl, and my father was ecstatic.

Now, I report on the happenings of the team. I need a certain level of objectivity in doing so. That meant putting my fandom aside so I could do my job to the best of my ability, which was a challenge at first. I couldn't be burdened for days with the emotional toll of a loss because there is always work to do. But, deep down, I still want to see the team do well, for the fan that lies (not always so hidden) within and for my father.

And he was my biggest fan, proud of the work I did, trying to consume as much of that work as possible, always sharing it with others. But, more important, he was glad I was doing something that I enjoyed.

In mid-November, out of necessity, my dad came to live with my family—my wife and two kids. It took some convincing, but he eventually understood that he could no longer be left alone. My wife and kids welcomed him into our home, and after a couple of weeks, he felt like he was part of our household. He was. We enjoyed having him here, even when things were sometimes challenging. We were grateful for our time together.

My father watched every 49ers game from his wheelchair in the room we set up for him. I work from my office during games, but a mere glance over my shoulder, and I could see him paying close attention to every snap.

Sunday's game was thrilling. The 49ers fell behind 17-0 but mounted an impressive comeback. After one San Francisco touchdown, I swear I could have heard my dad's typical "Yay" after the score. However, when I peered toward his room, now dark, all I saw was the empty wheelchair where he would typically sit. No sound coming from his powered-down television.

The cheers I thought I kept hearing were all in my head.

Three days earlier, my dad passed. His final conscious moments came with me by his side, doing my best to offer words of comfort while we awaited help. Then, about an hour later, he was gone.

Looking back at Sunday's game, I know my dad would have been thrilled, probably waiting for me to finish my work so he could talk to me about the most exciting moments. Maybe Deebo Samuel throwing a touchdown pass to Jauan Jennings to tie things up in the third quarter. Perhaps Jimmy Garoppolo hitting Jennings for the score to tie things up again in the fourth quarter. Maybe Ambry Thomas coming down with the game-sealing interception of Matthew Stafford.

Then, maybe some talk of the playoffs and the familiar matchup against an old foe. Instead, there was just a sense that something—someone—was missing.

"I felt that your dad had his finger on the pulse of the game [against the Rams]," my father-in-law told me. Comforting words from someone for whom I have a great amount of respect.

While I try to push emotions aside when watching 49ers games, that may be a more challenging task moving forward. I'll probably always think of my father, and his deep passion for the team, from now on. Along with other great memories, I will remember the many hours spent watching games together in my youth. I will remember his smile and joy with every future win, even more so if a win is one day followed by the Niners hoisting the Lombardi once again.

Dedicated to Samuel Bonilla, 1943-2022
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