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Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

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Faithful: What it Means to Be a 49ers Fan Before Super Bowl 54

Gilbert Brink
Jan 31, 2020 at 8:23 AM

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This 49ers have been my team since I was five years old. As a New Yorker, my father tried his best to instill in me his Giants fandom. To this day I remember the pictures of my brother and I dressed in Giants Halloween costumes, he was Phil Simms and I was Lawrence Taylor. As much as my Dad wanted me to be root for big blue, it wasn't to be. I pin it back to watching them lose a game against the Minnesota Vikings in the late 1980s, I remember telling him I wouldn't root for a team that could lose to the Vikings. Even as a young child I was becoming the person I was destined to be, someone who stood for what he believed in and the San Francisco 49ers were the agent of change that started it all.

Super Bowl 54 is two days away. I have been a die-hard 49ers fan ever since my initial revolt towards individuality. Roughly three decades of my life I have been emotionally tethered to the Red & Gold. Every Sunday I put my heart into what they put out onto the field. I am grateful for all of it. The 49ers have taught me so much about life that no teacher, parent or mentor possibly could. It hasn't been a completely joyous three decades. Quite frankly, there have been many more miserable seasons than there have been memorable ones. At 36 years of age, I can say I didn't fully appreciate those teams of my childhood. Being a title contender was more of an entitlement than it was an accomplishment. That certainly isn't the case in 2020.

The first lesson the 49ers taught me was about heartbreak. Becoming a 49ers fan in the late 80s is akin to becoming a Golden State Warriors fan in 2016. Those Bill Walsh 49ers were the definition of football royalty. When my 49ers were facing my father's New York Giants in the 1991 NFC Championship game I was certain they were on their way to becoming the first ever three-peat Super Bowl Champions. This is the first football game I truly remembered; pain has a deeper impression than pleasure. Then it happened, the crushing hit that Leonard Marshall delivered to Joe Montana that would change the 49ers forever. My childhood hero was incapacitated. As great as Joe Montana was, he wasn't great enough to play through the injuries he suffered from that hit. On came Steve Young, who little did I know at that time, would be the leader of the 49ers for the next decade. The 49ers lost that game, they didn't return to three-peat and that was the first time my heart was broken.

As I watched the New York Giants beat the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl following that devastating loss, I knew the 49ers were my heart. I felt then what I still feel to this day, this team is my team. I will always define myself as a Faithful 49ers fan. The following years were filled with more heartbreak. As good as the team was, the rise of the Dallas Cowboys prevented the 49ers from getting back to the Super Bowl on numerous occasions. It wasn't until 1995, wearing the 75-year anniversary throwbacks, that the 49ers got past the Dallas Cowboys and made it back to the Super Bowl. The 49ers demolished the San Diego Chargers to the tune of 49-26. The game got out of hand early as the Chargers were no match for the 49ers on any level. As much as I enjoyed that Super Bowl, after years of heartbreak, I still didn't know how good we had it, I took it for granted.

Steve Young was by far the best QB in the NFL in 1995, 49ers fans expected this championship to be just the beginning of another dynasty run towards multiple championships. Until Brett Favre, Mike Holmgren and the Green Bay Packers became the new roadblock the 49ers just couldn't get past. In the late 90s the 49ers were stifled whenever they met Green Bay in the playoffs and Steve Young would never see a Super Bowl again. Still, when Steve Young found Terrell Owens in the end zone vs. Green Bay in the 1998 Wild Card tears shed down my face just as they poured down Owens'.

Unfortunately, Steve Young had to retire due to a gruesome concussion at the hands of Aneas Williams in 1999 the 49ers had to find a new QB and a new identity. Enter Jeff Garcia. He is the 49ers great who gets lost in the shuffle at times. Garcia played the game like a linebacker who could throw the ball. Garcia must have learned from Young that toughness was paramount to playing the quarterback position. There was very little glory with Garcia at the helm, but a personal moment that will always live in my memory and those of most 49ers fans was the classic comeback vs. the New York Giants in the 2002 NFC Wild Card game. Trailing 38-14 in the 3rd quarter, Garcia led the 49ers on a legendary comeback that ended with the Giants botching a FG attempt and throwing a hail-mary to an offensive lineman that, maaaaaaybe, should have been a pass interference call. Living in a house of Giants fans the sweetness of that victory will always be a special memory.

That would be the last time the 49ers reached the playoffs for nearly a decade. The 49ers went into the abyss when John York became the owner of the franchise. To be fair to York, this position was thrust upon him due to a shakeup that left the DeBartolos out of power. But no matter how you slice it the fans suffered. These were the darkest days of my fanhood. I can look at my closet and see the ghosts of misguided hope in the jerseys of Brandon Lloyd and Kevan Barlow. As dark as they were, this is where I learned the beauty of being a fan. My team was always good to mediocre in its worst years. There was no mediocre here. The Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary 49ers were an embarrassment. Still I would wear my Brandon Lloyd jersey to college after every game of the 2014 season when they were an abysmal 2-14. That wouldn't be the last 2-14 season the Faithful had to endure.

I look back on these teams with love. As bad as they were, this is where football teaches you about life. Life doesn't give you winning seasons every year. Often, you get your ass kicked and you don't have the answers. Not only do you not have the answers, you can't begin to imagine where you could find them from. You don't quit though, the Faithful have never quit. Make the best out of what you have and hope for better days in the future. I have such fond memories of going to Giants Stadium with my good friends and cheering on players like Arnaz Battle and Trent Dilfer as the 49ers struggled to keep pace with even mediocre Giants teams. I cherished those NFL Draft Saturdays with my best friends as we barbecued, drank beers and closely watched draft selections hoping our teams would find the pieces to the puzzle that makeup a Super Bowl Champion. I've watched the 49ers rebuild numerous times and still laugh about how angry I became when my father once told me during a blow-out loss to the Ravens "Hey, they're just going to have to rebuild". These moments are what make this 2019 season so special.

The 49ers would find their way out of the basement of the NFL when they hired Jim Harbaugh in 2011. I didn't know this would be the case when me and my brother bought tickets to the Giants @ 49ers game that would take place in November 2011. To my amazement, as we travelled from NY to San Francisco the 49ers were a shocking 7-1 and his Giants were 6-2. That weekend we took in the sights of San Francisco, stayed in a dumpy hotel, walked all around the city and took a boat ride underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. It is my favorite memory of me and my brother's relationship, I'll always hold that close to my heart as the time it felt best to be a brother. The 49ers won that game that day, they went onto being 8-1 and I enjoyed the stadium of my childhood, Candlestick Park, as dumpy as it was, which is still my favorite stadium ever.

Even though the 49ers got the best of the Giants on that day, they would lose to them in the NFC Championship game 2 months later. I watched that game in the same living room that I watched the 1991 NFC Championship game. Again I was heartbroken, again it was the Giants. Kyle Williams was filling in for an injured Tedd Ginn Jr. and his two mistakes on special teams sunk the 49ers that day in OT. We forgive you Kyle Williams. The very next year the 49ers made it the Super Bowl and looked to be primed to bring home their sixth Super Bowl title. The optimism quickly faded for 49ers fans as a sloppy first half left them trailing 28-6 at halftime. As bad as it seemed, the 49ers raged back and almost pulled off the most amazing Super Bowl comeback (this was prior to New England's 28-3 miracle), but they came up just short as Michael Crabtree was targeted three times from the 5 yard line with none succeeding to bring a title back to San Francisco. Once again, I was heartbroken. Prior to this game, I chose to get a 49ers tattoo on my left arm. While I love the tattoo, the old school 49ers shield logo, it's a constant reminder of the disappointment that was Super Bowl 47.

That Super Bowl loss was devastating, and yes, I cried my eyes out over that missed opportunity. As I ate ice cream cake for breakfast the next morning, I rewatched the game and sat marinating in a nasty hangover, I was certain these 49ers would win a Super Bowl one day. Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick were the ones to bring a title back to San Francisco. A year later we lost in the NFC Championship Game to our most hated rival and the stink of 3 seasons ending in complete and utter disappointment was too much to handle. The following season it was obvious, the team had lost its way. Ownership was at odds with the coaching staff and the players may have been tiring of Harbaugh's act as well. 49ers fans weren't though, and when the 49ers and Harbaugh parted ways, the fans were heartbroken again. This was the man who was supposed to bring us back to the glory days; a descendant of Bill Walsh, how could we let this man walk out the door? Along with his departure came the departure of future Hall of Famer and the heart of the defense, Patrick Willis.

Back into the Dark Ages. Jed York was quick to move on from one coach to the next. At the time it seemed like a losing formula. The only thing you heard as a 49ers fan during this time was criticism of your quarterback for his political views. We were no longer relevant as a franchise and it was painfully obvious. But Jed York learned from his mistakes, and he adjusted. Whereas he once wanted to be a part of the show, in a Jerry Jones-type fashion, he learned that this isn't a recipe for success in the NFL. In 2017 York signed both head coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch to six-year deals. At this point, Jed stepped out of the way and let his chosen leaders lead this team. Once again, football teaches you lessons. We all must evaluate ourselves and change what isn't working.

Here we are, Faithful. The Super Bowl is just two days away. Some have been waiting a lifetime to see the 49ers win a Super Bowl, others have been waiting 25 years. The man behind center, and the most doubted man in the Super Bowl, is Jimmy Garoppolo. The 49ers acquired him on October 31st, 2017. This day may go down as one of the most important and pivotal days in 49ers history. I`ll always remember where I was two days before. I drove alone to Philadelphia to watch C.J. Beathard and the 49ers lose 33-10 to the Eagles and fall to 0-8. Riding home from Philadelphia to NY on that rainy Sunday October 29th, I was disgusted with my team. Little did I know, two years later we would be competing in the Super Bowl. Football is a beautiful thing.

So, as we all anxiously await kickoff this Sunday afternoon, I ask all these current 49ers, please get this win. Not just for you guys, or the Faithful but for guys like Frank Gore, Patrick Willis and Justin Smith. Do it for guys like Navorro Bowman who sacrificed his knee trying to get the 49ers back to the championship in 2013. Do it for Garrison Hearst, a great 49er who never got the chance to play on the biggest stage of them all. And to the Faithful you don't know when the next Super Bowl will be, enjoy this moment and give this team all you got for one more time and help bring this thing home to San Francisco.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Paul McNeill
    Awesome story. My history with the Niners is quite similar having grown up in North Jersey in the shadow of the NY teams. I did not inherit an allegiance to the GIants as my dad was not a sports fan. Our TV was never tuned to sports. On a school night at age 11 or 12 I was watching an early Monday Night Football game (I was supposed to be in my bed already) between the Colts and the Niners. John Brodie vs Johnny Unitas. It was one of the first football games I watched on TV except for the Super Bowl won by the Jets. The Niners’ Nate Smith (number 1) ran the opening kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown - I liked that result and the Niners red and gold uniforms but I wanted to see what the Colts had to offer. I actually thought their simple blue and white jerseys were cool. Classic throwback style that I appreciated even then. The Colts got the kickoff and were three and out, punting to the Niners. When the offense came on the field and were introduced I learned that Clifton McNeill was one of the receivers. Because we shared the same name, that was all an 11 year old boy needed to become a life long Niners fan! The good years were the best. I have never wavered.
    Feb 1, 2020 at 6:54 AM
  • Anthony Tyler Warren
    That was amazing Gilbert. We're 60 minutes away from another championship. I will be sick to my stomach for that 60 minutes then and now. Why? Love. The love that we have for our team is incredible and real and it's beautiful. People say "Oh, it's just a game" but it's so much more to us faithful. We're in love with the 49ers, isn't it wonderful? Win or lose, I'm so proud of this team...Go Niners!!!
    Jan 31, 2020 at 8:59 PM
  • TonyO
    Really well-written and heartfelt. I agree with your thoughts exactly. 100%. Let's win Super Bowl 54 this Sunday and bring the Lombardi back home to the Bay. Let's win this for the 49er Family!
    Jan 31, 2020 at 10:33 AM
  • Julio Jimenez
    I was a 10 years old mexican kid who barely understand Football, but when a friend ask me during the SB vs Miami who was my favorite to win, the Red and Gold capture me and I has been a FAITHFUL since then. And I still remember the feeling of the last SB win and I waiting and ready to feel it again. Go Niners!!
    Jan 31, 2020 at 10:02 AM
    Response: Red & Gold for life. So glad to share my memories with you guys, and thanks for reading,
  • John
    Great article! Im from Hudson Valley New York as well (Washingtonville ????). Niners have been my number one sports team since '89 niners-bengals SB at age of 8 watching the drive and goal line stand ???? my mind was blown, hooked ever since. I can second the frustration of being surrounded by all these Giants fans my whole life but Its been one heck of a ride. This has also been one of my favorite seasons, id say its a toss up with this year and '94. Go Niners!!
    Jan 31, 2020 at 9:32 AM
    Response: Beacon here, but originally New Paltz. My mom's family actually lived in Washingtonville as a kid and she went to HS there Let's pull it out for us NY niners fans!
  • Ron Rea
    This is actually probably one of the best articles I've read so far this Super Bowl week. Fantastic job! You definitely know what it feels like to be a 49er fan. I started about the same age as you, but when I started it was John Brodie and Gene Washington, lol... I guess that kind of dates myself, huh...
    Jan 31, 2020 at 9:31 AM
  • Kim Nash
    Well hell, that actually made me cry. Great love letter to an incredible team. This year's group may be my favorite team of all time (and my all time goes way, way back). I love the camaraderie, the relaxed vibe and the sense of teamwork that seems to start at the top and go down to every last player. It has been a hell of a ride this year and I am so grateful to have been able to watch it happen.
    Jan 31, 2020 at 8:38 AM
    Response: Yea, this is probably my favorite season of all time too. That can all change with how it ends, but I believe so much in them that it will end well for all of us.

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