By Harry Berezin
San Francisco, Calif. – Darrell Solomon had had enough. He had come in with low expectations of course, but 38-14 was disgraceful. He said goodbye to his friend Jack Molinari who sat in the row in front of him. “See you next year, Jack,” Darrell said. Jack and Darrell had been sitting next to each other in upper reserved section 20 since the 1970s. Jack trusted Darrell’s judgement on this type of matter. Turning to his nephew he asked, “When do you want to leave?” “If we don’t score a touchdown on this drive, it’s over so let’s leave,” his nephew replied, disgusted with the outcome of what had been such a promising season.
That’s how close I was to leaving Sunday’s NFC Wildcard Game between the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers. After falling behind 38-14 late in the third quarter, and losing a substantial portion of their fickle “faithful,” the 49ers awakened. Seemingly sleepwalking nearly the entire season, San Francisco pulled off a miraculous, controversial 39-38 victory, the second-biggest comeback in the 70-year history of the NFL Playoffs. Just as importantly, the Niners proved to their wavering fan base that there is life after the glory days of the ’80s and ’90s.
San Francisco 49ers fans have been notorious frontrunners for the last quarter century. The team had trouble filling Candlestick Park during the ’70s, as the team was one of the NFL’s worst. During the glory years of the 1980s when Joe Montana led the team to four Super Bowls, the team became the city’s pride and joy.
That had all changed since 1998, when the team fell into a precipitous decline. Although the 49ers did a good enough job restocking with talent to make the playoffs the last two seasons, it was not enough to win over the hearts of the fans. Jeff Garcia, Terrell Owens and Steve Mariucci would never be able to restore the team to the glory days of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Bill Walsh.
Through 40 minutes on Sunday, the naysayers seemed to have been proved correct. The team looked thoroughly outclassed by the Giants, capping off an uninspired season. This led to the exits of fans like Darrell Solomon. But then the impossible occurred: Jeff Garcia did his best Montana impression, Mariucci showed the moxie that many, including myself, doubted that he had. And Terrell Owens was the beast that he is. The fans that did stay roared in celebration. The ghosts of Montana and Rice had finally been exorcised, for one week at least. Whether this means that season ticket holders will resume showing up and cheering like every other team’s fans do rather than sell their tickets to fans of the visiting team remains to be seen, but at least a fan who did stay for the entire game now has hope.