This will be the first Super Bowl in which the 49ers are playing that I won’t be watching with my dad.
I live in Chicago now, and my dad is with my mom traveling in some far off place.
It’s been a long time since we watched a game together, longer still since we watched a Super Bowl that featured our beloved San Francisco 49ers.
In 1981, I was 7, and the 49ers were a family affair, and so it was normal to cheer for them against the Bengals.
My dad and his brothers grew up sneaking into Kezar Stadium in San Francisco, and since the Golden Gate is my family’s Statue of Liberty, and Pier 49 is our Ellis Island, San Francisco football and baseball are sacred.
The 1981 Super Bowl against the Bengals was where I learned that my dad doesn’t care about winning as much as he cares about a great game.
I didn’t fully understand it then, and I wish I could be half as zen as he can when a game is close.
My dad appreciates the game for the qualities of the game more than the faithfulness of being a fan.
At 10, I decided I would break from the family love affair with everything Bay Area, and I chose to cheer on the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX.
That was until Half Time, when I knew for sure that I’d be a San Francisco 49er fan for life.
Joe Montana and my father’s patience quelled a small rebellion in my young heart.
For that first half I did everything I could to annoy my dad, but nothing worked. And thinking back to that, I now understand so much more about the things my own children do to me. And I understand what it is to be right and yet able to hold back from rubbing it in their little faces.
When the 49ers played the Bengals again a few years later in Super Bowl XXIII, I remember my dad getting excited when the Bengals came back from a 20-0 halftime deficit. This was a revolutionary concept to me.
I played football for two years in high school. And after a rib injury during my sophomore year, I lost interest in the game almost completely.
In 1990, I learned that in spite of my father’s preference for close games, I liked flat-out dominance. Super Bowl XXIV gave me a chance to love my kind of football. My dad loves the two-minute drill, the last-ditch effort to win when it comes down to the wire and you have 90-yards of field to chew up. But that kind of football just chews me up inside.
Watching the 49ers destroy the Denver Broncos was pure pleasure for me. I think my dad was reading his Time Magazine by the half.
We both loved the same team, but we had very different ideals for the style of play and the preferred outcome of a game.
And while our mutual love of the red and gold characterized some of the relationship between my dad and I, the team has had a surprising impact on other parts of my life too.
When I fell in love with Cheryl Carpenter, a schoolmate and a rural neighbor girl. (our families lived about three miles apart) I knew my life would never be the same. I also knew I had found a companion for life.
Our first “official” date was a trip to Seattle to watch the San Francisco 49ers play the Seattle Seahawks. It was one of Joe Montana’s last games with the Niners, and up and comer Steve Young played at quarterback.
And she had to suffer my boorish behavior in the King Dome, as I loudly proclaimed the dominance of the 49ers over the Seahawks. Turns out I was right, but many Seattle fans were annoyed with me that day.
In spite of that, she went on a second date with me.
The next few years were a blur of graduation, marriage and jobs. I caught a few games here and there, but the 49ers played second fiddle to all the other interests in my life.
Cheryl and I married in 1994, and we spent the first year together living under my parents’ roof. And so it was that I have seen all 5 San Francisco 49er Super Bowls in that house or at least on a television owned by my parents.
The first four years of our marriage saw the waning of the 49er dynasty, and by the time our first son, Cole, was born in 1998, the best team in football was a footnote in history.
A few years later, when Cole was just a toe-headed two-year-old, we took him to see the 49ers play the Seattle Seahawks at Husky Stadium.
After that we had two more children, I went to college and became a journalist, and I barely had time to read the morning paper, let alone watch a football game.
I caught a few here and there. We moved away from our parents and set up a new home in the mountains of Western Montana.
My boys liked whatever football teams their friends liked. In Montana it was the Denver Broncos by proximity.
I’d catch a game whenever I could, but it was sad to watch something that was once so great. We spent Sunday afternoons hiking in the Bitterroot Mountains or skiing at Snow Bowl.
Then I lost my job, and our world came crashing down. We had to leave our mountain home, and my new job took us to Alaska and a brand-new adventure.
We moved there in November, and a week at home in Oregon with my dad gave me the opportunity to watch a 49er game in my parents’ home as I had done for so many years.
We moved to Alaska in November, and we spent our first night in Anchorage in a hotel room watching the San Francisco Giants win the World Series.
That was a special night.
We learned quickly how tough Alaska winters can be, and with the 49ers out of the playoffs yet again, our interest was on the Oregon Ducks, a college team and my Alma Mater to hold our interest when it was too cold and too dark to do much outside.
The Alaskan summers are the opposite, and there is too much going on outside and too much daylight to do it in. So it’s difficult to force yourself inside on a Sunday in August or even September.
So it wasn’t until about halfway through the season that I discovered my two boys had been watching 49er games.
They filled me in that Stanford’s coach had been hired away and was leading the 49ers to a pretty respectable season.
I watched the last two regular season games with my boys.
Then it was the playoffs, and when I had to be away for various projects, Cole would text me the scores.
When they lost to the Giants in the NFC Championship game, we were disheartened but not deflated.
Not only was our team back, but it was OUR team. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but something about our new adventure in Alaska had turned my boys into 49er fans.
Six months later we left Alaska for Chicago, and I wondered how long it would take the boys to become Bears fans.
But they didn’t flinch, not even at the excitement of seeing Soldier Field up close.
This is the first season in many years that I’ve watched NFL football in addition to college football. It’s also the first season that I’ve watched games with my boys.
A few weeks ago we watched the 49ers beat the Falcons to advance to the Super Bowl for a Sixth time.
And as great as the memories of the last five Super Bowls with my dad are, I can’t help but feel blessed to be able to keep the tradition alive in my own household.
I don’t know where I’ll be in the next five years. I don’t know if my boys will be lifeline 49er fans.
But I know that as I look back on more than 30 years of loving the same team, you realize that it looks a lot like life.
You don’t always win the close ones, but you relish it when you do. The blowouts are great, but they are boring too. The Super Bowls are highlights, for sure, but having fans through the darkest times is what makes the next Super Bowl appearance so special.
I’m excited for today’s game. I hope it’s sufficiently close to keep my dad happy, but I simultaneously hope we blow them out of the water.