It was just a casual dialogue between the four of us, but
speaking of the Niners in terms of the 1980s and early 90s,
childhood memories churned through my brain like an avalanche
tumbling out of control. It was like a
This is Your Life
Talking 49ers football for a refreshing 45 minutes last week with Frank, Dean and Nolan Filice, the luckiest trio aside from three aces in a poker game (see last Tuesday’s Dispatch for the story), the past, present and future of the red and gold came up in the discussion.
It was just a casual dialogue between the four of us, but speaking of the Niners in terms of the 1980s and early 90s – Joe Montana, Steve Young, Dwight Clark, Jerry Rice, Tom Rathman, Roger Craig, John Taylor, Randy Cross, Ronnie Lott, Harris Barton, Steve Wallace, Freddie Solomon, Eric Wright, Dwaine Board, Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds, Bubba Paris, Ricky Watters, Bill Ring and on and on – childhood memories churned through my brain like an avalanche tumbling out of control. It was like a “This is Your Life” flashback.
I saw a newspaper clipping of Montana when I was 2 years old, so this is 1985. Apparently I showed great interest in the quarterback because sometime soon after I was presented my very first Montana uniform, complete with the jersey, pants, plastic helmet and pads. You remember those things. Down right awesome.
There were times I refused to take off that uniform, throwing my best tantrums on laundry day. My younger brother (we are two years apart) unfortunately drew the role as nemesis, Dan Marino, during my attempt to reenact 49ers plays. He paid dearly, run over time and time again without a chance to defend himself. The home videos are hilarious: two pint-sized pipsqueaks donning over-sized plastic helmets, one carrying a football that takes up half his body and the other scurrying behind a chair for protection.
It was easy to appease me on my next several birthdays. Any form of 49ers gear or a football or a photo of Montana won me over in a heartbeat. The ultimate gift came in 1994 when my dad came through big time, surprising me with a Montana rookie card, the same one I spent hours staring at through a glass case at the neighborhood card shop – Collector’s Choice. We were in there every weekend. We knew the owners by name and they knew us. Thanks to my dad, my Montana card collection includes upwards of 500 different pieces. Montana trading cards for Christmas, birthdays, good grades and just because. Binders full sit in my closet waiting to be shown off.
I was a kid, sure, but I followed Montana’s career like a hawk. I basked in the glory of Super Bowl Championships, cried when Giants’ lineman Leonard Marshall planted his helmet in between Montana’s shoulder blades during the 1990 NFC Championship game, essentially ending my hero’s career in San Francisco. I cried again when he, as Young’s back up, played his final game with the 49ers – a Monday nighter against the Lions in 1992. I became a Kansas City Chiefs devotee when he decided to play a couple more years. When I was 12, I shook his hand and had my picture taken at a charity appearance. His hand was huge. He was tall. I couldn’t stop smiling. My dad even got a handshake. That totally made his night, I know it.
We didn’t make it to many live games, but watching the action on TV didn’t dilute the experience one bit. My first game in Candlestick wasn’t until 1996 and the upstart Carolina Panthers defeated the Elvis Grbac-led Niners. It was the worst car ride home.
The 49ers were apart of our family just as much as Sunday dinners.
It’s been tough to handle the last eight years – no playoffs, questionable draft choices, coaching hirings and roster moves. But we never abandoned ship.
My brother moved to Germany two and a half years ago and one of his main concerns was how he was going to be able to watch on Sundays – afternoon kickoffs here are 10 p.m. there. But he logs onto the computer with his NFL.com game day package and tunes in. We chat about the games, along with an exchange about how our Fantasy Football teams are doing, the following Saturday. It’s a great way to close the geographical distance between us.
Now that the NFL lockout is over, I feel a spark renewed that may ignite the days of my feverish fandom.
By the looks of the Niners’ offseason, the front office is sick of the losing also. Bringing in head coach Jim Harbaugh was a great choice. We will see if signing Alex Smith to a new 1-year deal will work. A core of athletes is in place that hasn’t been in a while.
For some reason, I’m excited again. I may go to a card shop and swoop up a box of Upper Deck.
Go Niners and long live the memories.