When I was in third grade, a group of boys in my class were discussing football. “Patriots” was thrown around a lot, especially because they had won the Super Bowl the season prior and were about to win another. I also heard “Colts” — almost always coupled with “Peyton Manning” — and “Chargers” because, as the closest team, they garnered a lot of support from young Los Angelenos who had never lived through the original Rams era and the Raiders’ Los Angeles tenure.
“I like football,” I interjected.
“Oh yeah, what’s your team?” one boy challenged, doubting that a skinny girl with barrettes in her hair could know anything about the NFL.
“The 49ers,” I responded.
He looked at me, laughed and yelled “They suck!” before cutting me out of the conversation, snickering to his friends.
As frustrated as the exchange made me, he had a point. In the 2004-05 season, the Niners were an embarrassment to their fans and a joke to others. That year they went 2-14 — the worst record in the league that season and the team’s worst record in 25 years.
So why was I, growing up in the heart of expansive Los Angeles, rooting for a team from the other half of the state that had been at the bottom half of NFL standings for most of my life?
The answer is very simple. My dad, also a Los Angeles native, had been a Niners fan since the end of the ‘70s — the beginning of their golden years, marked by the unbelievable career of Joe Montana, later joined by Jerry Rice.
From him, I get my love of sports. I get my unwavering devotion for a handful of teams, passionate hate for a handful of others and utter indifference for the rest. Because of him I bleed the Lakers’ purple and gold and not the Clippers’ patriotic but unspectacular combination of red, white and blue. Because of him, I will always wear gold with UCLA blue, not with USC maroon. Because of him, I will find ways to stream the Dodgers and not that team an hour south that has tacked “Los Angeles” in front of its name as a desperate marketing ploy.
And because of him and his undying commitment to San Francisco’s football team, I also stood by them for years — even though their many losses throughout most of my life meant I was a joke to my fellow students.
At the end of high school, though, it seemed my dedication had finally paid off. Jim Harbaugh had worked his magic and it felt like the Niners would once again be the chosen team for football shrines and bandwagon fans countrywide. Senior year, my dad and I went to Candlestick Park to see one of the last games ever played there. The next year, we saw two more games at Levi’s Stadium. When it came to football, I, like the rest of the Niners Nation, felt like I was on top of the world.
But gravity won.
And now, after another fatiguing season for the red and gold, I am feeling less than infatuated with the 49ers. My frustration and disappointment, already increasing with each game last season, has continued to grow with each press release and management mishap this off-season. And for the first time ever, I am having a fan identity crisis and questioning whether they will continue to be my team.
Last weekend, driving down the 5 freeway, I sheepishly turned to my dad, the man who taught me that being a fairweather fan was nothing less than despicable. We had just been talking about how much we both love Los Angeles, the pull of the city that owns our hearts and for which we share an obnoxious and elitist devotion growing with each ranch we passed.
“I’m really excited about the Rams,” I confessed, worried that what I had said would be taken as heresy and sacrilege.
Instead of demanding I get out of the car and walk the remaining 150 miles, however, he turned to me, smiled and said, “Me too.”
Contact Sarah Goldzweig at [email protected]