New York Times 1/14/1990
In San Francisco, we’re used to the hype. As today’s National Football Conference championship game approached, an avalanche of print and video no doubt depicted it as municipal warfare, San Francisco versus Los Angeles, as though the essences of two metropolises were in combat. We’ve been through it before. In 1984, we played Chicago in a game hyped as the left-wing-white-winehot-peppers against the star-spangled-porkbelly-sausage-maulers. Last year, in a subArctic rematch, it was the loose-coast-quiche-mincers against the true-grit-ribbenders. This year, since the game will involve two California cities, no doubt the stereotypes will fly more than usual: The foghead-black-tle-guru-grunters against the smogged-out-gold-chaln-glltz-merchants.
I suspect there must be a lot of people east of here who enjoy that stuff, but my advice Is to ignore it. Such hype has nothing to do with what’s going to happen In this football game.
If, however, you still require a larger contradiction in which to frame Sunday’s battle, the most substantial is not between San Francisco and Los Angeles, but between the accomplishments of the 49ers and the prevailing stereotype of San Francisco.
That contradiction is one which those of us who live here particularly relish. For decades, we have watched helplessly as visiting correspondents file the long takeouts on devil worshippers, ommm chanters, topless masseuses, suicidal evangelists, levitation practitioners, pyramid consultants, and, of course, transvestite Sister Boom Boom and her order of Perpetual Indulgence. Each of these manifestations was inevitably characterized as the epitome of the Bay Area. As a consequence, San Francisco, as we are all aware, has become the American synonym for weird, strange, or off-the-wall, and those of us living here have long since had to accept being spoken of as though we had gills and an eye in the middle of our foreheads.
Not that we can’t sympathize with the rest of the country’s difficulty understanding us. Tolerance is not a common civic posture and we pride ourselves In being a haven for the different and a jumping-off place for the mysterious. We think this makes the area a much nicer place to live. We also recognize it means having a high oddball quotient as well, and so, while we respect the right to be odd, we require everyone to keep the peace and do our best to keep the very odd out of public office and away from the steering wheels of large vehicles.
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In any event, their presence alone has for years meant outsiders assumed we weren’t a football town. Football, according to that stereotype, was a smash-mouth enterprise for the short-haired, mean, and thick-headed, and Dallas was America’s Team. It was not the kind of arena In which a tinsel-necked place like San Francisco was supposed to thrive.
Sorry, folks. “Football town” is an understatement. Northern California’s ratings for National Football League games have been consistently above the national average throughout the league’s Television Age. At the same time, the Niners have always had an emotional, almost mystic relationship with their fans. That was true during the more than three decades of so-close-yet-sofar disappointment. Now, after a decade of having our football dreams come true, identification with the Niners is as close to universal as anything around the Bay except earthquake stories. We call our team “the guys” or just “we”, and “Go Niners” is a common greeting from Marin to San Jose.
You would he hard-pressed to find a metropolitan area that cared more about its football team. We love the way they play football and feel it vindicates us in the eyes of the simple-minded who subscribe to our stereotype. The Niners, by respecting their own Intelligence, finding a center, appreciating the game’s complexity and managing it, have consistently vanquished the bigger, more fearsome, and less sophisticated. A lot more people around here identify with that than the rest of the country might expect.
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Having defended our football credentials and established our claim to all-America normalcy, I must also confess that we are not averse to supporting our team with ventures into the strangest mental territories. Assistant coaches with teams visiting Candlestick have reported finding mysterious amulets and feathers arranged in ritualistic mounds near their team bench. Chants, speaking in tongues, and voodoo ritual have also been reported in the upper deck. Unlike other football towns, here, in close proximity to the occasionally strange, the fan’s natural faith in parapsychology knows few limitations. One prominent San Franciscan I know gathered a network of several hundred who watch games at home or in the stadium and organized them to concentrate their mutual energy in order to telepathically influence the flight of opponent’s passes. Another group ot upscale professionals, known as the Web, have, on several occasions, organized ritualized incantations and the sacrifice of inanimate objects, such as lawn furniture, all in order to sway a game’s momentum.
Though not quite in that league I have, through standing on one leg and chanting a simple but secret mantra in league with several otherwise normal, even respected, northern Californians, helped the guys drive the ball deep into enemy territory.
I’m sure you’re not too surprised to find San Franciscans behaving like that, but, when it comes to football, we don’t care if you think we’re weird. We just think of it as the home-field advantage.