It's been a while since San Francisco 49ers fans have gotten a change to be truly proud of their team. They've sat through all the Mike Nolan's, Ken Dorsey's and Mike Singletary's, watched their once proud franchise scrape the bottom of the barrel and their No. 1 pick of a QB falter for six straight seasons.
But this season obliterated all of that, falling ever so short of a sixth Super Bowl berth after a decade long drought from the playoffs. It reinvigorated the entire Niner Nation, from the stoutest of 49er faithful down to the last half-hearted follower. The 2011-12 season meant a little something different for everyone, but for me, it's made me prouder of my ‘49er birthright' more than ever, handed down to me by my Father, who passed away in the summer of 2010.
I grew up in Reno, NV, only a few hours drive from San Francisco, where my Father was born and raised. Some of my earliest memories are of the 49ers on TV, my plastic 49er helmet, and playing football at halftime on 49er games with my Dad tackling me on his knees. He was a diehard to say the least, quick to put his money where his mouth is with friends and family alike when it came to big games. He hated the Raiders with a passion, and the ongoing feud between him and my Rams fan Grandmother (his Mother-in-law) seemed never ending.
We spent countless Sunday's lounging around watching the game, and I've been to few 49er game without him. The look of pure, unabashed joy on his face after their 1994 Super Bowl victory will forever be engrained in my memory. I am a 49er fan because of him.
When I moved away for college, whether it be on a Thursday, Sunday or Monday night, I would always call my Father and discuss the 49er game after it was over. Our talks over the last few seasons of course were filled with much Alex Smith distaste and grievances over coaching staff; you know, bitching about another loss. But my Dad never swayed in his 49ers fanhood, no matter how bad it got.
I couldn't tell you how many prideful bets he lost or arguments he started just to keep the faith. It didn't matter how aggravated you were with them, they were still you team, and you stood behind them.
My Dad became very ill in December of 2009 and was given six months to live. Sure enough, he passed in June of '10. I spent a lot of time with him during that time, mostly playing cribbage, watching old Western movies (mostly John Wayne, my Dad's nickname was Duke), and talking about sports; mainly about the 49ers. I remember him wearing his #17 POMIN jersey a lot those days as well, especially when he would get out of the house.
Five months after his passing, I checked out and went to Europe for a month with my best friend, but the main reason was for the 49ers vs. Broncos game in London. I felt it was a fitting tribute to him, even though they came into the game with a 1-6 record. They managed to squeak out the win. Score one for Dad. Though I would have liked the phone call afterwards.
The very next day the Giants would win the World Series, and I found myself toasting a bottle of champagne on the streets of London to his name. Two big wins in two nights? Couldn't get much better.
But more than anything else, this season for the 49ers would have meant the most to my Dad, even though he would have be infuriatingly mad with the outcome of the season. It means they are no longer a punch line or a pushover. They are for real. And even though they didn't win it all, they put the team on the map once again, with all the fans to bathe in their glory.
The gleam has returned to the time-tarnished legacy of the San Francisco 49ers, and I've never been more proud to be a fan. I'm sure Dad would be saying the same thing.
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