We are officially less than a month before the start of the NFL season, so it's probably time to start previewing the monster. The key to the NFL's success — other than fantasy football and gambling, of course — is the rabid nature of its fans. That is to say: You don't see a lot of people painting their faces for their favorite golfer.
We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, even a TV guy or two, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, why My Team Is Better Than Your Team. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever. We will be running two a day until the beginning of the NFL season.
Right now: the San Francisco 49ers. Your author is Rick Chandler.
Rick Chandler is associate editor of Deadspin. His words are after the jump.
The scene: Driving from the San Francisco Bay Area to South Lake Tahoe on Friday. Listening to sports talk radio. Anxious 49er fans queue up, their concern registering on the station's phone bank ... tiny blinking lights, like a dozen Tinkerbells prepared to drink the poison for Peter. There is great wailing and gnashing of teeth, of course. Is Alex Smith the answer at quarterback? Will the team get to .500? And what's the deal with the defensive backfield, anyway? One guy phoned in and simply began sobbing.
It's sad, really. Poor dopes.
Myself, I'm retired.
It's less than two weeks until opening day, and I can't truthfully say that I even know who the 49ers are playing in their opener — it took Will to remind me that it is in fact The Buzzsaw. Oh, I'll watch. And I hope that the Home Eleven are victorious (or at least not pounded into a powdery substance). But the fire does not burn as brightly as it did in my younger days. As I said, as a rabid, Brie-eating fanatic of the red and gold, I have purchased a large RV — not unlike Albert Brooks in Lost In America — and am leisurely traveling the nation's back roads. I am experiencing new sights; different cultures; strange, exotic foods. Like red meat. And domestic beer.
A fair-weather fan, you say? Poppycock! You're talking to a person who, as an impressionable child, suffered through the late 1970s as a 49er fan. The Pete McCulley years. The Norm Snead Era. The Joe Thomas Epoch. Freakin' O.J. played for this team; after he developed the limp. I have looked intimately into the maw of consecutive 2-14 seasons, so don't come to me with any of that frontrunner nonsense. I'll knock you on your Steve DeBerg.
You see, the 49ers have won five Super Bowls — all during my prime football-watching years — and I'm not greedy. When Steve Young retired after the 1999 season, so did I. Not that Young was the be-all and end-all of 49ers players (although he was my favorite quarterback, ever. Sorry, Joe). It's just that his passing marked the end of an era, and I knew that it was also time for me to go. The writing was on the wall. No longer would my imagination run wild with this team, like one of Young's frenetic, helmetless broken-field scrambles. From now on, I would admire the Niners only from afar. And the only reason I can afford to do this is because of Montana and Rice and Lott, et al.
How can a man ramble far from home and not feel homesick? Due to the fact that he knows he always has a home to return to ... anytime he feels the need. No matter how long I've been gone, I know I can pull into my parents' driveway, and there will be those five Super Bowl trophies, cooling on the windowsill. And look — there's Bill Walsh sitting in a rocking chair on the porch. And John Taylor hanging laundry on the line in the yard. The 49ers of the 1980s, as John Denver sang, are the light in my eyes that keep me warm. Whenever I'm feeling down, or disgusted, or surfing the Internet and stumble upon a photo of Terrell Owens, I can always sit back, close my eyes and think of the 1985 Super Bowl. Hemingway called it a clean, well-lighted place. I call it "watching an NFL game and being able to enjoy the chicken wings."
So the 49ers are doomed to failure again this year? Well, OK. I'm not really that worked up about it.
UPDATE: I showed the above to my friend Matt, who knows me about as well as anyone. His reaction follows.
I don't buy a word of it. I expect to read the follow up column, written from a drainage ditch outside Monster Park on a hot dog wrapper you've used to dab your teardrops after week 9.
Poking me with a stick to see if I'm alive is permitted. But please do not attempt to resuscitate.