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January 22, 2012

Some Thoughts on Sports Allegiances

SF 49ers

Obsessive allegiances to sports teams have always mystified me, even as I myself hold and act upon these obsessive allegiances. This most worthless of sites, for instance, has long documented my ire and despair over the trials and tribulations of the ever faltering Cal Golden Bears. But as I myself observed some years back following an especially devastating failure by my alma mater that nearly brought me to tears, the notion of caring enough to weep about a sports institution whose only relation to you is that it represents your undergraduate university is difficult to explain—at least as a rational matter. The notion that one might care the same way about a team whose only relation is even more tenuous—that it represents a city which you may have once called home—is downright preposterous.

All these rational thoughts notwithstanding, each August I inevitably get excited for the upcoming college football season (and by October, am usually reduced to despair by atrocious quarterback play). Worse still, I would have been getting similarly excited about the NFL each year, but for nearly a decade, the team I've long rooted for—the San Francisco 49ers—was stuck in a rut of horribleness that actually made it seem like Cal had a better chance of getting to the Rose Bowl than the 49ers to a playoff game.1 One might think that after a decade of next to no expectations, my allegiance to the 49ers might have lessened. Instead, hours away from the NFC Championship, I again find myself anxiously awaiting the game—and wondering why it is that I care so much.

For one, I don't even live in San Francisco anymore. Indeed, nearly five years have elapsed since I last lived in San Francisco. What possible importance could that city's team hold for me now, especially when I live thousands of miles away in a city with two teams competing in every major professional sport? The only response I have to that eminently reasonable line of thought is this: old allegiances die hard. And my allegiance to the 49ers is as old as they come for me, dating back some 21 years and long before I even knew that Cal and Berkeley were the same thing.

Although I spent most of my (surly) youth in (the) Orange County, we lived in the Bay Area for a couple years in the early 1990s, around the time I became aware of professional sports. The 49ers had just transitioned from Joe Montana to Steve Young at that point and remained relatively strong. Three seasons of NFC Championship appearances against the (much loathed) Dallas Cowboys, culminating in a Super Bowl victory in 1995 pretty much sealed it for me. I would always be a 49ers fan after that.

So, I followed them as a kid. Does that explain it? Perhaps, in the same way it explains why Cal football has been important to me over the years: it's been an unwavering constant across time zones, schools, cities, and careers. But I also liked watching the Bulls as a kid (who didn't?) and the NY Rangers (Mark Messier!). I haven't seen a Bulls game in years, and lost interest in both the Rangers and hockey generally after the '94 lockout. These teams mean nothing to me now, whereas the 49ers continue to mean a lot. Why?

Having rambled on for the previous few paragraphs, I realize that question remains as salient as ever. And I still have no clue as to its answer (which, of course, bothers me to no end). But perhaps sometimes there are no answers in life. So, I guess all I can say is this: Go Niners!

^ 1 Realistically, this belief was also totally misguided. The last 49ers' last playoff appearance before this season was in 2002; Cal, meanwhile, hasn't made it to the Rose Bowl since 1958 (and hasn't won since 1937). The two can't even be compared.


Sorry, dude. Giants got this one.

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