Love. We spend our whole lives trying to understand it. We spend our whole lives trying to find it. We spend money and act a certain a way to make people love us, hoping that what we feel really is love and that they feel the same way about us too. We find love in our family, friends, partners, and sometimes in people we don’t even know – a true phenomenon. So much of our time is spent on meeting new people and collaborating with others, but at the end of the day, little of it really means a lot. Most of us can count on both hands the number of people we truly love. That connection is really nothing more than being truly open and authentic with someone else and not putting up a façade or mirrors to hide who we really are. For it’s our greatest fear not that we’ll never find love, but that we will, and when we open up and show who we really are, that we will get hurt.
Sports have always interested me. Even before I really got into them, it amazed me how passionate people were about it. You’d hear one guy say he was a Niners fan and one guy say he was a Raiders fan and you’d know that they are about to butt heads. Not to mention how any two guys with opposite interests can instantly become best friends by finding out they have the same favorite sports team. And don’t get me started about Lakers fans. Sports are the number one conversation starter at bars, parties, and pretty much every awkward encounter in life. Well I’m glad you got that checked up (awkward pause) So, you see the game yesterday? Oh dude that was crazy! Yea I know it’s… We’ve all been there. Icebreakers don’t have anything on the power of sports. And there’s nothing cuter than a girl who knows her way around ESPN and roots for her team. Except for when there is a pink jersey involved.
Still, something about it didn’t quite make sense. I really like some TV shows – The Wire is one of the best shows of all time – and I also love to learn about cars, but I wouldn’t yell at some guy I didn’t know over a show or a car. I wouldn’t automatically like a person based on what brand of clothes they bought. But I find myself doing that with other fans that follow my teams. He’s a Niners fan you say? I knew he was alright – kid looks like he doesn’t take no nonsense. Sure, part of that is posturing and joking to make that meaning about a team, but it’s something that actually takes on an effect in my life. When I lock eyes with that Niners fan across the bar and we give each other the slightest nod of the head, I know that he gets me. I don’t know his name, what he’s done, or where he’s from, but at that moment it’s more than all that.
We desire that ability to connect to another person. Many of us spend our lives hiding from those connections out of fear of getting hurt. I’m the only person I need. Once I just learn to love myself then only can I love other people. Other people just don’t get me. All we really want is for people to accept us the way we are.
I was at Barney’s Beanery in Westwood to watch the Niners game over the weekend. As extra good luck I wore the exact same clothes that I wore during the Saints game – my throwback Steve Young jersey with my light blue jeans and boots (You don’t want to know what I wore for the Giants World Series run). The Patriots-Ravens game already got the juices flowing in preparation for the Niners game. The whole room was pretty much full of Niners fans at that point, and I could already feel that sense of community. A few friends of mine made jokes about Eli Manning’s masculinity and I started chatting up the guys standing next to me about random sports knowledge to see if they knew what they were talking about (because no one’s a bigger fan than you are, right?). I quickly dismissed them as bandwagoners and turned my attention to the guy waxing poetic about how great Staley and Iupati have been this season. This guy knows his shit, I can respect that. Another guy walking by me gave me a fist bump and a “Hell yea son!”, while someone else yelled out that Patrick Willis needs to break Eli Manning’s back like Bane did to Batman (Okay that was me). The vibes felt strong and I had a good feeling about the game since so many people had come out to root for the team. Surely we couldn’t lose.
Kickoff. My heart was pounding after the first Niners drive ended in a quick punt, but a few good plays by our defense made sure the Giants gave it back quickly. Then came the awesome Vernon Davis touchdown. A perfect throw, a near perfect run, and just like that the Niners were up. The handshakes, hugs, and high fives couldn’t have come faster. Everyone was up in their seats thanking God and yelling like a crazy person. I pointed at a guy wearing a VD jersey and he pointed back with a slight smile and nod. He knows what I mean.
The second quarter didn’t exactly go to plan. The Niners couldn’t seem to find a pass for a 3rd down conversion and the Giants scored to start off the quarter. It seemed like every time the Niners converted any first down attempt, it stalled the immediate moment afterwards. There were more punts than I care to count, and what made it worse was that it wasn’t even one thing that was wrong, but just everything seemed to be off. I couldn’t shrug off the feeling that the Niners just didn’t have their head in the game. When the Giants scored a field goal to take the lead at the end of the half, I looked around to see a bunch of dejected fans groaning. Something just didn’t feel right. My brother called me at half time and he just had a bad feeling about the game. As much as I denied it, part of my mind believed it and was scared.
It’s funny how one play can change how you feel completely. After holding the Giants back for two drives in the 3rd quarter, the Niners executed a beautiful drive ending in that wide open VD touchdown. Suddenly the fans were back into the game. Hahah, yea man, I knew all along we’d get our shit together. We just need a couple of big plays like that to keep our team going. Our defense is legit, there’s no way Manning is going to score on us.
Not without some help at least. The 4th quarter Kyle Williams muff confused the whole bar. Tarrell Brown getting absolutely creamed by teammate Dashon Goldson as they both went for the interception silenced the bar. The Eli Manning touchdown pass against Raheem Brock angered the bar. I looked around in dismay to see other people shaking their heads in disbelief that such an array of events could happen to our team. The number of mistakes that happened in a row couldn’t happen at this time – It isn’t fair.
The Niners fought back with a field goal to tie the game, and it lit a match under everyone’s ass because the cheering didn’t stop. Every Niners possession someone was yelling, “LETS GO NINERS LETS GO” and every Giants possession I can’t repeat here what was said. There was passion, commitment, and fear in every yell and jeer in that group, because we wanted to believe it was possible. Even after every chance the Niners got stalled, it didn’t stop anything. We believed. We believed when the Niners punted the ball with 1:18 left in regulation, and when they punted in overtime. We believed when Justin Smith sacked Manning on that 3rd and 3 from the Niners 46 to force a punt. The cheering never stopped as people that didn’t even know each other smiled, hugged, and yelled for the only thing they had in common.
Then Kyle Williams got stripped on the punt return. In my head exploded an angry inferno of blame. I blamed Kyle Williams for fumbling away the most important possession in the last decade for Niners fans. I blamed the coordinators for not telling him to call a fair catch. My mind went back to Vernon Davis dropping a barely tipped pass. Blame. To whoever injured Tedd Ginn. Blame. To Raheem Brock for giving up a touchdown. To Dashon Goldson for hitting Tarrell Brown and forcing Brock into the game. To Alex Smith for not converting on 3rd downs. To Jim Harbaugh for not being more aggressive. Blame, blame, blame.
The moment finally hit that the Giants recovered the ball. All I felt was an empty sadness that felt like it would never go away. My head was in my hands as I pulled at my hair. I thought it was something that I, and only I, would ever feel. But then I peeked around. And there was just that same sadness. Sure some people muttered things, some cursed, some were quiet, some were just in shock and awe. But below all that was just that same sadness. At that moment, I realized something.
When you truly connect with someone, it isn’t about what they’ve done, where they’re from, or what they enjoy. It’s just simply being there with someone regardless of anything else. In those few moments, I felt like I had fumbled that ball. I didn’t blame Kyle Williams, I was Kyle Williams. The guy standing next to me was Vernon Davis. The guy who yelled “Hell yea son” was Raheem Brock. The parent at home with his 3 kids was Alex Smith. The lady with 4 dogs at Candlestick was Dashon Goldson. And we were all each other. Because in those few moments of sadness, we understood each other without the fear, cover, and stories. You get me.
After the game ended, all of the fans got up and just wandered around aimlessly. There were a few guys that had looks of disgust, some people said “I’m sorry”, and others just gave each other looks that said everything. We eventually strolled out of the restaurant, depressed, and went on home to continue our lives. Some of them may give up on the Niners. Some of them were bandwagoners. Some may not be there if the Niners don’t succeed next year. We will all talk about how bitter that game was, but only just like that, as a game and nothing more. I may never see the guy who nodded at me again in my life, but it doesn’t matter. In those few moments that everyone realized what just happened, there were no more stories, covers, lies, or blame. There was simply us. A moment that was so pure, even in the sadness. Because even in sadness, there is love.