By Reno Wright (@TheRealReno)
As I walked into The 'Stick on Saturday night, the chants reverberated throughout the tunnel.
"FAAAAAAAAAITHFUL"! "NIIIIIIIIIIIINERS"! It still rings in my ears even after two days.
For anyone lucky enough to have attended a 49ers game on Candlestick Point over the years, you know these cheers. You have heard them thousands of times throughout a game. But on January 12th, 2013 there was something more to these cheers. Something truly special. Being it the second round of the playoffs, playing the hated Green Bay Packers all added an oomph to the chants sung passionately around the stadium. It could also have been that everyone was extraordinarily inebriated, which they were. Eat your heart out English Premier League Soccer. Spare me World Cup final. This was NFL Playoff football in San Francisco. I was lucky enough to not only score tickets to this game (thanks to Orinda native Tania Celante and her husband Tim Losee), but also pregame field passes. Saying I was lucky is an understatement. The scene before a football game is pretty mundane usually. Players stretch and run around getting warmed up, kickers see what their range is that day, and fans just sit and watch this odd scene. But this night was nothing like that.
Jay-Z's "N Words in Paris" blasted through the speakers as the players bobbed their heads to the beat. There was some smack talk between the Niners DB's and the Packer WR's as both here going through drills near the 50 yard line. Fans were screaming their heads off already. The stadium joined in unison in a "Let's Go Niners" chant that was louder than anything I have ever heard.
I attempted to take this all in while making some small talk with former Cal coach Jeff Tedford. At one point I even found myself ripping up the grass of Bill Walsh Field and shoving it into my pocket.
A few quick notes:
-B.J. Raji is the largest man I have ever seen. It would take 3 people to put their arms around him.
-Navarro Bowman is frightening in person.
-The dude with the long blonde hair and 'stach combo is the most chill bro ever. Take a look here.
After being told at least 10 times that we had to leave the field, Tim and I finally went to our seats just as Huey Lewis and the News started singing one of the most stirring renditions of the Star Spangled Banner since Whitney Houston in 1991. Not a dry eye inside The 'Stick. Then something happened that I think launched the crowd to another level. Clyde Carson appeared on top of the dugout and starting singing Slow Down. The fans went absolutely insane. Everyone, and I mean everyone was dancing. On their seats, in the aisle, even the 49ers were dancing on the sideline.
The crowd was in a frenzy as the Niners started their first drive, and then Kap made the one poor play of his record setting night. An across the body pick six that showed his inexperience. The crowd was dead silent for a moment, before realizing that the offense looked really good before the interception. And of course Kap did what he has done all season after making a poor play. He carried the team down to the Packers' red zone and then ran it in himself for the score. Little did anyone know that that moment would be the start of something no one thought possible.
Colin Kaepernick had the night of his life. (side note: As I was watching him run all over the Green Bay defense, I was having a flashback to him doing the same thing to the Cal Bears in Reno a few years back. Then I thought how much Tedford must hate Kap. First he destroys the Bears on national television, then he outplays the best player he had ever coached. THEN I realized that Tedford didn't ever recruit Kap out of Turlock, CA. Hence why he's looking for a job now, I guess.)
The game played out better than any of the Faithful fans could have expected. When Kap hit Crabs after the Jeremy Ross fumble (felt bad for the former Bear), the woman behind me (wool here btw) and her mother both exclaimed the game was over. The momentum of the score and the crowd was going to be too much for the Pack to overcome. And they were right thanks to this man.
Atlanta based rapper 2 Chainz popped up on the dugout and starting rapping something fierce. And once again, the crowd went bananas. Dancing, singing, drinking... it was just unreal. Basically, The 'Stick hosted a hip hop concert and a football game broke out, or whatever.
After that, the Niners never trailed. And while the score at half was close, the Faithful were a confident bunch. When the Pack tied it at 24, the confidence washed away a little bit after the Niners were forced to punt. The crowd was actually quiet for the first time all game. People even started sitting down, which was unheard of for the entire first half. We needed a big play to get us back in the game, and Patrick Willis delivered.
It should be noted that the Niners did a good job of pressuring Rodgers, but his ability to escape is wildly impressive to the point of all out frustrating. It seemed every time a 49er had him dead-to-rights, Rodgers made just enough of a move to get outside the pocket and safely throw the ball away. But on this play, Patrick Willis made one of the more impressive plays I ever seen. Blitzing from his weak side spot, Willis was popped by Jon Kuhn. But PWill somehow kept moving forward and popped Kuhn back with a killer forearm. It looked like Rodgers was surprised that Willis had made it through after being hit and could not get out of the way in time. Willis dropped Rodgers for the sack and the crowd erupted into a frenzy. I could not hear a word anyone next to me was saying. The crowd was back and so were the Niners.
On the next SF series, Kap showed the nation why Harbaugh decided to go with him over Alex Smith. A 56 yard keeper that absolutely made the Packer D look silly. After that play, the Niner Faithful in attendance would not have a reason to sit until they got into their cars to go home. It was an amazing night of offense by the 49ers, and the cherry on top, at least for me, was the final TD by none other than Section925 favorite Anthony "Boobie" Dixon. I just hope Dixon knows that in LR6, row 19 seat 7, there was some maniac in a gold satin jacket screaming "Boobie! Boobie! gettin hot on dey azz!!!"
Needless to say, everyone in my section had no idea what I was talking about. Oh by the way, I also was able to hang out in the player parking lot after the game.
A couple more notes follow:
- Donte Whitner is incredibly nice. I happened to be standing by his car when he came out of the locker room. He was more than happy to chat with me a little bit about the game and the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. He also has terrific form when high fiving. FYI. - Crabs drives a white $400,000 Maserati. OAB. - Anthony Davis came out in what had to be an XXXXL authentic Joe Thronton jersey. - Vernon Davis signs everyone's stuff and looks happy to do it. He interacted with the fans more than anyone. - Everyone loves Alex Smith. Had a lot of people around him asking for his autograph. - Randy Moss came out in a full length fur coat. Hand to God. It was everything I hoped for from Raaaaandy.
I later got to go back out onto the field and walk around a bit. As I looked around the emptying stadium, I suddenly became overwhelmed by the whole experience. It was just unreal to be there and look around The 'Stick from the field level again. The red end zones, the red outline on the numbers, beating a playoff nemesis, witnessing a record breaking night. I suddenly had a flash back to the late 80's and 90's era when I became part of the devoted Faithful Family. Remembering those painful losses to Dallas, New York, and Green Bay, the "Owens Owens Owens" game, beating Dallas in '95, the comeback victory over the Giants in 2003.
The memories of those games were so vivid. And to be walking that same field where so much joy and heartache took place for us all those years. It was just a moving feeling. I suddenly felt like we, as the Niners fans of this era, are finally in with those old school fans from the glory years of the 80's. We are enjoying an incredible era in Niner history, and this night was one of what will be many special nights for us 49er Faithful. See you in Hotlanta...