There are red flags everywhere you look around the O’Neill household. But just in case you weren’t sure how deep their love for the San Francisco 49ers runs, Kevin O’Neill raised another.
Rising from the rock bed in front of his two-story home in west Manteca is a 25-foot flag pole. On top, flies the American flag, a nod to family and country. Below it waves a San Francisco 49ers flag, with its own rich history and iconic colors.
“My dad is a huge fan and I followed in those footsteps,” said the 55-year-old O’Neill, who grew up in the Bay Area. “I came up in the years of John Brodie and the good years of Joe Montana and all of those guys. I’ve been a 49ers fan since the age of 5.”
And as he’s grown older, so to have his shows of allegiance and faith to a franchise that has won five Super Bowl championships.
The outdoor bar in his backyard is the working masterpiece, a gathering place for a family and neighborhood teeming with 49ers fans. In many respects, the corner hangout becomes 49ers Central on Sundays and Mondays.
“The beautiful thing about the bar is that it’s a meeting place for me and my sons and my grandkids. We sit around and pretend we’re tailgating,” said O’Neill, who hosted a party of 10 for last Sunday’s 23-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
“We can sit (inside) on the couch and be nice and relaxed, but the truth is we like to sit outside, barbecue, have a beer and scream and yell.”
His wife, Karen O’Neill, has learned to embrace her husband’s creation, affectionately dubbed the “Nail in Hand Bar” for the nail he drove through two fingers while building the roof.
What began with a few posters and a barbecue about seven years ago has grown to include a bar top, television cabinet, outdoor speakers and “every other thing that you can stick a 49er emblem on,” she said. “It has a life of its own and sits forlornly when everything off just waiting for the next game day.”
The walls enshrine many of the modern-day quarterbacks that have lined up under center for the 49ers. Joe Montana, Steve Young and Alex Smith jerseys hang on the walls next to a poster of Colin Kaepernick. The scores from each game this season have been scratched onto the schedule of that poster.
On the back shelf, O’Neill has framed a picture of head coach Jim Harbaugh coming unglued on the sideline. “I keep this up here because he reminds me of me,” O’Neil said with a toothy smile.
There’s more than just memorabilia in this poolside cove.
O’Neill built and attached a miniature goal post at the end of the bar for the finger football games that fill the commercial and halftime breaks.
There are enough red lights to line an airport runway. Some that flash the words “GO, SF, GO” and others that change with the sports season. The LED lights beneath the bar have three color options: red for the 49ers, green for the Oakland A’s and orange from the San Francisco 49ers.
“First of all, I have to say that though I feel he has taken it to the extreme just a bit,” Karen said, “I do love what he has and I appreciate his enthusiasm.”
The outdoor bar has all the trappings of a tailgate party without the travel and packing. O’Neill has three grills at his disposal – one gas, one charcoal and a smoker. There is beer in the cooler, wine in the refrigerator and well drinks in the jockey box. The side yard has ample space for additional seating, games of Cornhole (bean bag toss) and a fire pit.
Just don’t steal someone’s seat.
The stools at the bar, O’Neill says, have been reserved for he and his sons – a superstition he believes brings good fortune to the team.
“There’s no question. Everyone has their own place to sit at the bar. No one can switch it up. I’m in the far corner, but I stand the entire game,” he added. “There’s absolutely that superstition that if the wrong people are there it totally screws up the mojo. It’s one of those deals.”
That attention to detail extends to his wardrobe, too.
O’Neill wears two jerseys on game day – Kaepernick’s No. 7 underneath Frank Gore’s No. 21. It was an arrangement he began at the start of the 49ers’ eight-game winning streak and hopes to continue through the Super Bowl.
“Kevin’s 49er shrine is not just to a team. It is a sanctuary, a gathering place for our family and a testament of Kevin’s faith in a team,” Karen said. “The shrine is Kevin and Kevin is the shrine.”