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Faithful drawn to ink to show support
San Francisco 49er fan Don Brake gets a look at his new tattoo. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Don Brake settled into the padded chair, the spotlight above illuminating his rich-red 49ers jersey.

For the next 90 minutes, Brake spoke romantically about the team he’s followed for nearly four decades.

He recalled the 1981 Super Bowl – his first as a Californian. Gushed about defensive end Justin Smith. And shook his head at the 49ers’ shocking loss in St. Louis last month.

“He’s got a lot of love,” said his wife Debbie, a lifelong Rams fans.

Brake’s not afraid to make a statement, either.

Some fans show their support by wearing the gear – jerseys, hats, sweaters, jackets and scarves. Others fly the colors outside their home.

However, beginning with the San Francisco Giants’ World Series championship in November, a number of Central Valley fans have taken to a permanent show of allegiance:

The tattoo.

“A lot of people care about their team,” said Lucky You Tattoo artist/owner Johnny Holguin.

Brake braved the buzz and needle of Holguin’s gun on Thursday, giving his left sleeve to a franchise he’s rooted for since moving to California in 1974.

Holguin says his shop has averaged about 10 49ers-specific tattoos a week since the playoffs began, ranging in style and shape. The number could balloon in the next week, too. Lucky You is offering select 49ers tattoos for $50 through the Super Bowl, which will be played on Feb. 3.

The Parlor has noticed a small uptick in 49ers requests, as well, but nothing like the blitz experienced when the Giants won their second title in three seasons.

“It hasn’t been as big as you would think,” The Parlor’s Clay Lewis said, “not like when the baseball team won.

“When the Giants won, (a tattoo tribute) was big for awhile. Everyone was doing deals on tattoos. Everyone wanted a tattoo.”

Brake has both.

On Thursday, he went for a simple, palm-sized design on his lower left bicep: the 49ers’ oval seal. The tattoo took less than 90 minutes, and when he finished, he wrapped Holguin in a hug.

“It’s hard to find a good tattoo artist,” Brake said. “When you do, you got to stick with him.”

Brake plans to grow the 49ers tattoo toward his shoulder, completing the half sleeve. The design and timing, he says, depends on how the 49ers do against the Baltimore Ravens.

If they win, completing the franchise’s quest for a sixth championship, Brake says he’ll add the six Vince Lombardi trophies and a helmet to the design.

“This is just the start,” he said. “I want it to come all the way up my arm.

“I want it to say that I’m one of the proud faithful of the 49ers. That I’m not afraid to wear their colors on my sleeve.”

Brake’s upper body resembles that of San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the second-year pro out of Turlock who has received just as much attention for his body art as his run-and-gun style of play.

Kaepernick’s arms, chest, ribs and entire back are covered in ink, with most being references to faith and religion.

Brake has 15 tattoos scattered about his upper body, all of which have sentimental value for the 56-year-old. His collection includes a Giants logo, a tribute to his dead son, veterans and NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, as well as his family tree.

“You never get a tattoo you’re going to regret down the road,” Brake said.

Two years later, Kevin Cruz’s passion and ink burn bright.

In this rush to get tattooed, Cruz is a trendsetter.

The 23-year-old has an image of the 49ers’ oval seal bursting through the skin on his chest. He had it put there late in the Mike Singletary era. Singletary was fired with one game left in the 2010 season.

“People have tried to tell me that I’m a bandwagon fan, because it looks too fresh,” said Cruz, 23. “I have pictures in my phone that can prove I had it before they were good.

“I’ve been a 49ers fan since I was born.”

The Parlor keeps Cruz’s tattoo on display in a book near the front window.

The shop is also planning a 49ers special next week – $50 or $60, depending on the size – and Cruz’s design is among The Parlor’s most popular.

Another favorite: 49ers spelled out (either horizontally or vertically down, say, an arm or leg) in saloon letters.

“People take pride in their team, that’s all,” Holguin said. “People are proud – and it’s their local team. They feel like it’s their team, too.”