You say you got spirit … that the team colors course through your veins?
You say you’ve loved this team for years and cheered them through all the ups and downs?
My search for the ultimate San Francisco 49ers fan took me to the east side of town, out where city streets turn into country roads.
It took me through a set of double doors and into a sitting room, where the 49ers’ quest for a sixth Super Bowl ring has created quite a stir amongst the diehards.
For this pocket of San Francisco 49ers fans at Prestige Senior Living in Manteca, the coronation has already begun.
“Piece of cake,” John Bechtold said, rubbing a commemorative Super Bowl pin on his 49ers cap.
These are the unlikeliest of super fans, but a franchise with a rich tradition of winning and an infusion of talent has kept this collection of 70-, 80- and 90-somethings young at heart. Even as their bodies fail them.
Three of the ladies get around in motorized chairs, navigating the tight quarters of the Villaggio Room with the precision of a NASCAR driver.
Bechtold shuffles along slowly, his back hunched over. It looks painful, but you’d never know. His eyes are wide as quarters as he talks about the Super Bowl footage he’s collected over the years.
The tapes are in his room and he’d really love to show them to me, but …
“They tell me I’ve got to eat now,” Bechtold said.
No sweat, John. Next time.
There are holes in Frank Daines’ memory and he has trouble hearing, but the game still pulsates through him.
Daines has the closest connection to football, devoting nearly half his life to the game.
He was a football coach for 30 years – eight at Benicia High and 22 more at a junior high in Coalinga.
Before that, he played some at San Jose State, where he was the Spartans’ version of Daniel Ruettiger, otherwise known as “Rudy.” The 90-year-old Daines was a halfback with plenty of grit and hustle, but short on speed and size.
“That’s what you needed to be a good football player,” he said. “That’s what they looked for. Still do. Players that are fast are successful.”
Daines will cheer the 49ers on Sunday because he’s a Bay Area boy (he also received his masters from Stanford). But good luck getting a definitive prediction out of him. If there was one thing he learned during his coaching years it’s this: Never give the other team bulletin board material.
Ain’t that right, Frank?
“You betcha,” he says.
The ladies aren’t nearly as shy or tight-lipped. They all agree with Mary Connett, the 83-year-old with the mischievous smile and red-and-gold toenails:
“The 49ers will win – and it won’t even be close.”
Oh, it’s clear who rules this roost. Not only are the women louder and more outspoken than the men, they outnumber them too.
“We live longer,” Connett says, drawing applause from the other gals.
Sadly, in the case of legendary 49ers wide receiver and former Prestige resident RC “Alley Oop” Owens, she’s right.
Alley Oop’s legacy in the world of professional sports – and on the swanky grounds at Prestige – is secure.
He was 6 foot, 3 inches tall with arms so long you swear he could touch the moon. And for eight seasons with the 49ers, Baltimore Colts and New York Giants, he very nearly did.
Owens was the first receiver to break the 1,000-yard mark in a season, and his unique jumping ability and long arms, popularized the phrase “Alley Oop.”
Could you imagine the fun he’d have now playing in a pass-happy league?
Doris Landreth can.
“Alleeeeey Ooooop!” she says, punching the sky with her right arm, imitating the kind of touchdown catch that made her friend and former neighbor a star in the 1950s and 60s.
Landreth loves the 49ers, but mostly she loved Owens, who died last June at the age of 77.
The two shared a birthday, a wall, meals and daily conversation. When there was a game on, Landreth would peek in on Owens, ignoring the “Gone Fishing” sign hanging on the door.
“He was our role model,” she said. “To know him was to love him. If he were here, we’d really be celebrating.”
Don’t be fooled.
This crowd might be fragile and older than most, but they know how to party.
On Sunday, they’ll gather with about 20 to 30 of their closest friends and family in the cinema room to cheer on Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, Patrick Willis and the barnstorming NFC champions.
“We’ll have some noisemakers, some food,” said Alice Chidester, Prestige’s Life Enrichment Director. “Some chicken wings, some dip…”
And a touch of Mardi Gras. A touch of New Orleans revelry.
Before heading off to dinner, Landreth pulled a red feather boa from her chair and Connett left us with one more bold Super Bowl proclamation.
“We might have to break out the brandy,” she said. “I’m Italian – I don’t get drunk. I just drink everyone else under the table.”
She’s serious, too.
The diehards always are.