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Stadium? Amazing. Crowd? Not so much
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It’s been at least a decade since I had been to an NFL football game, and that was partially by design.
There was no way, I told myself, that I was going to support the moving of my favorite football franchise to a city on the other side of the bay – in a completely different climate – only so the silver-spooned owner could put more money into his pocket.
How, I asked myself, can anybody in their right mind support watching the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara?
But then on Sunday morning my wife surprised me with an early anniversary gift with two tickets in the 501 Club to last Sunday’s game against the playoff-bound Tennessee Titans.
And immediately all of my idealistic bravado about fandom went out the window as I got ready to drop my son off with my parents and spend the day with my wife watching football in the California sun.
The drive into the stadium wasn’t so bad, and parking – despite it being a maze of color-coded lots that are inaccessible from one another – wasn’t as complicated as it could have been.
But, as I suspected, the atmosphere in the parking lot was not unlike that of a bar that was a sideways glance away from erupting into an all-out brawl – with massive quantities of alcohol being consumed right up until people started walking into the stadium.
I used to joke with the fellow Niner fans in the office whenever a video of San Francisco fans fighting with rival fans in a most unfair way would turn up on the web after a home game, and make some off-the-cuff comment about how the “wine and cheese” crowd that cheered Joe Montana and Jerry Rice into the Hall of Fame has been replaced by those with boorish behavior that one would expect on the other side of the bay.
But it wasn’t until I saw it with my own eyes, and felt the tension that came with it, that I realized just how true that actually was.
I’m not a fuddy duddy. And it wasn’t all that long ago that I was one of the people consuming beverages in the parking lot of Candlestick before a Sunday afternoon game. But now that I have a family of my own, I’m seriously questioning whether I would ever take them into that environment and pay through the nose for the privilege of doing so. The rough and tumble, in my mind, were always in Oakland or at the Meadowlands or Veteran’s Stadium, but now it appears everywhere is overrun with people who think that it’s perfectly normal to drink yourself into oblivion and walk around looking for somebody to just look at you before popping off.
With all of that said, the fact that I haven’t had a lot of time this year to watch football on Sunday afternoons was instantly wiped away when I got to watch the 49ers actually look like a football team for three hours last weekend – driving the length of the field for a game-winning field goal that a relatively full stadium was still there to see.
Somehow she manages to come up with presents that surprise, and the memories from all of them will live with me forever.
I can’t say I won’t go back. But I’m not quite so sure I’ll be bringing the kids when I do.

Hawaii here I come
In other “things I’ve never done that my wife made possible” news, I’ll be leaving on Christmas morning to spend the holiday in Hawaii.
It’ll be the first time that I’ve set foot on the “islands” that have been a mythical draw for me since I was old enough to find them on a map.
And there’s nothing more exciting to me that seeing the looks on my children’s face when they see the blue water and the palm trees and the hula dancers and the fire throwers and everything else that makes Hawaii a unique destination and an American treasure.
Where else can you experience a truly unique culture more than 3,000 miles away from home without actually having to go through customs?
From the Dole Plantation Pearl Harbor to the Polynesian Cultural Center to Waikiki Beach itself, we’re going to take in everything that Oahu has to offer during the week that we’re there, and in doing so will make lifelong memories for our children and ourselves.
I also have to admit that packing for this trip will take much less work than any other trip that I’ll be taking anytime soon. For anybody that knows me, the fact that I’ll be wearing one of two pairs of shoes I’m bringing on this trip will be a miracle in and of itself – a pair of Rainbow flip-flops and some Sperry Top-Siders because I need to be a cliché in my Hawaiian shirt as possible – and the fact that I don’t have to pack emergency jackets will mean that I can condense my weekly wardrobe into a single bag.
No carryon, no problems.
I’m looking forward to this.

A sad turn of events
I got a phone call yesterday informing me that Ben Jetton – also known as the Downtown Manteca Santa Claus – has entered a Hospice facility in Hughson.
Jetton, who started out this holiday season taking pictures with kids at the corner of Main Street and Yosemite Avenue – apparently has a very aggressive form of pancreatic cancer, and his decline stunned even those that are close with him.
Jennifer Munoz told me that when he said he was going to the doctors because he didn’t feel well, she expected him to be back in a week. Now he likely isn’t going to be coming home at all.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jetton quite a few times over the years, especially when Munoz and her family were instrumental in rebuilding Santa’s Hut so that future generations could enjoy the truly unique Manteca charm that Jetton is.
His stealth move – disappearing from crying children and popping up at the last minute so a picture can be taken with a smile on their face – is legendary, and just further shows how much he actually cared about the kids he would meet along the way.
My deepest condolences to the Jetton family and all that were close to him during this difficult time.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.