The Five Stages of Losing for a 49er’s fan
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If you’re a bold red and gold forty-niner San Franciscan, you know the heartbreaking roller coaster the team has put their community through the years. From the 2003 – 2010 years missing the playoffs seven years in a row to the short-lived Harbaugh glory days with the injury of Alex Smith thus bringing Colin Kapernick into the limelight only to lose Super Bowl XLVII to the Ravens, and then the weird one-year stint with Jim Tomsula who used to sell doormats, food, and medical equipment, the Niners really know how to test their constituents.
Now with a 10-2 record in 2019, the new hunk Jimmy G. fresh of an injury (he broke his own collarbone diving out of bounds last year), the San Francisco Niners are leading the NFC West with prospects of a Super Bowl on the horizon. Even with these great victories, our loss to the Ravens in Week 13 gave me a familiar taste of doubt, which prompted this article. That Sunday morning, a Long Island Iced Tea of feelings from rage, confusion, and paranoia followed me into Monday, one I most definitely did not want to face.
Even now, I have flashes of that game a few weeks ago filled with spilled beer, shaky shots of well whiskey and Jaegar, hoarse voices of raging elation and fury. Part pessimism, part self-preservation, below is a roadmap of sorts I made for myself and now you meant to identify the signs of grief and loss through battles between Forty-Niners enemies if it doesn’t go our way in the future.
The games over. Defeat weighs on you like a bad hangover that no amount of Gatorade or Popeyes chicken sandwiches can remedy. Everything is meaningless: the indecipherable yet staggering amount of your tab; the cute chick or boy that winked at you in the patio with buffalo sauce smeared all over their face; the free shot some random gave you – all of that is pointless and untrue. Truth, you realize, never had a definition. You refuse to accept it ever accepted in the first place. Facts are just something you cannot accept. Yet, the opposing team cheers on, their victory (your victory if it weren’t for that one call) overwhelms the bar, spilling out onto the streets, once your streets. The life you knew is no more. Someone puts the Talking Heads Stop Making Sense on the jukebox and David Byrne’s whining voice dick slaps your soul over and over and over. After a shot of someone else’s bourbon, you feel the pace of the denial settle, your thought-to-be-dead-heart starts to patter, and the once black and white neon Bud Light sign begins to glow whitish-blue again. How did that kicker miss that? What kind of ref would call that out of the end zone? Where are my friends? These questions fly at you like vengeful chicken wings as slowly the healing process begins. You think of next week, another chance, which only throttles you back to, why not now?
Your knuckles are bloody but you don’t know why. Where is this from? Who did this? Will my insurance cover it? Probably not, you think. Anger is a necessary step of loss for a Forty-Niner fan. Try to accept your anger, but try not to hurl your now empty pint of PBR and shot of Evan Williams at anyone or anything. The cops will be called and you will be even angrier. The drunk tank is nothing but a chair, a bunch of lost souls covered in gravelly piss, and most likely other fans that have lost in some way or another. There is no ceiling to your anger, so don’t try and break through it, literally or figuratively. That mirror you punched a couple of years back at Blackthorn? You still can’t go there and you love their pool table and patio section. If you are a religious person, you may query the Gods in righteous anger, WHERE ARE YOU DAMN YOU!?! When you realize you are merely screaming at a flipped SF Chronicle newsstand with your pants around your ankles, you see how the Gods answer those that are peace with themselves. Sometimes, anger can be a weight that lets you feel like you’re walking underwater. But, if you tie that weight to you, you will drown in it. Don’t drown. It’s bad. Maybe, through this anger, you start to blame the Niners. It’s their fault they lost. Jimmy G betrayed you by not getting downfield enough ultimately leading to Gould not being close enough to get that kick! In truth, this anger is a bond, proof of a deep deep love that is still there, elusive in the face of your rage.
Please, you beg the bartender, the stranger beside you, maybe even an opposing team. Don’t do this to me. Not like this. Bargaining before any great trial is yet another stage in a loss. You offer to clean the bar for a week to a waiter that quickly rushes away from you, telling everyone around things are fine, everything is just fine. You run to the bathroom, splash some water on your face, and bargain with the person in the mirror that if you start running again and not drink for a whole week, everything will be as it was when the Niners were up in the first quarter. A voice inside you hisses, if you only you cheered harder, if you’d bought that round for everyone at the table, if you’d worn your lucky Niner’s thong, maybe then they would have won. You let the team down. YOU! Guilt is a close companion of bargaining. After no deal has been made, the bar is empty besides you haggling with a pile of pulverized peanuts and a couple arguing over a plate of gnarled hot wings, pain enters. You juggle those two back and forth as the Niners did as they took the lead, lost it, and got it back again.
Like a perfect spiral from Steve Young or Joe Montana, you’re thrown back to the present. Maybe you’re out on the street outside your favorite sports bar: Tempest, Mad Dog in the Fog, Kezar, yet the joyful community you felt before this horror show happened has been replaced by something deeply and impenetrably empty. You take a step toward where you think is home and then you think of that one pass Jimmy G could have landed for that much needed first down. Suddenly, the street lights pop. Everything turns to black, black oily darkness. The road, barely seeable in all that muck and dejection, seems to stretch on forever. You wonder if the players feel this way and then you think, Of course not. They have penthouses, million-dollar contracts, and porn stars. All you have is a swollen forehead from leaning it on the bar for too long and an overdraft fee waiting for you in the morning for the margarita you bought for the bars local chihuahua. Damn that chihuahua, you think. How I wish I was him…her…I can never tell with that breed. You tell yourself this sadness is normal, that this depression is a part of the loss, but recalling the victory the Niner’s were sure to obtain against the Ravens and then blowing it in that Superbowl, sadness once again avalanches around you. It’s all too similar. That morning, that afternoon, that night, that pass, that kick, that run, that game, that tool in highschool you happened across at the popcorn machine, the one you wanted so bad to kick in the nuts, is not coming back. As Cher once sang, If I could turn back time/If I could find a way/I’d take back those plays that hurt you/And you’d stay.
After wandering into a 4 AM bar and discussing your woes with the bouncer who ended up stealing your wallet, then stumbling into the Hard Rock Cafe where a waitress/waiter said you had a nice smile only to realize it was closed, and finally calling an UBER home only to kick you out four blocks away because you forgot you ordered the Economy Pool Ride, the warmth of dawn melts Karl the Fog and hits you with the fire of acceptance. You feel…fine. The sting of the Niners defense not being able to keep Lamar Jackson downfield enough to keep them out of field goal range is still there, but you manage to affirm that reality is not a stone, but an ocean of beer with flocks of pristine touchdown passes soaring above, that beer forever flowing into the mouths of those that cheer for the Niner’s. Maybe at the next game day, you bring up that one call that changed it all and you’re met with resistance. You laugh it off, surprised that you even can laugh, and order fresh round. Somehow, you’re humble again. You see that everything has changed after that loss and you have the strength now after all that time of wondering and wandering to accept this hard truth of loss. This may feel like treachery to whatever week the Niner’s or any other team lost, but not moving on would only betray the guy presently at the bar who won’t take their hand off your waist or the friends who coaxed you to come out again or, more importantly, the team who needs you the most.