I am a 9ers fan in exile, and, even worse, I live out this exile in the NFL wasteland that is Arkansas, where roving bands of Cowboys fans duke it out with black-and-gold clad would-be Cajuns screaming Who Dat! in between inarticulate garbled grunts that occasionally resemble something close to the English language while Rams fans hide under cars in terror until they pass like the survivors in this weeks premier of the Walking Dead.
As a six year old boy my family moved to California from Connecticutt. It was 1984 and as you might remember a couple of guys named Jerry and Joe were doing their best to embarass everyone else who considered themselves professional football players. The bandwagon paused briefly in front of my house and I don't deny I jumped it like a hobo on a freight train. And I stayed. We had left California before the 49ers returned to the Superbowl and lived in Steelers and Oiler country before returning to New England. I was alone in a room of disinterested Pats fans watching George Seifert help Steve Young rip a certain monkey off his back, I stayed through Drukenmiller and the Garcia years, Tim Rattay and the near-fratricide that resulted in the ownership change that, in turn, led to Dennis Erikson.
Throughout a decade of mediocrity, I wore my red and gold with, if not pride, a sense of conviction and belief that my loyalty would be rewarded. I don't know that the glory days have returned, but after watching the passion and fire evident in the coaching staff and players on Sunday when beating a team the whole nation had annointed as the next big thing, I realize that the excitement and passion that I felt would not have been possible if I hadn't stayed during the bad times.
My parents, brother, cousins, best friend and the girl I took to the prom still live in New England. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to trade in jerseys and root for a different dynasty at any point in the last 10 years. That's why I have little patience for fans like a certain neighbor of mine who proudly sports a New Orleans Ssints decal above the brakelight of his Silverado in the exact spot where, until 3 years ago, a certain silvery star rode.
On days when the pollen count is high you can still see the spokes of the star outlined in dusty yellow. Sure, lots of us rooted for the Saints in the Superbowl, and I was thrilled for those fans who had waited so long for a win. And, I hate to encourage anyone to pull for the Cowboys. But, one day, when the Boys finally realize that Romo is simply not the guy, and when Jerry Jones stops doing his best Al Davis impersonation (too soon?), Dallas may indeed be a team worth watching again. And, if and when that happens, my neighbor may find another star to replace hie fleur-de-lis. Even if he does, the good days won't feel nearly as good. They just won't.
You've got to stay on the bandwagon even when the wheels fall off and the driver is clearly intoxicated (oh wait I already mentioned Dennis Erikson) and your co-riders are dropping like flies. Even when it looks like there's nowhere to go but down. Otherwise you'll never understand how good the good times really are. Alex Smith gets it. Patrick Willis, Adam Snyder, and more than anyone, Frank Gore get it. They've been losing so long that winning must feel incomparably good. And we get to feel a little bit of that too because we cheeered for them just as loudly when they were 1 and 5. So all of you who want to jump on the badwagon this year, please do. Welcome. But please. Stay. The ride will be worth it. I promise.