The truth is I’ve despised the 49ers longer than I’ve loved the Rams. Only by a few seconds, mind you, but it’s true.
When I was 9 or 10 years old I wasn’t really into sports. Let’s bookend that statement, before I go any further, with the notion that today, at 51, I’m not really into sports, either. I mean, I love NFL Football, and college football because future NFL football players come from there, but that’s about it. I was a Lakers fan for Magic Johnson’s last memorable season, and then again through the Shaq/Kobe era and slightly beyond. But I don’t follow basketball at all these days. Baseball? I’m a “Dodgers fan” as far as that matters, but I haven’t watched a baseball game in 25 years. Last year the Dodgers were actually in the World Series and I remember thinking “if I’m ever going to care again, I suppose it’s now.”
I didn’t watch a single pitch.
I never got into hockey. Or soccer, except to briefly watch the great Megan Rapinoe strut her stuff and piss off the political right. Sports are cool, I have nothing against them. I suppose if I had more free time I’d watch/follow basketball, baseball, tennis, hockey and soccer, in roughly that order. But I don’t so it’d be hard to call me a sports fan, at all. I make no time for it.
I make time for NFL football. A lot of time. I make time for the Rams, especially. But, as I said, I’ve despised the 49ers even longer than I’ve loved the Rams.
By a few seconds.
Some of you might remember why. Back when I was 9 or 10 I played sports in the street sometimes because my older brother and the other boys played sports in the street all the time. They would pull me from my comic books occasionally to come be an even body. The right fielder, so to speak. I always had the option to say “no, I don’t wanna,” but that was the same option as asking my brother for another charlie horse so generally I just said “sure!”
But not being a sports fan, much less a football fan, I didn’t have a team. I was harassed a bit for that until finally I had to pick one. We were all from the Bay Area (Monterey Bay area, but close enough) so most of the kids on the playground and in the street were default San Francisco fans. The only litmus test I needed then, when picking my football team, was the question “Who do the San Francisco 49ers hate most?”
The answer, at the time, was the Los Angeles Rams. Out of spite, they became my team.
Some years later, as I was wrapping up my high school years, I really started paying attention to “my team.” Eric Dickerson. Henry Ellard. Jackie Slater. LeRoy Irvin. Jerry Gray. Jim Everett. Kevin Greene. Flipper Anderson. It wasn’t long before I knew their names as well as Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk and Goliath. In fact, the first time I really watched them play for any extended period of time they were one game away from the Super Bowl in 1985.
For the next few years they were the highest scoring team in football. Fun to watch. And they fell one game short of the Super Bowl, again, in 1989. But they got knocked out of the running by the only team in sports with whom I had a longer history with than the Rams.
By a few seconds.
In fact, it seems like my entire young life as a football aficionado was dominated by the phrase I despised most: “Super Bowl Champion San Francisco 49ers.”
That was the era of Joe Montana and Steve Young, of Jerry Rice and Roger Craig. Great team. Great folks, by all account, and my nemeses since shortly after birth.
To add salt to the wounds of the era, the 49ers beat my Rams 17 times in a row between 1990 and 1998. That is the second longest such streak in NFL history. And they beat us by an average of 18 points/game. One might sensibly wonder why, at the time, I didn’t just take up cricket. Go Shaheens.
At the moment the historical series between the Rams and the 49ers stands at 69-67-3, with the 49ers holding a slight edge. That’s a pretty tight rivalry. They have only met once in the playoffs, surprisingly, and it was that 1989 game I mentioned above, from which it took us a decade to recover.
We were the second worst team in the 90s, by win percentage. From 2007-2011 my Rams posted the worst 5-year record in NFL history. That still stands.
I have never missed a snap. Since 1985 I’ve watched every Rams game I could. NFL Sunday Ticket came in 1994 and ensured I could see them all. Even in crushing defeat I stay until the end to see one good thing.
There have been some great things, too. Eric Dickerson still holds the single season rushing record, established in 1984. I heard Flipper Anderson’s record-breaking receiving day against the Saints on the radio in 1989. In 1999, we came from nowhere to become the Greatest Show on Turf and finally won a Super Bowl. The Rams, who had left their home in Los Angeles in 1995 to live in St Louis, ostensibly forever, returned to Los Angeles in 2016. They’ve been to two more Super Bowls since 1999, notably to one this year.
I expected to lose Super Bowl LIII. The Patriots are a dynasty and have the best QB and best head coach in the league, perhaps in history. They had lost the Super Bowl the year before and, try as I might, I just couldn’t see them dropping two of them in a row. We were young and made too many mistakes in big games for my comfort. I expected we’d lose. I expected a better showing, but I still expected to lose. I had made my peace with it.
I am never at peace with a loss to the 49ers.
Tomorrow we play the San Francisco 49ers for the 139th time. We beat them the last two, and three of the last four. But this is a better San Francisco team than then. The 49ers are one of only two unbeaten teams left in 2019 (the other being the Patriots). The Rams are 3-2 and the 49ers are 4-0. This is the first time since 2001 that these two teams faced each other while both had a winning record. That was, like, 35 games ago. This is special.
And I want the Rams to win tomorrow more than I wanted them to win in February.
Because, the truth is, I’ve despised the 49ers longer than I’ve loved the Rams. And we all know how I love the Rams.
This is Niner week. This is identity time. This is for all the marbles.
Super Bowl CXXXIX, for the Cummings house.
I think I’ll wear blue.