Full disclaimer: I am a fifth generation San Franciscan. There are photos of me as a child, dressed as Joe Montana. I have a mini football signed by Ronnie Lott.
My friend’s dad was the former ball boy for the 49ers and had in his possession “The Catch” ball caught by Dwight Clark. That ball now sits in the 49ers Hall of Fame in Santa Clara. That same friend got engaged next to that ball inside the Hall of Fame as her fiance knew how important the ball was to her father’s memory.
With all this history and connection to the team, many from my childhood find it hard to believe I no longer root for the 49ers. That’s when I tell them about the 2011 NFC Divisional playoff game between the Saints and 49ers in Candlestick Park.
Since falling in love with the Saints while working as a beer seller in the Superdome during the 2004 season, I have attended numerous matchups between the 49ers and Saints. Always dressed in Saints gear, I haven’t missed a Saints away game against their former divisional opponent dating back to 2007.
The first two games were in Candlestick Park while the last one was in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
In 2007, the Saints thoroughly beat the 49ers 31-10 as “Who Dat?!” chants rained down from their fans in attendance. Many of them, including the bulk of my friends, were transplanted evacuees from Hurricane Katrina who had chosen to relocate to the West Coast in the storm’s aftermath.
I was rolling deep with about 20 other Saints fans. We all took the bus to the game and sat together so I felt very safe. Plus, it helped that the Saints beat the 49ers’ ass all game so no 49ers fans could really even try to talk sh*t to any of us.
In 2010, the Saints narrowly beat the 49ers on a game-winning field goal by Garrett Hartley that doinked over the crossbar as time expired. That was also the game in which Reggie Bush muffed a punt and broke his fibula while trying to recover it.
At this point, my Saints-inspired Elvis costume was undefeated and currently riding a 10-game winning streak whenever I wore it to games. But unlike the game three years before, the 49ers had improved and their fans had begun to wear current player jerseys rather than the throwback jerseys they sported during their previous decade of derailment.
I sat with two friends from high school who were both 49ers fans. One of them is SFPD, so that certainly helped make me feel safer as a lone Saints fan in a sea of red and white jerseys. Still, I didn’t feel comfortable cheering or standing up. I knew if I did either, the 49ers fans around me would make either my life hell or cause trouble with my friends who had my back.
In 2016, I went to Levi’s Stadium for the first time and watched the Saints dominate the 49ers. I sat with my brother in law, who is a life long 49ers fan and former Candlestick season ticket holder. The stadium, still very new, was certainly nice, but only half filled with a distinctly more “wine and cheese” type of crowd than the far more gritty, urban crowd found in Candlestick.
While watching 49ers home games this year, one thing is abundantly clear. The fan base is more rejuvenated and confident than they’ve been since their championship window abruptly shut following a loss to the Ravens in 2013 in Super Bowl XLVII.
Being confident and proud of one’s team is usually a positive quality, but one thing I’ve noticed over the years is that whenever the 49ers are having a strong season, some of their fans choose to display that air of confidence in disrespectful and downright despicable ways.
I mentioned the 2011 Divisional playoff game in Candlestick as the main reason I don’t root for the 49ers anymore. I wasn’t there. I watched from the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street in New Orleans. But friends of mine were at that game.
As the 49ers jumped out to an early lead, my friend Andrea decided to go to the bathroom and refresh her drink as the game wasn’t proving to be much fun at all. While walking in the concourse, a man in a 49ers jersey walked up to her and spit in her face.
She turned to the security guard closest by and asked imploringly, “Excuse me sir, is that appropriate fan behavior?” The guard smiled at her and said, “We Dat.” She left at halftime because she didn’t feel safe from the verbally and physically abusive fans or the security personnel charged with protecting all fans despite their team affiliation.
Another friend got so sick of the 49ers fans verbally abusing her from a few rows back, she stood up, turned around, and reminded them, “We flew here, we’re staying at a hotel, we’re buying meals, drinks, and tipping your service industry workers. Show a little more respect to those contributing to your economy and just trying to have a good time too.”
She left after the 49ers fans started yelling at her calling her a “c*nt” and a “b*tch.”
Another Saints fan took his two young daughters to the game, but they had to leave before halftime because 49ers fans were screaming at his daughters that they were “sluts”. These were girls under the age of 12 having to listen to endless harassment from grown ass human beings at a sporting event while sitting next to their dad.
Think I’m being too sensitive? Google “49ers fans beat up other fans” and the search leads to dozens of reports and articles showing a disturbing trend among the San Francisco fan base. I went to a 49ers game at Candlestick against the Giants once, and multiple fights broke out in my section alone.
In fact, I don’t think I’ve come across a more verbally abusive and violent fan base than perhaps Philadelphia Eagles fans, who had two of their fans thrown out of our section in the Dome last year for fighting a cop and throwing a bottle.
There’s a small chance the 49ers’ move to Levi’s Stadium purged some of these deplorable fans. Whenever the 49ers go through a few consecutive losing seasons, their fans seem to temper their terrible ways, but as soon as the team shows promise again, their fans “eat the cheese” and revert back to their disrespectful modus operandi.
Saints fans, on the other hand, pride themselves on being gracious hosts to their opposing team’s fans. They recognize these people took time off work, traveled to another city, stayed in a hotel or short term rental, ate breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, while tipping those who wait on them.
When I’m in the Dome, I always tell opposing fans to please enjoy their stay in our city and make sure they go see some good music. When I noticed a couple Browns fans struggling to take an awkward selfie in front of the Dome, I offered to take a better photo for them. They seemed taken aback, but took me up on my offer and sincerely thanked me afterward.
I’ve seen Saints fans buy beers for fans from other teams, albeit, usually when the Saints are winning. I’ve never seen a fight outside or inside the Dome that involved a Saints fan. I’ve never felt unsafe inside the Dome, even after the infamous “no-call” game last year when other fan bases might have acted with far less grace.
The 49ers are undoubtedly the best all around team the Saints will face this regular season. They are also one of the few teams in the NFC that could challenge the Saints’ future playoff seeding. Two of the league’s best defenses will square off in an attempt to assert NFC dominance, and only one will leave the game in firm control of the conference.
But no matter what happens in the game, the Saints will still have the best all around fan base. Being a kind and welcoming host doesn’t cost anything, and Saints fans have always known how to be both while still having more fun than anyone else.