After the San
Francisco 49ers won their second straight game of the season at Kezar Stadium,
the team repaired to a dining room atop a nearby brewery for a postgame dinner.
This kind of togetherness is not unusual elsewhere in the league, but in
genteel San Francisco, where the fraternal roar of Lions is greeted with pained
shudders, it is practically unheard of. Remarkably, it was the players
themselves who arranged the party. In earlier times they finished their game
and went their separate ways. The dinner marked a first for the 49ers and was
evidence of a new and burgeoning spirit.
"We were never
together as a team," says John Brodie, the quarterback. "At practice
the offensive and defensive units are separate. After practice everyone went
off in different directions—across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County, over
the Bay Bridge to Oakland, out the Bayshore Freeway to Redwood City or Atherton
or Palo Alto. We never had a kind of team feeling, so some of us thought that a
dinner like this would help."
He paused for a
course," he said cautiously, "we don't want to overdo it. I think three
or four times a year will be enough."
attitude toward team spirit is as much a reflection of San Francisco as it is
of the players. The 49er fan is probably the best mannered, least excitable in
pro football. In most NFL parks you will see banners flying with fulsome
phrases such as "We Love Our Colts" (with the O's in the form of a
heart), or you will be deafened by the blast of air horns celebrating a
home-team touchdown, but in Kezar Stadium a crayoned bed sheet is frowned upon,
and a man who dares tootle a raucous horn is promptly escorted from the
premises to the polite applause of his neighbors.
The press box in
Kezar Stadium has the air of a country club; it is the only one in pro football
where women are not only allowed, but welcomed. It is populated in large part
by civic officials and their wives, with working sports-writers spotted here
and there like raisins in a poundcake.
In recent years,
as the 49er fortunes ebbed, there have been times when there were as many
people in the press box as in the stands. Their combined total often was
exceeded by the squadrons of gulls which appear about the middle of the fourth
period looking for rare bits of popcorn and creating an understandable
nervousness in punt receivers, who must look up for the ball.
sophistication that makes San Francisco a delightful city has made the 49ers,
over the years, a less than frightening football team. One coach, quitting
after a couple of years of despairing effort, explained that too many of the
players owned convertibles and that there were too many distractions in the Bay
Red Hickey, a
tough coach of the blood-and-guts school, tried to whip the 49ers into an
appropriate frenzy by the free application of an abrasive tongue, but he
succeeded only in creating a mood of sullen rebellion. Under Hickey, the 49ers
subsided after one lone year near the top—they tied Detroit for the Western
Conference lead in 1957 but lost the title in a playoff game—to the bottom of
the Western Division and stayed there two more years under his successor, Jack
Christiansen. But Christiansen, a tough, aggressive player on a reckless
Detroit team in the 50s, now seems to have discovered how to get the most out
of his team. The 49ers are on the move, as they proved in a rip-roaring second
half in Sunday's 27-24 loss to the powerful Colts, and the fans are becoming
"No one thing
started us back," says Lou Spadia, the general manager. "A lot of small
things started us down, and a lot of small things have contributed to our