The first crop of Nuggets neither sang nor danced. Their primary duty was to look sexy, and at that they were a complete success. So much so that Spadia began to receive protesting phone calls and visits from players' irate wives. One vented her resentment by pouring a drink over the head of a Nugget who was chatting with her husband at a cocktail party. In time, songs and dances and promotional chatter took over.
For my first appearance with the Nuggets, at a Liberty House department store, the setup was familiar: a couple of players (each of whom gets $200) and two or three Nuggets (each of whom gets $20, if she is lucky) sign autographs and pass out 49er decals, bumper stickers and books of recipes contributed by players' wives. The cookbooks were a Berg brainstorm and include everything from Sue Brodie's stuffed grape leaves to Debbie Sniadecki's instructions on how to prepare a package of frozen lasagna.
The department store gave us dinner in the Eucalyptus Room of its San Jose branch. Reed's wife Stephanie was along to shop and keep her singing husband company. Berg brought along some Joe Reed & the Niner Nuggets albums to sell.
After my cheeseburger and glass of California chablis ("For you girls, anything," one of the Liberty House people said when I asked for some wine) I stationed myself near the women's nightgowns and housecoats so I could smile at everyone coming off the escalator.
" Gene Washington and Joe Reed of the 49ers," I smiled.
"Who's Joe Reed?"
"Uh, he's a quarterback and that's him singing on the record you hear."
"Oh, yeah? Far out. Can I have a bumper sticker?"
Two hours and several hundred bumper stickers later (they read I'M A 49ER FAITHFUL) the store began to close.' This was a quiet one," Marian Stephenson said as we untied our cowboy hats. Marian, 30, was working toward her master's degree in biology at San Francisco State and was a first-year Nugget. She had been a science writer for Health, Education and Welfare before deciding to go back to school for her master's. "At one of the other store functions a few weeks ago we served 1,000 Cokes to kids in an hour and 15 minutes, kept them in line to ride in the helmet cart and provided the players with extra pictures," she said." There was a clown there who didn't know much about blowing up balloons, so we had to help him too."