Musings on the Niners in the Super Bowl

miss u alex - Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

It relates to the Giants, I promise.

Since the San Francisco 49ers were last in the Super Bowl, Bryce Harper learned how to go potty in a toilet, talk, and become one of the best baseball players on the planet. I dropped out of school, lost hair, and forgot how to play guitar. It would appear that young Bryce won that particular battle. But the point is that it's been a long time.

The last time the 49ers were in the Super Bowl, Barry Bonds had fewer than 1,000 at-bats as a Giant. You can do these kinds of factoids all day.

Now think about what the San Francisco sports world was like back in January, 1995. There was no baseball, for one. The World Series had been cancelled. The Giants were struggling to stay over .500 before the strike, and they would sink to last place in the two seasons after the strike. The team played in the worst baseball stadium in the league, depending on how many bonus points you were willing to give for poutine and Youppis.

Meanwhile, the Niners were winning the Super Bowl again.

If you're a youngster, there's no easy way to explain what it was like. The Giants averaged 17,243 fans in '95, down from 28,410 before the strike. Nobody cared. It was a football town before the strike, and it was really a football town after the strike. The Giants hadn't finished in the top half of attendance in the National League since 1989. While the Sabean-led renaissance in 1997 helped get the Giants closer to two million fans, they were still an afterthought in the San Francisco sports world.

It went on like that for a few more years. If I had to pick an exact date when things began to change, I'd pick either September 27, 1999 or September 30, 1999. The former was when Steve Young's career ended because of a missed block by Lawrence Phillips. The latter was the last baseball game played at Candlestick.

The Niners started a slide that would last a decade. There was a dead-cat bounce with Jeff Garcia in the end of the Steve Mariucci era, but suddenly it was the Niners who were awful. And it was the Giants who started to become a thing. They had the best sporting venue in North American sports. They had Barry Bonds setting records, sold-out crowds, and on-field success.

Suddenly, it wasn't a football town anymore. It was a sports town. Even when the Niners were bad, they got their share of the press, so it would be totally irresponsible to suggest that San Francisco ever became a "baseball town" -- it was never that extreme. But there was a confluence of events that allowed for a little more equity between the two San Francisco teams. It reached a new zenith in November, 2010 (when the Giants won their first World Series and Mike Singletary existed).

It was something that would never have seemed possible in January, 1995. The Niners were always going to be good, and the Giants were always going to play in the same concrete latrine with a quarter of the attention. It was always going to be like that.

Until it wasn't. Now the Niners are in the Super Bowl again, and everything's different. The Bay Area is Niners-mad right now, of course, just as you'd expect, but the mania feels like a part of a larger Bay Area sports tapestry instead of the monochromatic painting it used to be.

Long story short: When it came to the Giants' fortunes in the San Francisco Bay Area, they couldn't have picked a better time to have an extended run of success, and the 49ers couldn't have picked a better time to suck. The end result wasn't the Giants stealing any of the Niners' popularity, but rather the Giants picking up the reserve attention that the Bay Area didn't know it had to give.

Longer story short: NINERS. FORTY NINERS. IN YOUR FACE, FALCONS. THAT'S FOR BREAKING GARRISON HEARST. LET'S GO NINERS.

Short story long: All of that up there. But I remember the Giants playing second fiddle, and I remember pretending not to care. It's different now. And it's much, much better for everyone involved. I don't even think the most rabid 49ers fan could argue that.

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