As most San Francisco Bay Area sports fans have learned, former 49er and Stanford football coach Bill Walsh passed away today. No doubt there'll be hundreds of blogs written about one's memories of Coach Walsh's tenure with the 49ers.
Mine started in 1982. An Ohio State student at the time, my sister Cindy and I attended a Super Bowl party to see the 49ers versus the Cincinnati Bengals. As an ardent Buckeye follower and Ohio resident, we all wanted the Bengals. But the 49ers had a prominent Ohio connection. Our host Rick, a student from Youngstown, told us the 49ers owner, Eddie DeBartolo, lived and owned his business in Youngstown.
Since I was cheering for the Bengals, it was disappointing, but not heartbreaking (much more a Cleveland Browns fan then) for me to see them unable to score after a 4th and goal. I was bummed but in awe that the 49ers defense held the Bengals from scoring. Little did I know in 2 years I would be cheering for the "enemy". Oh, and my car was towed from Rick's apartment complex during the game.
When I moved to San Francisco in August, 1983, the NFL season was only a few weeks away. I found it strange at first to watch 49ers games. It was even stranger not to have Dad in the same room smoking and swearing at the TV from his favorite recliner. But as the weeks passed, I grew to like the 49ers. Coach Walsh, Joe Montana and Dwight Clark were the main reasons why I became a fan.
Once the 49ers made it into the Super Bowl in 1985, I got invited to another party hosted by one of the guys in the church basketball group I played with on Saturdays at Lincoln High School. While Buckeye football fans are among the most passionate, the 49er fans I met came pretty close. After hearing whoops and cheers throughout the neighborhood immediately after the game ended, there was no going back.
In 1989, I ended up watching Super Bowl XXIII alone. It was one of the most exciting games I'd ever seen (Ohio State versus Miami in the BCS 2003 ranks right up there). After wide receiver John Taylor scored the winning touchdown, I could hear several of my neighbors across the street screaming. This would be Walsh's last game as the 49ers head coach.
Under Walsh's tutelage, the 49ers made winning look easy. So easy many of us took it for granted. We know how difficult it was only after he was no longer coach. Just ask Dennis Erickson. Thanks for the wonderful, wonderful memories, Coach. You will be sorely missed.
photo courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle