Winning isn’t everything, but it sure feels good

Sixty-six years ago, in 1957, the 49ers played the Detroit Lions in an NFL playoff game at Kezar Stadium. My father, uncle, and two other prune ranchers from South San Jose had season tickets, and they were all looking forward to attending the game. As luck would have it, my dad became ill a couple days prior and told my uncle to take his son, Steven. The contest started great for the Niners as they jumped out to a 24–7 halftime lead. Unfortunately, the Lions made a historic comeback and ended up winning 31–27.
About a week before this year’s NFC championship match between SF and Detroit, my cousin Steven called me. He recounted his experiences in attending the 1957 game, a story I’ve heard many times before. It was Steven’s first NFL game, and he recalled in detail the many observations he had as a nine-year-old fan. At the end of our conversation, he stated that he always wanted to repay my father for giving him the ticket, and he thought the best way to do that was to treat me (with interest) to the upcoming championship game.

Yes! Yes! Yes!

He also invited his sister and a long-time family friend.
On game day, Steven said he would meet us in the tailgating area at the ballpark. The three of us drove from Santa Cruz to downtown San Jose where we hopped on the VTA Train and cruised (along with many Lions fans) to Levi’s Stadium. We were packed in nose-to-nose, but that didn’t curtail the many cheers of “Let’s Go Niners!” and the equally impressive “Jarod Goff” shouts from our counterparts dressed in blue. I talked with numerous Lions fans throughout the day and found them quite friendly and happy to be away from Detroit in the middle of winter.
As you probably know, the first half of the game was a disaster for SF, ending in the same score as 1957, 24–7, but in the Lions’ favor. We mostly sat on our hands the first two quarters, occasionally groaning and standing only when SF scored their lone touchdown. The Lions fans (of which I would say represented a good 15% of the attendees) were ecstatic. The halftime show was great, with the rock band, Journey, cranking out hits from the seventies and early eighties. They appropriately closed with their popular anthem, “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Well, as you probably know, the Niners staged an epic comeback, thrilling the fans with fourth-down stops, great runs, unbelievable catches, and a fumble recovery. Midway through the fourth quarter, they had scored 27 points in the half and held a ten-point lead, 34–24. As the minutes ticked away, every eye was both on the field and the clock. In the end, the Niners held on for a 34–31 victory.
It was a jubilant ride back to San Jose Civic Center, except for the dejected Lions fans, who put up a good front despite their obvious disappointment. Their pain was demonstrated in anger at the coach, a couple of dropped passes, and some questionable clock management decisions. There were some optimistic comments about next year and some satisfaction about their team getting deep into the playoffs. Probably, the same things my cousin observed and felt back in 1957 when the Niners lost a heartbreaker.
Thank you, Steven, for a wonderful day! While winning isn’t everything, it sure feels good.

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