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My first 49ers experience
Art, addiction and everything but the win
49ers pic1
Colin Kaepernick, Bruce Ellington and Anquan Boldin celebrate in the end zone after an 8-yard strike from Kaepernick to Ellington to put the 49ers up 14-0 in the second quarter of Saturdays game against San Diego. - photo by FRANKIE TOVAR / The Journal

Those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones — neither should the people in the San Francisco 49ers press box at Levi’s Stadium.

Eight floors above the field and trapped behind floor to ceiling windows, reporters post up shoulder to shoulder in the press box overlooking the field. On Saturday’s 49ers v. Chargers game, I tentatively took a seat amongst what appeared to be veteran reporters with bright laptops and flickering twitter feeds. As I humbly took residence at the more than 100-foot bench lining the window, stream of consciousness writing can only do justice my impression of the seat in which I sat, looming above the field:

“Can I sit here? Ok, no one has said anything yet… just act like you know what you’re doing. Everyone has a laptop! Shoot! I should have brought mine… I look like a girl writing in her diary. Oh wait, that guy has the same notebook. Ok, we’re good… Do I have to pay for this water bottle I took? Frankie said it was free. Hope he was right. When does the game start? Wow, we are really high up…”

 And so on.

The press box reminded me of the first day back at school and I was the new kid: cliques of reporters shook hands, exchanged a joke or two, while I played the ingénue, the young girl with “I’ve never been here before” stamped across my forehead. In all honesty, I hadn’t done this before. This was my first NFL game and I must say the bird’s eye view was quite exquisite.

As I got accustomed to the nest-like press box and the kickoff took place, the box quieted down.  It became eerie as at least 75 reporters sat perched on their seats, focused on the game in front of them, unmoved by the muted roars erupting on the other side of the glass.

 There’s an odd juxtaposition that takes place eight floors above the action. It’s almost like a parallel universe, in direct contrast to the game on the field. The press box is rather quiet, with the blaring music barely audible through the window from which you watch the game. The reporters are intellectual, analytical as they observe the athletes running and bashing each other before them. Additionally, the television overhead has a full 10-second delay making you feel as if you are living in the future by the time you watch the replay. 

All of these elements make the press box, well, dreamy. It is odd how engaged and removed from the action you feel simultaneously. Yes, there is an intense game going on, but the dynamic on the eighth floor is focused, soft and more comparable to a library with students compared to the chaos on the other side of the glass.

As Frank Gore scored the first touchdown of the game within minutes the stadium went wild (I stifled a gasp) and a small scale version of the crowd’s reaction was replicated in the press box: “touchdown” several reporters near me confidently pronounced as Gore broke away before a mad dash of typing ensued. They weren’t particularly surprised; it just seemed like a habit to narrate what they saw. However, by Colin Kaepernick’s 90-yard touchdown in the third quarter (the second longest by a quarterback in NFL history), the dynamic in the press box had changed. Even the experts were jazzed:

“Look how fast he is! Unbelievable!”

“He is fast as sh**!”

“His strides developing too, you can see it.”

The sports junkies got the hit they’d been wanting: This is where addicts are born.

While the football fanatics disguised as reporters leaned closer to the window to see if the 49ers would maintain their 14-point lead, I had an abstract thought — the NFL is a multibillion dollar industry but if you strip away the shoulder pads, the multimillion dollar contracts, and the fancy Astroturf you have something very simple: a game. Why are we so into these games?  Yes, they are exciting to watch and fun to play, but I think I am safe in saying people all over the world are obsessed with sports. While I certainly enjoy watching sports, I am not among the ranks of the fanatics with whom I was sitting on Saturday and I’d be lying if I didn’t feel a little miffed that I did not possess the same passion.

So, to understand “the love of the game” I put what I was experiencing into terms I could understand: The stadium before me was a museum, this football game an art, and the reporters surrounding me were curators. As the reporters jotted down stats and crafted their stories, bringing the art before them to life on the page, I realized that I cannot balk at these sports fanatics for their love of the game because I have my own game to love too. 

When I was in college working towards my literature degree, (one often at the top of lists online with titles like “pointless degrees and what to do with them”) a professor told my class that the value of our degree was not necessarily what we do with it, but what it does to us. He recognized that literature is not about the thousands of pages you read, or the novels you analyze. Rather, it is recognizing that the humanities are not futile and pointless, but the essence of the human condition: they bring joy, they provoke thought, they restore hope, they have the power to make you feel as if you’re not alone, and ultimately they make life worth living. I cannot help but feel that the players on the field Saturday evening would agree that the simple game of football fulfills them in that very way.

I didn’t stay in the box long enough to witness the 49ers' loss. With two minutes on the clock I made my way down to the field to meet our photographer. Little did I know I would be peering onto the field from the San Diego Charger’s tunnel to witness San Diego tie it up with 29 second left. Like the climax of a good novel, the teams entered into sudden death overtime, only for the 49ers to lose 35-38.

 The disappointing loss was hard to watch, and Journal sports writer/photographer Frankie Tovar was right in telling me the game contained everything I wanted except the win. But you know what? After their final game on Sunday, the 49ers will have a new season, a blank canvas, “Chapter 1” of a new novel. Let’s hope in 2015 they give their story a proper ending.