Months before I moved to San Francisco, when I was almost 27 years old, someone asked me to describe the most, soul-crushing, heart-wrenching devastating thing ever happened to me.
Note that at this point, I had survived my parents’ divorce, the death of my grandfather, not getting into Brown, 9/11, 3.5 major breakups (not to mention a whole slew of smaller rejections) and the discovery that no matter how much I prayed, I wasn’t going to get any shorter.
But the only thing I could think of, the only thing that truly came to mind when I heard the words “soul-crushing, heart-wrenching and devastating” was the time when the San Francisco 49ers beat the New York Giants in the conference finals of the playoffs, 44-3.
It was 1993.
(I just visited Wikipedia to see if the score 44-3 was something I made up. I secretly hoped to be a few digits off, but apparently the numbers were embedded in my mind when I was 9 years old and never departed. I was right.)
You see, if I remember correctly, (and knowing me, I probably do) the score was 44-3 starting in the second quarter of the game. Everyone in my family stopped watching, and I sat alone on my parents’ bed until the very last second of the game, routing for a miraculous comeback. It was my first season as a football fan, and when the miraculous comeback didn’t happen, I was shattered. I cried and cried. I refused to eat dinner. (#girlswatchingfootball.)
So, you can imagine my anxiety when I discovered that there was going to be a rematch, and that the Giants were not favored to win.
Not only that, but I was surrounded by enemies. For a hot second, I thought that maybe I would wear my Giants hat from the 80s with the big pom-pom on top for the whole week leading up to the game. Then I thought, “heck, they just caught the serial rapist in my neighborhood, why continue to live in fear?”
Things only got worse when I realized I was not going to be able to watch the game due an event at Stanford I had committed to attending.
Early on Sunday, I tried texting a friend in NY to see if he would send me updates, but he just wrote back, “NFL.com.” I set up my iPhone so I could easily check the score throughout the game and focused on the event.
It ended during the third quarter, but I was in Palo Alto. With nothing to do but worry on CalTrain on the way home, I texted one of my best girlfriends (let’s call her Emmy Lou,) in NY to see if she could chat, but she wrote back, “surprisingly, we are actually watching the Giants game.”
The 9ers were up 14 to 10 and I was very anxious. But the next text she sent was, “touchdown!!!”
I texted back, “We’re good luck together!” (#girlswatchingfootball.)
Emmy Lou called me during a commercial break to say that it seemed odd that they were all watching the game from our old house in Brooklyn, but I was not. We chatted for a bit until I said, “wait, aren’t the commercials over?”
They were, but Emmy Lou decided it would be ok to stay on the phone with me and narrate the game. I asked her things like, “what down is it” and she said things like, “3rd and 5! But what does the ‘and 5 stand for?”
I’m pretty sure I can remember asking my father the same thing in the parking lot of Giants stadium at the beginning of that fateful 1992-3 season. I remember being worried that I wasn’t smart enough to be a football fan, and thrilled that the four down system wasn’t all that complicated.
Fast forward about two decades and there I was, on CalTrain, whizzing by Candlestick Park, 3000 miles away from my family who was too busy watching the game to talk to me. I found myself explaining to my best friend that “5” meant the number of the yards to a first down, and that you earned a first down by going 10 yards.
“If you’re passing the stadium, send good vibes,” she told me.
“Ok, I will! I’m sending good vibes!” (#girlswatchingfootball.)
Meanwhile, it was nearing the end of the fourth quarter and based on the reports, I gasped, “oh my god, the 9ers are going to kick a field goal to tie it!”
“Guys,” she called out to my old group of friends in my old living room. “RB says they’re gonna tie it with a field goal.”
Unfortunately I was right. Then I was trying to figure out what my stop was, so I had to hang up. I made a guess and stepped off the train into an abandoned area (aka the 22nd St CalTrain Stop). It was raining and very dark. I had a text message that said, “overtime.”
Emmy Lou and I got back on the phone as I started to wander through the hills of Potrero and attempt to find my way back to the Mission.
Finally, thanks to GPS, I found my route. By the time I stopped being lost, the Giants had possession for the second time in overtime. I spotted a deli where the game was playing and darted in.
“Can I help you?” Asked the man behind the counter, after I’d been standing there a few minutes.
“Um, I was just watching the game.” There was a shocked pause. “But I can leave.”
“Well, you don’t have to leave, but you’re standing in the main part of the deli. If anyone comes in, you need to get out of the way.”
I looked to my right, where there were lots of drinks, then I looked to the screen, where Eli was getting sacked. I looked to my left, where the Deli guys, obviously 9ers fans, were smiling.
I bolted out of the deli. I called Emmy Lou back. “Eli got sacked! I had to leave the Deli.”
“But the Giants got the ball back. Somebody fumbled!” (If only all San Franciscans only knew that “somebody” fumbled, there would be fewer death threats for Kyle Williams on Twitter.)
“I think I’m bad luck for the Giants! When I watch, bad things happen, and when I leave, good things happen,” I wailed. (#girlswatchingfootball.)
Meanwhile, the Giants were on the 30 yard line – and I knew what that (hopefully) meant: field goal.
“Wait, I know a bar I can get to!” I started to jog. “Emmy Lou, are they getting close enough so they can kick a field goal?”
“RB, get off the phone with me right now and Yelp that bar – then go there. You have an iPhone! Use your GPS!”
We hung up. I searched for Shotwell’s, found the address and was about to start running when I saw that my phone was ringing. The caller ID read: Mommy.
When I picked up, she was screaming, “We’re going to the Superbowl! RB we’re going to the Superbowl!!!”
I walked to the bar just to make sure she wasn’t lying. And then I left to make sure I didn’t get beat up.
As I walked home alone in the rain, I couldn’t help thinking how funny it was that 19 years ago, when I was glued to the TV, the game ended in disaster and heartbreak, but when I was off in San Francisco too busy to watch, we won. I also couldn’t help thinking that getting game updates from my best friend in Brooklyn while I wandered alone and lost in the rain was almost more fitting than watching it in San Francisco with a bunch of people routing for the enemy. (#girlswatchingfootball.)
Lastly, I couldn’t help thinking that it must really mean that Giants were better off without me.
“See! ” I told my mother cheerily. “Everything I love is much safer when I’m 3000 miles away!”
“Very funny. But, if you remember correctly, the Giants were actually in San Francisco, with you.”
She may have a point, but I don’t think we’ll have any real answers until we
beat play the Patriots.