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How to Enjoy the Super Bowl in the Bay Area if You Don't Follow Football

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A young boy high fives a man with several people dressed in San Francisco 49ers sports jerseys.
Herman Sahota high fives young 49ers fans outside Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara on Jan. 28, 2024, before an NFC Championship Game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Detroit Lions.  (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

This Sunday, San Francisco’s beloved 49ers will face off against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas. And let’s say you’ve been invited to a Super Bowl watch party — but your knowledge about American football is limited, to put it gently.

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What should you do? Should you try to cram as many football facts and stats into your brain as you can over the next few days? Or try to avoid all football-related conversation, stay close to the guacamole and chips, and hope small talk can be enough for the next three hours?

As fine as those options are, consider this instead: The Super Bowl isn’t just about what happens on the field (or even who is performing at halftime). This may be an annual multi-million dollar sporting extravaganza, but this time around, with the Niners in play, thousands of families across the Bay Area feel an immense sense of pride in not just their team but also the place they call home — and that’s something you don’t need football knowledge to get in on.

“Even if you weren’t a Niners fan, it’s contagious seeing people enjoy themselves that much,” said Kim Cruise, co-owner of Ruth’s at Treat Street, a dive bar in San Francisco’s Mission District. After the 49ers beat the Detroit Lions to secure their spot in the Super Bowl on Jan. 28, hundreds of 49ers fans gathered right outside Ruth’s on the corner of 24th and Treat Street to celebrate the win with flags, dancing and Bay Area hip-hop.

 

“You can’t not have fun when you’re seeing people so passionate, so excited, enjoying themselves so much,” Cruise said. “It’s beautiful.”

With that, we’ve brought together different perspectives to think about the big game if you’re not a hardcore football fan — or if you just love the Bay Area and want to understand better how football fits into this place we call home — that you can bring to that Super Bowl party as guaranteed conversation-starters. (No more hiding behind the guacamole.)

The Carrascos family and friends outside of their house on Alabama Street before the 2020 Super Bowl. It’s been their tradition since 2012 to get together to watch games. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Super Bowl conversation topic #1: Bay Area history is Niners Nation history

Tom Tierney, the owner of Pop’s Bar on the corner of 24th and York Street in San Francisco, moved to the Bay from Boston over 30 years ago. He’s actually a New England Patriots fan at heart but says that he’s learned over time that for many Niners fans who come into his bar, rooting for the team is sometimes as much about rooting for their own families and communities.

“I’ve never seen a neighborhood that is just so loyal to their team,” he said of the Mission District. “On any Sunday, you’re going to see just about everybody in that neighborhood wearing their Niners shirts. And that’s true whether they’re in the playoffs or not.”

Head down to San José, to the bars downtown or the backyard barbecues all over the Eastside, and you’ll most likely see whole families donning those red and gold jerseys. The same goes for Santa Rosa, Vallejo, East Palo Alto, every corner of the Bay Area — and beyond. Even in Los Angeles, where other Bay Area franchises may get little love, you’re likely to hear “Bang Bang, Niner Gang!” at a sports bar on Sundays.

Two women wearing San Francisco 49ers sports jerseys dance together with several people in the background.
49ers fans Genesis, 16, and her mom, Livia Escobedo, dance to the band Tamborazo Limonense outside Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Jan. 28, 2024, before an NFC Championship Game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Detroit Lions. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Something that might at least partly explain that dedication? Many of today’s fans grew up during the 1980s, when the 49ers won the Super Bowl four times, thanks to a powerhouse roster that featured Hall of Famers like Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young and led by coaches Bill Walsh and George Seifert. And winning franchises do a really good job of creating dedicated fans, says Joshua Ling, KQED News’s copy editor and lifelong football fan.

“The people who watched the Niners win in the 80s, they had kids who are now adults with kids of their own.” Ling said, “Each generation, a Niners fan for life.”

But something else to consider: the 1980s were also when San Francisco started to become a much more expensive place to buy — and keep — a home. In 1980, KGO 7 journalist Suzanne Saunders hosted a 10-part series on what she referred to as a “crisis in housing”: a combination of stagnant wages, ballooning home prices and lack of credit options was preventing middle and working-class families from buying a home. Single-family homes were being sold for over $100,000 at a time when the median family income in the city was $20,911.

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With the start of the Dot Com Bubble in the 90s, even renting in the city became impossible for many (and has remained so till today). Those who watched Joe Montana hold up the Vince Lombardi Trophy on TV as kids had to figure out how to afford to live in San Francisco as adults.

For thousands, the only feasible option was to leave the city and find a home elsewhere — particularly for Black and Latino San Franciscans. And as folks moved to other parts of the Bay and California more widely, they took their love of the Niners with them. Watching a football game becomes an opportunity for family members, now spread all over the region, to come back together. While people may have left the Bay, the Bay hasn’t left them when they watch the 49ers play.

If you find yourself surrounded by lifelong fans, take this as an opportunity to learn what the Niners mean to their families and their relationship with the Bay Area. Who did they watch the winning games of the 80s? Do they have memories at Candlestick Park? If you’re talking to parents, maybe ask: What have they shown their kids about the Niners that their own parents taught them?

Super Bowl conversation topic #2: The Chiefs have Taylor Swift, but the Niners have …

A white man wearing a sports hat and t-shirt has his arm around a while woman wearing a red sweater in a football arena.
Travis Kelce, #87 of the Kansas City Chiefs, celebrates with Taylor Swift after defeating the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game at M&T Bank Stadium on Jan. 28, 2024, in Baltimore, Maryland. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

When Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift announced they were dating last summer, two different worlds came together — and the NFL has already seen a huge spike in viewers during games where Swift is in attendance. But while the NFL has doubled down on their coverage of the Swift-Kelce power couple, we can’t ignore the musical talent that’s also fueling the 49ers and their fans.

Santa Clara-born, Sacramento-raised Saweetie and Pinole-bred P-Lo came together earlier this year to release “Do It For the Bay,” a track full of 49ers references that’s perfect to get hyped for the game: Whole team iced up, dipped in that red and gold.

Bay Area hip hop and football have a close relationship that goes back years. E-40, the icon of the hyphy movement, released “Niner Gang” back in 2019. Stunnaman02, whose “Big Steppin’” track and accompanying dance moves have become a house party staple, released a 49ers remix. And if you’re at a tailgate and you’re asked for a song recommendation to play, try “Niners By Law” from Jose Santana and Black C. KQED Arts has got you covered with a complete list of songs to hear — and a bunch of other 49ers activities to do — before the game.

And don’t forget Grammy-winning, platinum-selling regional Mexican band Los Tigres del Norte. The legendary group, who are firmly rooted in San José but whose fame bridges the U.S. and Latin America, has stood with the Niners for decades. A photo of band member Hernan Hernández holding up a banner that said “Do It For the Bay” next to that of Taylor Swift has already made the rounds on Instagram with the caption, “The Chiefs may have Taylor Swift, but the 49ers have Los Tigres Del Norte.”

Super Bowl conversation topic #3: Where are the Raiders?

Sorry Raiders fans: You didn’t think we’d write a story about football in the Bay Area without talking about the Raiders — and the fact that Sunday’s Super Bowl will be played in your Las Vegas arena, the Allegiant Stadium?

Before moving to Las Vegas in 2020, the Raiders went to the Super Bowl three times: Twice as Oakland’s team, and once representing Los Angeles. While in Oakland, the Raiders developed an intense rivalry with the 49ers, competing for fans and bragging rights of who’s Northern California’s best team.

A person wearing black and white make-up and clothing holds a sign that reads "Stay in Oakland."
A fan holds a sign in the stands imploring the team to stay in Oakland during the NFL game between the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs at O.co Coliseum on Dec. 6, 2015, in Oakland, California. (Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

The team’s departure from Oakland was incredibly painful for Raiders fans, who filled up the Coliseum for years, even during the team’s toughest seasons, and consistently pushed team ownership to stay in the East Bay.

Raiders ownership promised fans that the move to Las Vegas would come with a state-of-the-art stadium. Despite Allegiant Stadium coming with a $1.9 billion price tag — one of the most expensive stadiums in the world — the Raiders have struggled in their new home, with more losses than wins in the past two seasons.

Raiders fans, even if it’s just for this week: Let’s make peace and root for all of the Bay this Sunday.

Super Bowl conversation topic #4: Is it 2020 all over again?

The last time the 49ers and the Chiefs faced off at a Super Bowl was February 2020 — just before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the world into lockdown. And besides the same exact two teams facing off once again (something that has only happened a few other times in Super Bowl history), some online feel that February 2024 is striking them as oddly familiar.

If former President Donald Trump secures the Republican nomination, and does not face legal barriers to running, it could once again be Trump and Joe Biden on the ballot. A rematch between two candidates has only happened six other times in this country’s history — and this is the first time that a presidential rematch could take place the same year as a rematch at the Super Bowl.

And just like in 2020, the Super Bowl has now been pulled into the gravitational orbit of the presidential election. One topic of conversation you might hear at your Super Bowl watch party: The emergence of conspiracy theories from right-leaning media regarding the Kelce-Swift relationship.

Among those is the claim from Fox News’s Jesse Watters that the relationship “was engineered in a lab” with the goal of boosting President Joe Biden’s reelection chances (Swift endorsed Biden in 2020) — and now the Super Bowl, the most-viewed program in American television, has become the latest scene in this drama with Trump allies even allegedly suggesting that the game could be rigged in order to give Swift, and in turn Biden, a boost.

This isn’t the first time that the Trump camp has invoked football to get some extra exposure. Back in 2020, even the players on the 49ers side saw themselves pulled into the political realm — without their consent. When the 49ers played the Philadelphia Eagles in October 2020, just a few weeks before the general election, Niners wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk caught the ball and managed to completely leap over an Eagles player to score a touchdown — an image that the Trump campaign’s social media team quickly co-opted by posting a version of the video with the presidential nominee’s face superimposed over Aiyuk’s. Twitter, formally known as Twitter, quickly took down the post due to a copyright complaint.

Something else you may have missed: In 2020, Trump pardoned Edward DeBartolo Jr., who was the owner of the 49ers throughout the 80s and 90s, when the team clinched five Super Bowl titles, and is also the brother of current owner Denise DeBartolo York. In 1998, DeBartolo pleaded guilty in failing to report a gambling fraud scheme involving the former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, and avoided going to prison in exchange for paying $1 million and serving two years in probation.

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