O’Neil: Picking against 49ers is in line with my sports fan status as ‘hater’
I won’t be rooting for the Chiefs on Sunday.
I’ll be rooting against the San Francisco 49ers, and one of the discoveries that I’ve made over the past five years is that rooting against a specific team can be just as satisfying as rooting for one.
I first became aware of this reality three years ago when I was in a March Madness bracket challenge with my high-school friends, and I realized – with two games left in the Elite Eight – that not only was I leading, but my ultimate victory didn’t depend on my two remaining teams advancing so much as having other teams lose. So I became a hater. I rooted not for the success of teams that I had picked – knowing that my closest competition had also selected those teams – but for the failure of any teams that my friends picked which I had watched. You know what? It was absolutely awesome because not only did I win, but I got to watch the hopes and dreams that my friends had turn to ashes in front of their eyes.
Look, I’m ugly on the inside, and I have come to not just accept this but to relish it as a sports fan. Over the past four years I have found the defeats suffered by the Oklahoma City Thunder to be more fulfilling than the victories of the Golden State Warriors, who I’ve rooted for since I was in grade school. Now some of that was because it wasn’t as much fun to root for a prohibitive favorite, which is exactly what the Warriors were once Kevin Durant signed. But some of it was because I seeing Oklahoma City and its fans suffer the kind gut punches was nothing short of exhilarating. In fact, just thinking about Damian Lillard ethering the entire roster of that franchise with one long-distance 3-pointer in last year’s playoffs, then waving good bye, will give me goose bumps.
Which brings me back to the San Francisco 49ers, who I’d identify as my oldest least-favorite team. I’m not exactly sure how this happened. Geographically speaking, the 49ers were the closest team to my hometown of Klamath Falls, Ore., but I didn’t cheer for them. Maybe it was because my Pops was from Southern California and not the Bay Area, but he wasn’t a Rams fan, either, so I’m not sure if that had any bearing.
Maybe it was the team’s color scheme, which I’ve thought is more reminiscent of autumn foliage than fearsome football, or that I’ve always loved defense and the 49ers were known for their offense or if I thought that Bill Walsh’s pants were too high, too tight. For whatever reason, I never cheered for them. Pretty much ever, and when my family moved to Santa Cruz County in 1990, I was plopped down firmly in 49er territory in the middle of an honest-to-goodness dynasty.
At one point, I wound up with the first pick in a fantasy-football draft. This was the early ‘90s, and we kept fantasy-football tabulations by hand based on box scores from the newspaper. Jerry Rice was the clear-cut No. 1 pick not just because of how potent a scoring threat he was, but because of how much better he was than the next-best receiver. So I picked Rice, which was obvious, and it ruined my entire football season because I began to enjoy a not-so-small sliver of the 49ers success. I liked seeing them in scoring position because it meant Rice might find the end zone. I tried to justify it by saying I was rooting for Rice to have huge games but for the 49ers to lose, but the truth is that I didn’t hate their victories as much because it was a sign he might have performed well. Any points that I gained that season were more than offset by the fact that I was finding some measure of satisfaction in some portion of the team’s success.
Never again. I vowed not to let anything come between me and the satisfaction of a 49ers’ loss, and on Sunday, I’m not rooting for anything other than misery for that team and its fans. Join me. It’s fun.
Prediction: Kansas City 39, San Francisco 33.