Our minds told us this game was over. We, the two teams on the field, and thousands of others in red and gold and blue and red, had weathered and enjoyed a classic San Francisco rainy, gray, blustery afternoon. Lawrence Tynes lined up for short field goal. We clenched. The Giants let the play clock expire for an inexplicable delay of game penalty. We relaxed our grip. The teams lined up again, and again we held on. The 49ers called timeout. Again, we separated, stomped our feet perhaps against the chill.
And for a third time, we grasped each other to hold onto something solid. The kick was on target, crashing into the netting behind the goal posts. We would later learn that holder Steve Weatherford plucked a low snap nearly off the turf to set the ball up perfectly. Such details were invisible from the upper deck, and irrelevant in the moment.
We lept. And hugged and jumped and yelled. We floated out of the stadium, past peeling paint, through a crowd of 49ers fans grumbling about their quarterback, a second string return man, and crooked officials. None of it mattered. The high was real.
Sometimes it all works. There is nothing like watching a game with your best friends. Sunday, we reunited in San Francisco. Native New Yorkers all, one couple had the easiest trip from Hayes Street in San Francisco. One couple drove from Sacramento (where political friends helped nab a few seats). One couple flew from New York. I flew from Savannah.
I’ll step back a minute.
We started going to games together in the spring of 1996, then freshman at Stuyvesant high school. Four Mets fans. Dan, Ben, Tom and I knew the upper reaches of Shea Stadium. Other friends and girl friends joined us over the years. We have sat in great seats and lousy seats and been groomsmen in each others weddings. Dan’s family was kind enough to bring us along to countless Mets, Knicks, Jets and Giants games. We were there when the Mets swept the Dodgers in LA in 2006.
There’s a prospect angle to this story. In analyzing, and young ballplayers, sometimes years from the Majors, fans are searching for that hope, for that moment of jumping up and down and hugging everyone in arms’ reach sometime in the future. It is a little escapist, but that’s some of the fun.
This is a story about sports and friends. I want everyone to feel the way I felt Sunday night, not necessarily wet and tired, but happy beyond words. The youngest of my group of friends I turned 30 on Saturday. This is just about being there and hugging your best friends to share in the euphoria of victory. I cannot imagine a better birthday gift.
Sometimes teams are lucky. Sometimes fans are lucky. I am a lucky sports fan to have such friends.