vernon-davis-catch-iii

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

I don’t remember any of the 49ers’ Super Bowl victories.

I was born in 1987, which means I didn’t exist in ’82 or ’84 and I was one and two years old for ’88 and ’89. I was seven in 1994, and that’s where things get a little complicated. I remember going to all kinds of 49ers games as a child — my dad had season tickets and he always used to take me. What I can’t differentiate now is whether any of those games happened in the 1994 season or if they happened in another year, a year when the 49ers didn’t win it all.

Try as I might, I can’t remember where I was during the ’94 Super Bowl either. I remember making a bet with my cousin David, one of the many Chargers fan family members I have living down in San Diego. It was a 10 dollar bet, and looking back on it now  he had to have done it to be kind. I remember being in my parents’ kitchen when the envelope with my winnings arrived, but it’s all I have left. I’ve tried to conjure up anything — even a snapshot in my mind of where I was for the game — but it’s gone.

The Catch II was a defining moment in my childhood. I had been to dozens of 49ers games prior to that, but I went more to spend time with my dad and score a free malt than because I loved to watch football. 1998 was the year that I started to understand the game, and it culminated on a sun-soaked but chilly January afternoon at Candlestick Point (15 years ago today, actually). I remember the couple that got up from their seats in the front row of Lower Reserved 7, right behind the south end zone where the entrance to the 49ers locker room sits. My friend and I made our way to the abandoned seats and watched the final quarter unfold with an unobstructed view of Terrell Owens’ catch. We stood on our seats for that play and almost snapped the orange plastic jumping up and down on them. Caution was no match for elation though. It was euphoric, and I was hooked.

I liked football before that day. Football became a part of me after it.

My dad gave up his season tickets after Steve Young retired. Perhaps he did it a couple years too soon because the 49ers stayed relevant, but he knew the writing was on the wall. What followed was a long drought from respectability. The Catch II was a tease for me — I was old enough to never forget the joy but too old to ever forget the sorrow from the Divisional Round loss in Atlanta a week later. I still went to games regardless; through the Erickson era, the Nolan era and the glimmer of hope during Singletary’s tenure, I was one of the 40,000 or so that still faithfully went to the aging monolith known as Candlestick 3Com Monster Candlestick Park to watch the 49ers always come up short.

Then came Jim Harbaugh’s hiring, Alex Smith’s renaissance and last year’s division playoff against the Saints. Most of us knew something special was going to happen after Darren Sproles’ lead-changing touchdown, and it certainly did. Smith’s end around was a thing of beauty; a redemptive moment to be sure, although something about it felt incomplete. Smith, always held to the fire because of an inability to THROW the football, couldn’t deliver for this team with his legs. That narrative just would not do, and Jimmy Graham agreed when he retook the lead with his 66-yard touchdown catch. The following drive gave us the “Vernon Post,” or “The Catch III” if you’re so inclined. There it was: Smith’s real redemption. It made me a believer again, giving me the same feeling I had on that gusty January day in 1998.

Yet again it was all for naught. The NFC Championship followed elation with disappointment just like ’98, leaving the youngest generation of 49ers fans wanting and wondering if they’ll ever see a Super Bowl parade in the city of San Francisco. The five trophy argument means nothing to us; we were either not around or we weren’t coherent enough in 1994/95. While ‘The Catch’ is a defining moment in the franchise’s history, for us it’s no more memorable than footage of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. In truth, we don’t have a ‘Catch.’ Our ‘Catches’ have always been followed by disappointment.

I’ll be back at Candlestick on Saturday, this time with my brother, to conjure up nostalgia from the day I fell in love with the game. I hated the Packers back then and I couldn’t be more thrilled to reinvigorate the disdain. This year, though, the stakes are even higher. Maybe we will see another miracle; maybe we won’t. Either way, it doesn’t mean a thing unless the 49ers win a Super Bowl, because miracles diminish in importance if you fall short in the end.