It was a victory San Francisco desperately needed. Even with every poll leading up to the election predicting exactly what ended up happening — a landslide victory for Barack Obama — the air was thick with tension in this liberal city by the Bay.
On Monday night, the nervousness felt by Obama supporters was similar to what 49er fans experienced the night before they were to play in Super Bowl XXIV against the Denver Broncos. Sure, the Niners were 11.5 point favorites. Sure, the 49ers had already won three Super Bowls in the past decade while the Broncos were hoping to avoid going 0-4 overall in Super Bowls. And the playoffs gave little reason for the Niners or their fans to be pessimistic, as San Francisco blew out the Vikings and Rams by a combined score of 71-16, while Denver struggled to get past the Steelers and Browns.
It didn’t matter.
I still struggled to fall asleep the night of January 27, 1990, just like on Monday night. It’s tough putting all your hope into something you have little to no control over. And let’s face it, neither John McCain nor Obama did much campaigning in California for a reason. The election was going to be decided in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, not the largest state in the union. And after the New England Patriots took until the Super Bowl to lose their first game, calling any victory in 2008 a sure thing is impossible. As last night went on, in my mind the increasingly blue map of the United States seemed more and more like the Superdome on January 28, 1990, from start to finish.
— The 49ers started Super Bowl XXIV by forcing Denver to punt after three offensive plays, and put together a 66-yard drive capped by a 20-yard touchdown pass from Joe Montana to Jerry Rice.
— Obama won several states early, including a tough one, New Hampshire.
— The Broncos answered back with a field goal. Maybe the experts were wrong! Maybe the underdog actually has a shot!?!? Noooooo!!!!! 7-3, Niners.
— Although Obama had a small lead in electoral votes, early returns showed McCain had an early lead in the popular vote (although admittedly those numbers mostly came from states like Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee). Crap. What if the Republicans are surging, and Obama loses all the battleground states? Are we really going to have to watch Sarah Palin christen oil derricks for the next eight years?
— The 49ers scored 20 straight points on three touchdowns (Mike Cofer missed an extra point, proving that this team’s only weakness was, of course, special teams). Montana closed the half with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Rice. 27-3 at the half, and 49ers fans all over the world finally exhaled.
— Obama wins Pennsylvania. Wait, did he? Who said? MSNBC? Are they just being optimistic? Hold on, CBS said he won PA? And ABC, CNN and everybody not named Fox News did too? This might be a blowout!
— Mike Walter intercepted Elway on the first play of the second half, and Montana threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Rice on the next play. Now it’s 34-3.
— Obama wins Ohio. Ballgame. In my neighborhood horns are honking and people are starting to yell his name at the top of their lungs from the rooftops.
— Aside from a 3-yard Elway touchdown run, the 49ers dominated the rest of the game as they had up to that point, winning 55-10, the largest margin of victory in Super Bowl history. Montana takes Super Bowl MVP, and my parents and I, like all Niner fans, wondered how we ever allowed ourselves to get so nervous in the first place.
— Obama starts pouring it on, tossing Florida in for good measure like a 35-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor. Brit Hume and Karl Rove are on Fox News looking at the political map as if it were an open casket at a funeral. Soon McCain is giving an extremely gracious concession speech, and a crying Sarah Palin isn’t allowed to talk (smart decision). The world wonders, after Obama takes over 52% of the popular vote and defeats McCain by some 200 electoral votes, how did we let ourselves get so nervous?
After the game Obama’s acceptance speech, we took to the streets, which were flooded with people celebrating as if their team just won the Super Bowl. And in effect, that’s what happened. In a world where a 24-hour news cycle is actually more like a 48-half-hour news cycle, politics became exciting for the first time in decades. People became emotionally invested in the campaigns unlike anything seen during Bush/Gore, Bush/Kerry or even during the Bill Clinton years. Fans of Obama went into yesterday knowing they were behind the richest and most prepared candidate, one who was favored by every expert to win the Super Bowl of world politics. But when McCain pandered to Chris Berman on Monday night by saying, “That’s why they play the games,” I was genuinely worried.
Sorry for getting so political on a sports blog, but I don’t think I’m alone in openly saying that the prospect of a cantankerous 72-year-old of questionable health and his ditzy hillbilly running mate running this country was a frightening one indeed. And while Obama’s win was historic, there were still several states in the central and southern parts of this country where McCain garnered over 60% of the vote. Even so, in election terms Obama ran away from McCain like Rice from Steve Atwater. Obama didn’t win 55-10 last night, but it sure felt like it in San Francisco, which partied late into the night (even closing the busy street that lies half a block from my apartment). No one could fault the excitement and revelry; Obama’s big win might be the last one San Francisco gets to celebrate for quite a while.