I can still picture the Jerry Rice poster I had as a kid. In my wallet, opposite my driver's license, is a frayed Topps 1000 Yard Club card for Roger Craig (yes, I'm 31). Perhaps the highlight of my journalism career was interviewing Joe Montana.
In other words, I love the Niners.
I also love when other people love the Niners. But when you watch football, especially the Super Bowl, you want to focus. Strategy questions are fine: "Why wouldn't they run the ball?" But basic questions like "Who's that?" are a bit tiresome for Niners fans.
So here's a cheat sheet for your Super Bowl party, should you be a newer addition to Niners Nation.
Own it. Don’t say you sorta liked the Niners in the mid-'90s because your cousin lived here. Just acknowledge you’re here to root for the suddenly awesome home team. End of story.
Avoid “we” and “us.” It’s not “We have to start running the ball”; it’s “The Niners have to start running the ball.” Plural pronouns are reserved for fans that had to root for dudes like Jim Druckenmiller.
If you’re watching the game with die-hard Niners fans and something good happens for the Niners, let them high-five each other first. Then get involved. If you were there when your buddy’s baby took its first step, you wouldn’t try to hug the kid first.
The Niners have played in five Super Bowls and won all of them. Bill Walsh was sent from heaven to coach them to three of those victories and ran "the West Coast offense" – which is a fancy way of saying "lots of short passes and a strong running game." Joe Montana (a quarterback) and Jerry Rice (a wide receiver) are the greatest football players in history. While this sounds like an opinion, it's actually a scientific fact.
Typically this Niners team is called "working class" because it thrives on grinding out yards on offense and playing bone-crushing defense. Our biggest weakness is stopping deeper passes, as the Falcons exposed in the NFC Championship. We like games where we methodically march the offense down the field (though big plays are fun), score, and then clamp down on the other team once we have a lead. In the Super Bowl, we are playing the Baltimore Ravens, who are considered somewhat of a working-class team too, though their passing game is a little stronger than the Niners.
The Man. We snagged him from Stanford two years ago and he has been nothing short of amazing, taking a team that had been terrible to the NFC Championship last year (they lost to the New York Giants) and now to the Super Bowl. You will probably hear the announcers mention that Jim’s brother, John, is the coach of the Ravens about 23,493 times.
Inside intel: Jim Harbaugh is also one of the few head coaches to have a long career as an NFL player. He played quarterback and lost his job in Indianapolis to a rookie named Peyton Manning.
Used to be our quarterback. Now he holds a clipboard on the sidelines. A super nice guy who always put the team first, but just never quite won the heart of the city, despite playing really well last season. He spent five years being bad under bad coaches, so it wasn't all his fault.
Inside intel: Casually note that Tom Brady took over for starter Drew Bledsoe – like Kaep taking over for Smith – and that's worked out pretty well for the Patriots.
Our quarterback. Often referred to as "Kaep" (pronounced "cap"). He rode the pine as a rookie in 2011 but grabbed the starting job this season and has now been hailed as a franchise savior. He has a great arm, is cooler than the other side of the pillow, and can absolutely fly if chased out of the pocket. Quarterbacks rarely have all three qualities.
Inside intel: Casually note that you would like him to shorten his throwing motion a little. But otherwise, he's a peach.
Our running back. He's quietly been the rock of our offense for seven years and has run for more yards than any 49er in history. He takes a beating but keeps on ticking, somehow. A tough dude.
Inside intel: Casually note that, while you love Gore, you'd like to see rookie LeMichael James get a decent share of carries. (Trust me. You do.)
Our left tackle. You may remember from the movie The Blind Side that the left tackle is the most important offensive position because he protects the quarterback from behind. This is not a Hollywood exaggeration. Staley is the most important player on offense, save Kaepernick. He's also one of those players who is having a great day if the announcer does not call his name.
Inside intel: Don't mention The Blind Side.
Our wide receivers. You want the announcer talking about these guys. Crabtree struggled with Smith at quarterback but has really turned it on with Kaepernick. Moss is the grizzled old veteran with a few gallons left in the tank who wants a Super Bowl ring so badly. Do not be surprised if he makes a few fantastic catches.
Inside intel: Tell anyone who compares the Kaep-Crabtree connection to Montana-Rice to cool their jets.
Our tight end. An absolute superhuman athlete who comes through at the right times.
Inside intel: Don't be afraid to get mad if he drops a pass or shies from a hit. This is something he does too much.
Our kicker. Just typing his name gives me an ulcer. Once considered the league's most consistent kicker, injuries have really thrown his game. No sure three-points anymore. When he lines up for a field goal, Niners Nation feels like they're watching a baby wander through a yard of sleeping Dobermans.
Inside intel: Point out that his miss in the NFC Championship against the Falcons almost cost the game had it not been for our awesome defense.
Our middle linebacker. The unquestioned captain on defense. Get used to seeing #52 involved in plays. He's a lion. Everywhere at once.
Inside intel: People love to compare Willis to the Ravens middle linebacker, Ray Lewis, who is considered one of the best ever and is retiring this year.
Our other linebackers. Combined with Willis, they make up the best linebacking core in the NFL. (Again, a fact, not an opinion.)
Inside intel: Casually wonder if Bowman is actually better than Willis. It's a fun debate that fires up true Niners fans.
Our top defensive end. If he has a good day rushing Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, the Niners will be sitting pretty.
Inside intel: When someone laughs about his comically small shoulder pads, counter that they allow him to shed blocks more easily.
Another defensive end that you could also call "a down linebacker." He and Justin terrorize quarterbacks. I like to refer to them collectively as Sacks Smith Avenue.
Inside intel: Note that Aldon can't have a good day unless Justin is playing well.
Our safeties. These guys are the deep guys on defense. But don't be surprised to see one of them come flying into the picture like a large jungle cat and knock someone on their ear. These guys hit hard.
Inside intel: If they lay someone out, note that no big hit is worth a personal foul penalty.
Our cornerbacks. Unless they intercept a pass, these are two more guys you don't want the announcers talking about very much. If their names are called, it'll usually be because they got burned on a pass play. And that's bad.
Inside intel: Be relieved that the Ravens wide receivers are nowhere close to as good as the Falcons.
“The Pistol”: This was the offensive system Kaepernick used in college. The Niners have employed some of it in their playbook.
“Option”: This is a play where the quarterback has a choice to give the ball to the running back or run it himself. He must make the decision in the flash of the moment. Kaepernick is really good at this.
And someone may chant, "Who's got it better than us?" The response is "NO-BODY." Just go with it.
Cause it's true.
All images courtesy of www.49ers.com