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Who’s Gonna Cheer the ’49ers Now?

Jim Burroway

February 1st, 2013

In 1981, Hudepohl Beer was beer to Cincinnati as Rolling Rock was to Pittsburgh and Coors to Denver. Locals called it Hudy; it was the brew of Cincinnati’s working class. Its name was emblazoned on the windows of the city’s thousands of “pony kegs” (what locals called the neighborhood small grocery or package store), and the call of its vendors was an iconic part of the soundtrack for every Reds and Bengals’s game at Riverfront Stadium. “Hudaaaay… here!” The vendors called it out in a particular sing-sing, with their voices dipping on the second syllable and trailing off, almost, before punching the air with a sharply rising “here!”

Hudy drinkers that year had much to celebrate when the ever-suffering Bengals were suddenly transformed into a real, honest-to-God Super Bowl contender. Cincinnati suddenly had Super Bowl fever and everyone was sporting the orange and back stripes. The city hadn’t seen that kind of excitement since the Big Red Machine of the mid-1970s. But here they were, going crazy once again, this time over professional football, no less, in what had been a dyed-in-the-wool baseball town.

That winter was blistering cold. The conference championship game at Riverfront Stadium against the San Diego Chargers (Bengals: 27-7) broke the record for the coldest game in NFL history (air temperature: -9°F, wind chill with sustained 27 mph winds: -34°F.) We were tough; those pampered SoCal wimps couldn’t cut it. Notice, I said “we.” A winning football team, particularly one that’s Super Bowl bound, has a way of unifying the most unlikely people, even closeted nerdy engineering student fags like me who knew next to nothing about sports. But that year was different: Quarterback Ken Anderson, the (adorable) wide receiver Chris Collingsworth, Anthony Muñoz, Pete Jackson, Dan Ross. I could recite those name and actually sound like I knew what I was talking about, like never before or since. Look at me, I remember thinking, being all sports fan-ny and shit. And we all joined in with the rallying cry, inspired by the Hudy call we heard at the stadium all our lives: “Hooday! Hooday! Hooday think gonna beat them Bengals?”

Leadups to championship games like this have a way of unifying a community in ways that are nearly impossible by any other means. Cincinnati is a city of neighborhoods, and residents are much more likely to identify themselves accordingly rather than as Cincinnatians. But for one season, whether they were transplanted Appalachians of Lower Price Hill or the old families of Mt. Storm, the down-in-the-heels denizens of Over-the-Rhine or the the urban pioneers of Mt. Auburn, the Proctor and Gamble executives downtown or the auto workers building Camaros in Norwood, the Hudy drinkers of Western Hills or the Chablis sippers in Hyde Park or the disco queens and their Long Island Iced Teas at the Lighthouse discotheque in Clifton, everyone had that moment of common cause. Even on the fractious city council, with the Kennedy-esque Jerry Springer (seriously, I kid you not! What happened since then is still a mystery) and the increasingly arch conserviative Ken Blackburn (now a pundit at the Family “Research” Council), they finally found that one thing they could all agree on.

And during those weeks of universal camaraderie, jocks in the bars would turn to me — me! — and smile — sure, they smiled because they were drunk, and they looked at me just because I happened to be standing in some random direction outside of their huddle, but who cares? — they looked at me, smiled, hoist their Hudys and shouted, “Who dey think gonna beat them Bengals?” Gee, nobody had ever asked me that before. But I knew the answer, along with everyone else, and the entire bar would erupt with “Who dey! Who dey! Who dey think gonna beat them Bengals?”

It turned out the 49ers did, in a heartbreaking Super Bowl in Pontiac, Michigan. The score was 26-21, a score made respectable only by two late Bengals touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Those ’49ers. God, we loved hating them, but they played a good game. And then everything more or less went back to normal in Cincinnati. But for most of an unforgettable football season, everything had changed, and I still get goose bumps writing this.

This Sunday, the 49ers will play the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. Ordinarily that should be a great focus of pride and unity for the city and all its residents. But the 49ers seem to be going out of their way to alienate a very significant part of that community. On Tuesday, 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver was on the Artie Lange Show, where he was asked if there were any gay players on the team. Culliver made it very clear that there were none and there wouldn’t be any: “I don’t do the gay guys man. I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up out of here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah, can’t be in the locker room man.”

He later apologized, and people started to try to move on. But then suddenly, yesterday, linebacker Ahmad Brooks and nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, who participated in the ’49ers’ “It Gets Better” video last year — making the ’49ers the first NFL team to make such a video — denied taking part in it:

“I didn’t make any video,” Brooks said. “This is America and if someone wants to be gay, they can be gay. It’s their right. But I didn’t make any video.”When told USA TODAY Sports had seen the video and he was in it, Brooks replied, “I don’t remember that. I think if I made a video, I’d remember it.” He was shown the video on an iPhone.

“Oh, that. It was an anti-bullying video, not a gay (rights) video,” he said.

When told that studies show that the majority of teens who are bullied are harassed over sexual identity issues, Brooks thought for a second. “I know that. I know that,” he said. “Okay, you’re right and I’m wrong. Are you from one of those New York newspapers?”

…Sopoaga, too, denied making the video, even while teammate Will Tukuafu, who overheard the question, tried to refresh his memory. “Yeah, you made that video, remember?” Tukuafu said.

“No,” Sopoaga said. “I never went. And now someone is using my name.” Sopoaga was shown the video. “What was that for?” he asked.

To ask teens to stop bullying other teens because of sexual identity, he was told.

“Yeah, OK,” he said. Would you like to comment on it, he was asked. “No,” he said.

Dan Savage, who spearheaded the “It Gets Better” project, pulled the 49ers’ video from the web site. The 49ers’ organization disavowed Culliver’s earlier comment but has remained silent over the latest controversy. I gotta tell you, I love San Francisco. I love the people, the energy, the night life, the compactness, the walkability, the museums, everything. I even like the Muni. But I am so incredibly thankful I’m not a San Francisco resident right now. If I were, I’d have to find some other way to spend Super Bowl Sunday where I’m not surrounded by people cheering on the ’49ers. And I’d probably yearn for a Hudy and the memories of better times.

Comments

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Lucrece
February 1st, 2013 | LINK

Gay people tend to overestimate how much straight neighbors actually support them.

More importantly, that’s why I really hate these vague anti-bullying videos that don’t even mention or emphasize the plight of gay people. Because then gay children get sidelined for more palatable bullying victims.

Mark F.
February 1st, 2013 | LINK

People don’t care about the 49ers the way they care about the Giants. And the team is moving to Santa Clara next year anyway.

Ben in Oakland
February 1st, 2013 | LINK

Tukuafu and Sopoaga. Samoans or Tongans from the last names. The Mormon church has made major inroads among Polynesians, and its not surprising that they thing the way they do.

Mahu and ‘aikane in Hawaiian. I don’t know the non-Hawaiian words– probably Taitane and Mafu– but they should probably know their own cultural history a little better.

TampaZeke
February 1st, 2013 | LINK

I’ve commented here and on other sites before that I didn’t think some of the participants in the IGB videos had a clue that it was directed toward GLBT youth. Some of the videos don’t mention the words gay or lesbian or GLBT. They are very generic “bullying” videos. It seemed to me that many of the videos seemed to miss the point. I’m not a bit surprised by these two players claiming ignorance. Truth be told I bet there are many others who would, if honest, admit that they didn’t know it was about gay youth either. I also don’t think that the makers of some of these videos are innocent either. I think they avoided being too specific about what the videos were about. This has allowed something that could have been very effective in educating and uplifting to be sullied by showing the broad lack of education on the issue of anti-gay bullying EVEN among the IGB participants and has also made the whole thing a bit of a downer when it’s being demonstrated so publicly that a lot of people support ending bullying as long as it’s not anti-gay bullying.

F Young
February 1st, 2013 | LINK

My understanding has always been that the “It gets Better” campaign is not aimed at countering homophobic bullying, but rather aimed at countering suicide by LGBTIQ youth.

F Young
February 1st, 2013 | LINK

Well-written story, by the way.

tristram
February 1st, 2013 | LINK

One superb piece of writing.

Thanks, Jim.

Keppler
February 1st, 2013 | LINK

Yes, very well written. I am from San Francisco, so I suggest that you do what I’m doing this year – rooting for the Ravens.

As to “It’s Gets Better,” the minute straight people started making those videos, making promises to gay kids about a future they knew nothing about, what started off as a way for gay people to counsel their young became instead a way for straight people to prove to themselves that they care. That’s not an inconsequential mission, but it’s not the mission that the project started out with.

StraightGrandmother
February 1st, 2013 | LINK

Go Ravens. I still remember the article Tim wrote, that Ravens player on Sunday night winning his conference championship at like almost 4 in the morning e-mailed somebody asking for advice on how he could leverage Civil Marriage for sexual minorities now that he would be getting press exposure. I’ll never forget that. He has a funny name but I know I’ll recognize it when I see it.

My home team is NFC, but this year I’ll be rooting for Baltimore the AFC Team.

Good writing Jim, you might submit that somewhere.

Donny D.
February 2nd, 2013 | LINK

I’m very comfortable as a San Franciscan right now. And I don’t believe in supporting some team other than the 49ers. I oppose, as I have since middle school, the whole culture of male team sports worship. I oppose the 49ers, the Ravens and all the rest of it. If it all ceased to exist tomorrow, I’d happily mutter, “Good riddance” and continue on my way.

That whole culture is, in my experience, profoundly femiphobic and homophobic. To hell with it.

Donny D.
February 2nd, 2013 | LINK

Mark F. wrote,

People don’t care about the 49ers the way they care about the Giants. And the team is moving to Santa Clara next year anyway.

A great many women and gay and bisexual men in San Francisco don’t care about ANY of it.

Straight men, in SF and outside of it, are the only people who, as a group, care all THAT much about male team sports spectating.

Robert
February 2nd, 2013 | LINK

Donny D-

Yeah yeah yeah, that’s why the new Gay Sports bar is always packed. No gay people like sports. Please, I have plenty of LGBT friends who LOVE sports and follow all the games.

Your statement that it’s only straight men who like this just supports every stereotype about LGBT people we hear every day.

Hi Tops is one of the highest rated gay bars in San Francisco on yelp.

If you don’y care for sports, that’s one thing, but to claim all the rest of us don’t, well that’s just a lie.

Priya Lynn
February 2nd, 2013 | LINK

Right Robert. My husband and I are both big football fans.

Robert
February 2nd, 2013 | LINK

Priya Lynn-

I like some sports and do enjoy watching a game here and there as well.

I just get tired of this meme from our own, that we are somehow all girlie-men who have no athletic ability or interest. And full disclosure, while I am not a girlie man myself, I do love one and Married him almost five years ago and have been together for 14 1/2 years.

Sometimes it’s the words of our own that do us in and support the stereotypes hoisted upon us.

Ben in Oakland
February 2nd, 2013 | LINK

I should add that I despise team sports. I’d rather watch newt Gingrich congratulate himself for his self assigned by wholly imaginary brilliance for two hours.

Never the less, I was a jock in high school and college and a coach for many years. I generally maintain a fairly serious workout program, 40 years later.

Athletics is one thing, professional sports quite another.

Maurice Lacunza
February 2nd, 2013 | LINK

Jim, sports is not my cup of tea; but, your article wasn’t really about sports. I actually read it and I was moved by the emotion and trip down history lane. That was a great article.

You weren’t writing about sports as much or instead about camaraderie and mutual respect. Thanks.

Donny D.
February 3rd, 2013 | LINK

I don’t have much time right now, but I think I need to clarify what I wrote, since most of you read it differently than I meant it.

Please note that I referred to “male team sports worship” and “male team sports spectating”. I am talking about following and spectating male team sports, and NOT engaging in them oneself. (The first of those two phrases was clearly ambiguous and should not have been used.)

And let me repeat one of my sentences with added emphasis:

Straight men, in SF and outside of it, are the only people who, as a group, care all THAT much about male team sports spectating.

What I meant is that, cut by sexual orientation and gender, straight men are the only group among whom following and spectating male teams sports is of interest to the majority.

In my experience, only a minority of gay men are interested in following male team sports, and only a minority of women of any sexual orientation. (I just realized that I’m not sure if only a minority of bisexual men follow male team sports or not. Bisexual men tend to be so unwilling to identify as such that it’s hard to know which of these is true.)

In all of this, I meant only professional and college male team sports, and not any other kind. I don’t know if leaving that out would ever have caused a problem in this discussion, but I’m including it just in case.

Priya Lynn
February 3rd, 2013 | LINK

I know a lot of women that watch football.

Robert
February 3rd, 2013 | LINK

Priya Lynn-

Me too. The majority of women I know watch football weekly. A large majority of lesbians I know follow sports almost religiously.

And yeah, Donny D is still ignoring the fact that one of the, if not THE most popular gay bar in SF right now is Hi Tops, the gay sports bar, it was even featured in Sports Illustrated just a few days ago.

MattNYC
February 4th, 2013 | LINK

I didn’t end up watching much of the game–tuned in during the blackout and then turned it off when my watching was apparently the cause of the 49ers comeback (I am not religious, but I AM highly superstitious about sports–I NEVER watch a game in which I care about the outcome ;).

I am pretty surprised to find in the box score that Brendon Ayanbadejo has zero Tackles or Assists. That’s not easy to do as a linebacker. Too bad.

MattNYC
February 4th, 2013 | LINK

Nice HuffPo interview:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/04/brendon-ayanbadejo-baltimore-ravens-gay-rights-russell-simmons_n_2617382.html

Timothy Kincaid
February 4th, 2013 | LINK

Matt,

Are you sure? I distinctly recall hearing “blah blah blah by Brenden Ayanbadejo”. I noticed not only for the obvious reasons but because it was pronounce “Eye-an-buh-day-JOE” not “Eye-an-buh-day-HO” as I thought.

MattNYC
February 4th, 2013 | LINK

Tim,

It may be a technicality and you can’t always tell a game from the box score. I think only the last tackler and sometimes the next-to-last hit gets credited. It’s very possible he “gummed up” his zones so others could make the plays. He may have also been getting double-teamed–which does make it harder to get stats.

Richard Rush
February 4th, 2013 | LINK

Although I have nearly zero interest in sports, especially team sports, I do enjoy sitting down with a six-pack and watching figure skating or synchronized swimming.

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