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Posts for February, 2013

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.