Heartbreak: The story of a 49ers fan born after the franchise's glory years

There is only word word to describe the experience of being a young 49ers fan who was not alive during the team's glory years: heartbreak.

Super Bowl LVIII - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs
Super Bowl LVIII - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs / Harry How/GettyImages
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The 49ers have lost the Super Bowl yet again. This loss, while incredibly painful and heartbreaking, allows one to reflect...

Sports are a special thing. They connect us to other people we may not have much in common with. They inspire us, frustrate us, and teach us to persevere.

Probably my favorite thing about sports is the fact that it connects us to other generations.

Even when painful, sports can be a wonderfuly powerful thing.

Being a 49ers fan after the glory years is heartbreaking

My grandfather raised my father right: as a Bay Area sports fan. Giants, 49ers, Warriors. Those were the teams.

I was raised the same way. Growing up in the 1980s for my father, the Niners were the golden team, the standard for a dynasty. Four Super Bowl championships in the decade and another one in the 1990s. One of the best quarterbacks of all time in Joe Montana, the stuff of legend.

As a kid, my father made me aware of this great history. I have distinct memories of watching the episodes of America's Game on NFL Network. I got to learn about Montana, wide receivers Dwight Clark and Jerry Rice, and head coach Bill Walsh. I learned about the dynasty they built.

I dreamt that someday, perhaps I could see San Francisco again hoist a Lombardi Trophy.

At the time, I watched those relics of history in the mid-to-late 2000s, it seemed like another 49ers Super Bowl was a long way off. The team was not that great and didn't seem like they would be for a while. In came Jim Harbaugh, a head coach who had great success at Stanford before being hired by the 49ers in 2011.

It was a familiar story. Even as a pre-teen I understood the parallels to Walsh. But instead of a dynasty, I got heartbreak. Instead of "The Catch" and "Montana to Taylor," I got the Kyle Williams fumble, the overthrown fade pass to Michael Crabtree and the tip by Richard Sherman.

There were good memories and great victories mixed in there, to be sure, but all of them tainted by the knowledge that they ultimately led to heartbreak.

Related story: 10 most heartbreaking moments in Niners playoff history

Then the dark years between Harbaugh and now-head coach Kyle Shanahan. I still cheered for the team but figured it would take a long time before they could be legitimate contenders again.

Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch bring 49er long-awaited hope, but pain still lingers

Then, a bright offensive mind, Shanahan, and a gutsy general manager in John Lynch assembled a great defense and drafted solid offensive contributors.

Plus a likable quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, who seemed to have winning in his DNA and studied under the tutelage of the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady? That sounded like it could be the makings of another dynasty, or at least a team that would take home a Super Bowl.

But, no. We got the Super Bowl overthrow to Emmanuel Sanders. That's the memory. Another painful one.

They ran into the greatest quarterback in the game, currently, in Kanas City Chiefs perennial MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes. While it was his first Super Bowl, everyone knew it would not be his last. But he was not invincible. Sure, Brady had beaten him twice in the postseason, and so had the Cincinnati Bengals' Joe Burrow.

Perhaps if the Niners just had a little bit extra at the quarterback position or one more skill player...

Brock Purdy arrives to 'save' the 49ers, but even that's not enough

But even that wasn't enough. The golden kid who came out of nowhere, Brock Purdy. The kid who seemed like Luke Skywalker, raised in the desert and destined to take down the mighty Chiefs Empire. He played a heck of a game.

The proton torpedo didn't blow up the Death Star, sadly. It got so close. But it missed.

So, here we are. We have the footage of those glorious moments of destiny and victory from before we were born, but they don't feel real. They feel like legends. The lived experience of those 49ers fans born after those years is one of pain, heartbreak, and sadness.

Where do we go from here? Where do you find hope when there is seemingly none to find? In a way, we as sports fans are condemned to hope.

Like Sisyphus, we roll that boulder all the way up the mountain year after year. More often than not, you know it is going to crush you. And what does that say about us Niners fans who have yet to witness their team hoist a Lombardi Trophy? Perhaps in some weird and sadistic way, we like the pain because it makes us feel something.

Or perhaps it is because we know the delight of victory is worth the bitterness of defeat.

I don't know. I cried as a 12 year old when the 49ers lost their first Super Bowl ever to the Baltimore Ravens. I had to take an hour long walk to clear my mind after the first Super Bowl loss to the Chiefs.

But after the loss on Sunday I felt... nothing. Numb.

Perhaps it is emotional maturity. Perhaps it is simply the realization that this team has done nothing but hurt me in the end in my lifetime, so I am guarding myself emotionally.

What now, 49ers fans?

You would think that the 49ers will win another Super Bowl someday. I am not sure if it will happen under this regime and with this core group of players. Perhaps they will make it again and again and come up short just as the Buffalo Bills did in the 1990s.

They have a quarterback who was just one or two plays away from out-dueling the potential GOAT. They still have some of the best offensive skill players in all of football. They still have All-Pro defenders and team cornerstones in Nick Bosa and Fred Warner.

On the flip side, one Super Bowl loss stings. But two Super Bowl losses, to the same team no less, can break something inside a team.

As solid as the 49ers' locker room is seemingly, it is only natural for doubt to creep in: '"s Shanahan good enough of a coach in the Big Game to get us over the hump?"

It will be a long, hard offseason for the Niners. They will have to look themselves in the mirror and ask themselves some tough questions about who they are and the football team they want to be.

The offseason for fans will be a struggle as well. When a team has only broken your heart, doesn't it defy logic to continue making yourself vulnerable year after year? It does. But that's what makes sports beautiful. It defies logic and allows for upsets, underdogs, and comebacks. As much as this hurts, and as much as I want to put all of my 49ers' gear away in a closet right now and forget it all, I know I can't. You know you can't.

Because then I'll never have the chance to see my own America's Game someday. It may never happen, but it's the chance for that sliver of glory and joy that keeps me coming back.

We will all get hurt again. The team will lose heartbreaking games in the future. But that is what sports is about. The pain only makes the victory that much sweeter. So rest up 49ers fans, especially those of you who, like me, have never seen this team win a Super Bowl in your lifetime.

Let's lick our wounds, and get ready to roll that boulder up the hill again next season.

Go Niners. Now and forever.

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