Ruben Rosario: In a sea of purple, I’ll be the guy wearing 49ers red and gold at tonight’s game

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It still stings, though it’s been more than 35 years now. I’m talking here about what took place on Jan. 9, 1988, when the heavily favored San Francisco 49ers were upset by the underdog Minnesota Vikings, 34-26 in a divisional playoff game.

The shocking loss — I still have a beef with then-Vikings QB Wade Wilson and top receiver Anthony Carter to this day — prevented what I solidly believe would have been a still-unprecedented Super Bowl three-peat by my Niners (the team led by Joe Montana would win back-to-back Super Bowls in 1989 and 1990). I won’t tell you here which team we knocked off those years in the playoffs to get to the promised land. Look it up.

Oh. I hear you now, long-suffering Vikings fans. I have nothing to complain about. I root for a team that has won five Super Bowls and looks like they have another Purdy good chance, pun intended, this season to reach the Super Bowl again.

Meanwhile, the Vikings lost four Super Bowls, have endured excruciatingly heartbreaking playoff losses over the years, and are currently a long shot for reaching football’s pinnacle. Angst bleeds purple and gold.

So how does someone like me, who grew up in the south Bronx and Manhattan and relocated to the Twin Cities more than 32 years ago, root for a football team from the West Coast? And why not the Vikings?

Well, the simple answer is that in my adolescence I liked playing outdoors on Sunday afternoons after mass rather than sit at home watching TV.

My neighborhood did not have a grass field nearby so we played tackle football, without equipment, on the asphalt playground behind our school. I think I still have knee-scrape scars from those days. Sometimes we would sneak to a long patch of grass between buildings where I lived until security chased us off.

The only games on TV when I would return home for supper were West Coast games. And more often than not, it would be the pesky 49ers, in their resplendent and cool red-and-gold uniforms, playing in windy, seagull-flying, sun-splashed Kezar Stadium. I date back to the QB days of Billy Kilmer, John Brodie, Steve Spurrier, Jim Plunkett and others until Montana and coach Bill Walsh helped turned the team into a superpower in the 1980s and early ’90s..

But I also liked watching scrambling Fran Tarkenton and the Purple People Eaters, and wanted the Vikings, whose logo and “Skol!” chant are still the best, to win those Super Bowls because I favored NFC teams.

Regardless who we root for or why, the lingering question to this sports team loyalty is why do we identify so much — sometimes to the detriment of our mental well being —with a professional sports team whose members don’t even know we exist?

It’s about tribalism, a primordial human trait.

“Let’s face it, the ritual of dressing in special attire, wearing colors signifying a tribal-like affiliation, and paying top dollar for the right to watch people we’ve never met play a game for our amusement is, quite frankly, weird,” aptly noted writer Chloe Williams said in a 2021 Psychology Today magazine article that explored whether the psychology of sports can be applied to business and life.

“The stronger the fan loyalty is, in my experience, the more severe the self-torment.” he added.

So true. There are Vikings fan friends of mine who lament they may not see their favorite football team reach the Super Bowl or actually win it in their lifetime.

I feel for them, though not enough to wish that to happen while I’m still above ground rooting for the Niners. Call me selfish.

But age mellows one out. There are far more important things in life to worry about — paying bills, dealing with monthly chemo sessions, taking care of ill loved ones, watching in stunned disbelief and concern about the events taking place in the Middle East and other regions of the world and nation.

But sports can be a welcome escape. I’m looking forward to Monday night’s game when the 49ers play the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. It will be the first time that I will attend a regular-season game at the arena. The tickets were a surprise gift from my son.

I plan to wear either the George Kittle jersey he got me for Christmas or the old-school Ronnie Lott one I got many years ago. I do know this: Win or lose, I will enjoy the experience, feeling grateful I can do so. But I’m sure it’ll sting a bit if the Niners lose.

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