The San Francisco Experience. (08/21/02) 5:00 PM

Just back a little while ago, well August 9, 2002 that is. I experienced what so many have dreamed and wondered about that live a distance from this extraordinary Bay Area nestled around the wonderful city of San Francisco.

I boarded a flight that would take me from my largest city to Pittsburgh and on to San Francisco International. The total flight lasted some eight hours.

But it didn’t matter to me, for I was on an adrenaline high. I had been waiting and contemplating this trip for almost two years. I am so happy that it finally became a reality, one that would send me in a time warp that would transfer me into a kid all over again.

Having purchased my game tickets for the Kansas City game, and finalized my plans to what I was going to do in and around San Francisco. I suddenly met someone via the Internet that had responded to one of my articles.

In fact it was an article that I had praised the 49er offensive line and the generosity and kindness of offensive tackle Dave Fiore. It happened to be a soft spot for the person I just mentioned.

Her name is Julie Bedford, and she lives only five minutes from Candlestick as she demands to have it called but still embedded in road sign as 3Com Park. She lives in San Bruno, which is but a suburb of the large city of San Francisco. Julie is the most generous and giving person I have ever met, for someone that knows absolutely nothing about me she delivered the world to me.

Back to the Internet Julie offered after reading my article and giving me her blessing on my comments about Dave Fiore, offered me a chance at getting his autograph. It happened to be that she was a friend with him and other players as well as their immediate families. I jumped at the thought and said yes.

At the same time I told her I was headed to San Francisco and wished to meet her. That offer was accepted and we met at my hotel hours before the game. She even insisted on driving my family and myself right to the stadium and back.

Finding my hotel at eleven at night was interesting, we waited for the hotel shuttle and boarded and arrived. The time change being three hours from where I lived had little effect on me as I clung to the meeting with Julie and the idea of seeing the 49er’s in person.

When I awoke that morning after, I walked down to discover that all of the Kansas City Chiefs were staying at my hotel. Players were coming in and out of boardrooms where they were conducting meetings on the upcoming battle with the 49er’s.

Just down the road from me at the Marriott Hotel the 49er’s were staying. As I stared in amazement at all the players and assistant coaches walking around two people suddenly caught my eye.

There in the hotel lobby was Kansas City Chief head coach Dick Vermeil and San Francisco Vice President/Consultant Bill Walsh talking. I was in utter disbelief and amazement to say the least. That’s when I knew I was in the middle of something special. They soon all left as valet drivers and shuttles arrived to take them all away.

I then proceeded to wait for Julie’s arrival with my family and my friend Ryan Desmond a devoted Patriot fan. He decided to go along as he has always wanted to see the San Francisco area and admitted that his second favorite NFL franchise was the 49er’s.

Julie’s arrival was a marvelous picture, she opened up to all of us and told us to jump in and get going. The drive up 101 north to registered signage 3Com Park was glorious. As the stadium came into view so did my heart and anticipation.

Perspiration started to soar down my forehead as we turned into the parking lot and witnessed the tailgaters in large. We drove right up to the very front and Julie said there’s the “Newberry Brigade,” I had an idea it was in reference to Jeremy Newberry and she said it was all of his family, which numbered around 30 people at it’s height.

They have always had the same spot in that parking lot since Newberry has been a 49er. We all got out and part of the Newberry family was introduced to us.

Handshakes were made as well as talk and my business cards exchanged. A beer was also consumed and friendship and loyalties discussed. Julie happened to be very good friends with the Newberry family and you could tell just by the way she talked and mingled with them.

Julie became famous with the wearing of Dave Fiore’s jersey that she purchased on her own. She is a true believer in the 49er offensive line and believes they have never been given the true distinction that they so well deserve. Dave Fiore recognizes Julie every time and waves and comes over to see her, as well as the rest of the offensive line.

We waited along the fence right across from the player’s parking lot to witness the players arriving. They all came in big shiny sports cars and sport utility wagons, many with music systems blaring and deep bass vibrating the very windows in their vehicles.

Fans all along the fence jumped up and down and waved and shouted. I was one of them, as players got out and walked in some stopped and gestured recognition to us fans.

When Dave Fiore arrived Julie said he would honk and he did as he drove by her and us, when he walked out he waved as well, acknowledging our presence. Meanwhile to my side the Newberry Brigade has grown as friends and family continues to arrive.

Dinner aprons went on and barbecues were lit and baby back ribs began to be cooked. The aroma was sizzling and delicious. Jeremy Newberry upon arrival made his way out and sat with his family.

Julie said: “Let him mingle with his family awhile and then I will introduce him to you.” I acknowledged that and waited. We waited oh about 15 minutes and then I was escorted over and met Jeremy as he was seated and just finished eating.

His family was surrounding him and laughing and binging on all the good food. Julie introduced me and I shook hands with him. It was my first contact with a 49er.

That meeting soon broke and the lines to the stadium proceeded to enter, I made my way in with Julie and my family still dizzy about meeting Jeremy Newberry. I had brought my authentic 49er helmet with me for autographs but it sat in Julie’s sports utility wagon as she told me that after the game was the best time.

My tickets were for the nose bleed section in section 53 row 26. I realized that I would not be seeing a lot from where I was when I got in. However being pre-season Julie told me that we could sit right behind the player’s bench on the 50-yard line.

Many season ticket holders would not show up for this game. We sat in their seats the whole time moving occasionally but in the general area and marveled at it all.

The first thing we saw was news anchor man and former 49er Bubba Parrish, he made his way over to Julie and all of us and introduced himself. Then out came the San Francisco Gold Rush being the cheerleaders carrying posters of them together.

Some were waved down and they came over to me, I had pictures taken with three of them and their beauty was overwhelming to say the least. We sat and watched as the 49er’s begun walking out on the field and began warming up. Pictures were taken and the game proceeded to happen.

Fans arrived in multitudes and the air was warm until the second quarter, the breeze off the Bay came in and turned the air chilly. Players actually had to wear their long warm up parkas just to stay warm. I braved it in my Garcia jersey and shorts.

The game was extraordinary even as overtime sounded and quarterback Brandon Doman threw a costly interception and that set up the game winning field goal for the Chiefs. I walked out of there still refreshed that I had seen all that I had been waiting for.

What I did not know was that I was to have my cake and eat it too. Julie had arranged with the Newberry’s in getting my family and myself into the player’s section of the parking lot.

When we broke and walked out, they came and got us. We walked past security and into the player’s parking lot. Not too long and players arrived, Jeremy Newberry the first.

I had my helmet in my hands, and was literally shaking as I witnessed all of it. I was directed to Jeremy and he locked eyes with me recognizing me from before. He was the first signature on my helmet.

Then they all came out; my mind is a blur as to their order. I was so transformed and in awe that I didn’t even know my name at times. I proceeded to Dave Costa, Eric Johnson, Tim Rattay, Derrick Deese, Bryant Young, Dana Stubblefield, Dave Fiore, Scott Gragg, Brian Jennings, Garrison Hearst, John Engelberger, Chike Okeafor, Fred Beasley, Ben Steele, Ben Lynch, Matt Willig and Mark Anelli.

And then I was introduced to offensive line coach Pat Morris who then signed my helmet. It was simply unreal. Needless to say I left that area with my heart in my mouth, I didn’t recover full till the next day.

Julie took Monday off to go with me to training camp in Stockton another selfless act on her behalf. She reminded me that more autographs would come my way there.

After game day and its entire fanfare, we woke up and took a chartered tour of San Francisco; it was amazing the things that we saw. And I must admit that from all the scenery to the Golden Gate Bridge and beyond was astounding.

The ferry we took to Alcatraz was amazing as was the prison itself. I encourage you all to go and see it.

On Monday training camp day, Julie arrived and we followed her out on an hour and a half drive to Stockton. This is the agricultural center in this area, many farms and harvesting areas. Needless to say it was a dramatic change in temperature going into the 90’s and up to 100 degrees that day.

Arriving at The University of the Pacific a medium sized facility we parked and Julie whisked me away to the players parking lot where she has two VIP passes reserved in her name.

We then walked on to the field and waited for the first wave to come out, helmet in my hand already covered with player autographs. The battle to find space would begin; I waited in the corner closest to the facility doors where the players would emerge.

Those that had no VIP passes which included my wife, daughter and friend stood behind a fence and on the bleachers straining to catch glimpses of the players. They would not be forgotten however.

Players began coming out as the sun bore down with its intensity, fans along the sideline where it was coned off and watched closely by security began shouting players names to come over and sign.

I stood my ground and shouted when I needed to also. Safety Ronnie Heard made his way over and signed. Then more but many passed and acknowledged saying they needed for us to wait till after practice.

Defensive end Andre Carter came close and hesitated as he thought he was late to practice. As he gazed out on the field he made the decision to sign a quick few of autographs. Helmet in hand he made his way to me and signed.

Practice was great at first as the team scrimmaged and did drills right in front of us. It was a sight to behold and marvel at. Unfortunately the team switched fields and played on the one furthest from us making it tough to see a lot accept the kicking drills.

As players filtered back from drills fans awaited, I happened to be standing next to Mark Anelli’s mother and brother along with Julie. The conversation was interesting to say the least, and they were both mesmerized with seeing their kin on the field in front of them.

The kicking tandem of Jose Cortez and Jeff Chandler came by and signed, I was happy to make my claim on them as I had met Jose’s nephew who has a friendship with Julie. By that Jose was inclined to stop and recognize Jeff and us was in route with him.

Right after the first practice many players went by and into the locker rooms, others especially quarterback Jeff Garcia opted to come over as he always does. He was so patient and kind as he acknowledged the little children first hollering out his name. Many demanded his gloves and others held souvenirs high for him to sign.

I waited for as many children to sign first, because after all they are the next generation and both older fans and players reward you for your patience most of the time. Jeff finally made his way towards me and signed my helmet. Cade McNown was also a participant that I received a signature and Brandon Doman.

Terrell Owens, Jeremy Newberry and Ron Stone did not participate in this training camp but were there because of minor injuries. Another surprise was offensive coordinator Gregg Knapp making his way over to the sideline; here fans shouted and pushed to get closer to the offensive coach.

Knapp was both kind and generous as he took time to sign many autographs mine included. I really looked for Mooch but saw only far shots of him as he walked around.

What happened next was another unexpected move, Jeff Garcia who takes the longest to do autograph’s because he never misses anyone made his way to the fence where my family and Ryan were standing against.

Out came Terrell Owens to sign bypassing the VIP section and going to the fence with Jeff. My daughter had her yearbook signed by Jeff and Terrell and my wife held out my Jeff Garcia jersey for him to sign. I jumped up and down like a 12-year old.

Needless to say my daughter teased me endlessly that she had Terrell Owens autograph and I hadn’t got it. I was satisfied with what I had and grateful but I must admit the teasing did get to me a little. Owens is the most difficult autograph to get, because of his high profile and personality at times.

After first practice we went out for lunch and I walked into Applebee’s in Stockton and saw a shrine dedicated to the 49er’s. It had many pictures of the past and the present regarding the team.

I looked above the bar and there hanging is a Steve Young jersey framed and signed. I couldn’t help but marvel at the thought of having such a prized possession. This Applebee’s has stayed in close contact with the team and hosted many a player as a patron from training camps in the past.

Going back to camp we picked up some 49er apparel and other things and made our way to camp for second practice. Unfortunately again the team played in the farthest field over making it difficult to see.

Needless to say I continued to talk with Julie and other encouraged fans. Then we met Ben Lynch’s mother who came to surprise her son. As you know Ben was signed just recently in light of Newberry’s injury and the ineffectiveness of others at that center position. Dave Fiore was a legitimate option but he was most wanted at the left tackle position.

Ben Lynch has always been a favorite of mine, and I told his mother and himself how lucky we were to have him back. He admitted that he had been waiting for the phone to ring all the time he was waived to comeback. Ben is another class act; he came up to me and signed my cap even though he had already signed my helmet two days before.

Dave Fiore again came up and recognized Julie and talked to us with fans draped all over him. I gestured to Julie that I would love a picture with Dave and I asked him. Dave another great easygoing guy gave me his approval. And now I have myself besides the strongest lineman on the team hands down.

Jeff Garcia again as usual recognized the kids that kept hollering his name and came over and signed more autographs. Soon after wide receivers Coach George Stewart made his way across the line of eager fans with arms outstretched.

George made clear that children come first and I asked him soon after for a picture. Julie as usual made the moment happen and took one. I then received an autograph from George in the process.

Right after second practice Dana Stubblefield and Tai Streets made their way along the line and fence, both my yearbook and helmet made the fray with signatures. Ahmed Plummer, Mike Rumph and Mike Jennings were all in the mix.

I gathered my thoughts and counted my blessings, I looked to the heavens and thanked God for making all this happen. I then looked at Julie and told her how thankful I truly was for her guidance and wonderful giving. This would have never happened without her, it would have been a completely different trip and I would never have come close to achieving the heights I was able to rise up to.

Leaving training camp that day I vowed to return again, and I have made that promise to my family and myself. Although it was very hot as evidenced by the players jumping into the ice tanks including Steve Mariucci. It was well worth it and so much more.

It is such a dynamic experience because you able to not only get up close and personal with players but fellow fans as well. The distances some of these fans travel like myself is just incredible, they were from all over.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I again explored San Francisco, we drove into Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf famous outlets in the Bay Area for shopping and dining. All that and more are what it was.

It took two days we went to Ghirradelli Square as well where the famous chocolates are made and we took a trolley car tour of the city with lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. That was a blast from the past.

On Thursday I had a planned trip to San Francisco 49er Headquarters in Santa Clara and that’s where we headed. It was incredible driving into the parking lot and seeing all the painted parking spaces for people like John McVay, Bill Walsh and Terry Donahue.

Entering the building you as a fan are confined to just the lobby where the shrine is kept of all five Vince Lombardi Trophies and their five Super Bowl rings. I had many pictures taken with me standing there with them. Reading the plaques of all five years with the rosters was interesting as well as inspiring at how truly great this franchise is.

We went just around the corner and visited Paramount’s Great America amusement park, here they have ten roller coasters and I went on nine of them. If you know me at all you would know I have a hard time with rides of this nature but I braved them all and survived. That convened the rest of that day, and we all began to realize that the end of our vacation was nearing. We went back to the hotel and had dinner with Julie.

On Friday the last day of our vacation we took off for the San Francisco Zoo. It was a great adventure and took all day. The Zoo was a wonderful place just to chill a little bit and take all the scenery and animals in. We left there and brought back our rental car and went back to the hotel.

From there we had our last dinner at Taco Bell nonetheless and proceeded up to the hotel pub for drinks and to watch a pre-season game with the Bears and Rams. Julie arrived to say goodbye and we all had a good time, but a harder time saying farewell to her. My promise is to always stay in contact and send her gifts as well as return in just a short time again to do it all over again.

I must admit that I am envious of anyone that lives in that area. Although it is so fast paced and the cost of living there is high, the fact that the 49er’s are there makes it all seem worth it to me.

I have never seen neither a better set of fans nor more devoted than ours. The San Francisco Experience is everything I thought it would be, but so much more. I relish the thought on returning the region has still so much to do and explore.

I feel closer to the team then I have ever been I feel it re-energizes me and gives me a better insight into the players and understanding them. That is something I’ve always wanted to have is a better grasp of the players as human beings and their families rather then just their professional careers.

Of the two things I hope for upon my return is a renewed contract for head coach Steve Mariucci, regardless of this seasons outcome and an extension of others such as Terrell Owens to solidify his star potential and lock up that talent needed to propel us into post-season. Both of these people are catalysts we cannot live without, especially when you’re considering talent and experience.

I also would like to praise the decision to bring in Ben Lynch and the start of Jimmy Williams as the kick return specialist. Not only does this create versatility but it creates better competition and upgrades both positions as well. I have a great feeling in regards to them, and feel that they will be positive contributors in the long haul.

I want to thank all of those that have read my articles and are followers of my columns; I cannot be beholding to each and every one of you enough. I also want to thank those that have given me the opportunity to write and express my insight and my opinions as well as deliver clear and accurate news on the team as a whole.

I deviated from my regular article posting with this one, basically because I wanted to share with you my overall experience in San Francisco. I felt it was pertinent to what I generally inform and write about for you so I wanted to share with you my stay there.

If ever I would be a travel agent I would definitely steer you to this area. It is the home of our San Francisco 49er’s and that in my opinion is all that needs mentioning for me to go back.

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