Contra Costa Times

Vindication for fans who stay
January 06, 2003
A 24-point deficit quiets 49ers faithful early, but a thrilling comeback victory elates crowd at end

By Taunya English

SAN FRANCISCO - No one pulled out a rally monkey. But the 49er faithful had their own fan mojo to turn the momentum of Sunday's wild-card game and help propel San Francisco further into the postseason.

By halftime, the score was 28-14, and the gods seemed to be on the Giants' side. The 49ers' playoff hopes seemed to be slipping away, right through a sievelike defense.

But Long Beach resident Albert Cantu still believed San Francisco could resurrect its game.

"Elvis came back from the dead; so can the Niners," said Cantu, who looked the part in saucer-size sunglasses, pasted-on sideburns and a red, sequined jumpsuit.

Cantu said New York's special teams posted some lucky shots, but most fans said San Francisco's defense was the true bad-luck charm in the first half.

Mike Gibbons of Redwood City said a comeback was still possible. But he predicted defeat if the 49ers didn't play man-to-man.

Gibbons said the 49ers have come back in the second half before, but always with a struggle.

"They've been trying to lose all season, but sometimes they win despite themselves," Gibbons said.

The turnaround finally came, but fans had to live through some rough minutes in the third quarter first.

When the Giants kicked a field goal and added three points to a 35-14 lead, 49er fan Lisa Torrez and her son packed up their blanket and headed for the stadium gates. Torrez said it was a long ride back to Union City and she wanted to avoid the gridlock in the parking lot.

"I said if they get the field goal, it's over," Torrez said.

With less than 20 minutes to play, even those spectators who held onto hope and kept their seats seemed to be weighed down by the Giants' 24-point lead.

Stadium usher Andy Tan said his section of the upper tier was quieter than usual, but outside in the breezeway, 22-year-old David Moreno tried to energize passing fans.

Moreno looked like the mayor of section 54 as he worked the crowd doling out high-fives and bumping elbows with anyone who'd stop to acknowledge him.

"The fans ain't loud enough," he said.

Moreno's chant, "Keep it going, keep it going," was contagious. His cheer grew louder and rolled along with the crowd and may have carried onto the field. Because soon after, San Francisco scored a touchdown, narrowing the gap to 38-22 with a two-point conversion.

Finally, the fans got to their feet and started to believe once again. A deafening roar went up, and the 49ers' hopes seemed to soar, too.

Danville resident Boris Palanov and San Francisco resident Dan Harding placed their faith in the magic of Harding's red-and-yellow 49er Santa hat.

Palanov said a little leftover Christmas spirit just might help San Francisco shake off an imminent loss.

Steve Grover of Pittsburg said all the fans could do was scream. When Jeff Garcia completed a 25-yard pass to Eric Johnson in the waning moments, putting the 49ers in position to win, Grover let loose.

"I told you, I told you, they did it," Grover yelled.

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