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Here is a link to my Thursday column about the seriousness of the 49ers vs. Seahawks. The full column appears below:

This is about the 49ers and the Seahawks. Trust me.

When I was 13, I heard Vazquez and Greenspan were going to fight each other. They didn’t know me. They were the older kids, probably 16. At that time of life, the difference between 13 and 16 is forever.

We all hung out at the playground on Avenue L in Brooklyn, a cement rectangle almost the size of a city block, the whole thing bordered by a chain link fence. The place reminded you of the exercise yard in a prison. We called the playground the Park although it was hardly park-like. It was where we played city games — punch ball, stickball, slap ball, you name them. And one day I heard the big kids talking. Vazquez and Greenspan, two very big teenagers, had a beef.

I did not understand their beef. But it was serious enough to cause talk and the talk included a date. They were going to meet after school tomorrow, meet on the punch ball court in broad daylight and fight.

I felt a thrill that made my insides churn. I talked to no one about the fight. But I thought about it, thought about it constantly during school the next day knowing the fight would happen about 4 o’clock, knowing something important would happen in their world and mine.

I paid no attention in class, visions of Vazquez and Greenspan invading my mind. I ran home after school, dumped my books and hurried to the Park across the street from our apartment — five people, two bedrooms, one bathroom. I waited. I waited alone, talking to no one, not even to my friends. This was about Vazquez and Greenspan, but it also was about me.

From opposing baselines of the punch ball court Vazquez and Greenspan approached each other. In my memory the approach was formalized, two big mean serious 16-year-olds walking in slow motion, their faces angry. There was a crowd of watchers. Vazquez and Greenspan grabbed each other as I gasped, because this was it. It was happening.

Vazquez squeezed his big arm around Greenspan’s neck in a headlock and slammed him down on the concrete and leaped on top of him, just like that, and grabbed Greenspan’s rather golden hair with his right arm and banged the back of his head hard on the hard concrete, banged it so hard I could hear the sound, banged it so hard I felt ill.

Greenspan’s face went red. His mouth opened and a look of confusion and pain and fear and lost pride seized his face as his head banged loud.

And then he yelled, “I give up.” Miraculously — because it was a miracle of decorum — Vazquez didn’t kill him. He stopped the head slamming and got off Greenspan and loomed over him and Greenspan stood up and they looked at each other and something had been decided. Then they walked together to the only building in the Park, a little blockhouse with men’s and women’s bathrooms and, after a while, they came out, each holding a comb, each running the comb through his hair.

And that was the end of it, and all week — this week — images of Vazquez and Greenspan have pierced my consciousness. I don’t know why. But I do know why.

The Niners and Seahawks are meeting on Sunday, walking across that field at ancient, ugly Candlestick Park and, in spite of myself, in spite of being a professional journalist, I feel my insides churn as they churned when I waited in silence by the fence in the Park.

Something will be decided. The 49ers and Seahawks have a blood issue with each other. And I know there will be hitting and knocking down and head slamming. And there will be cries of pain and injuries. Something is at stake for both of them.

The NFC West is not at stake. The Seahawks will win the NFC West. What is at stake is more important. Call it status, status in the world, especially for the 49ers. The 49ers are trying to prove their standing, show that they matter in the NFL, that they are not on the fade, that they can beat a mean, hard-spirited, remorseless team, their rival. The past two tries, they could not. Their very being as the elite 49ers is in question. It takes your breath away. And you know this. When the game is over, however it ends, the world will have changed a little bit. Not only their world or your world will change. The entire world will change because we will know something we don’t know right now.

We will know if the San Francisco 49ers, in the fullness of their talent and glory and pride, are Vazquez the victor or Greenspan the vanquished.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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Comments

34 Comments

  1. Chris

    Enjoyable post!

    December 5th, 2013 5:14 am

  2. Tommy CostaRica

    Awesome! I’m callin’ that the “Lowell Roll!” As young men going through school we all felt the same; we all daydreamed and gathered for the Vazquez and Greenspan showdowns after school. And I feel the same about Sunday’s game! It’s been there in the back of my mind ever since we cried “Uncle” in Seattle. Now it’s time to put or shut up. It brings me back to those moments in our lives where some bully said, “You want to step outside?”

    December 5th, 2013 6:55 am

  3. Streetglide

    Great writing. Colin will look like a fool and we will be off once again on the Niner’s never ending search for a decent QB…

    December 5th, 2013 6:57 am

  4. Brett

    What was up with Greenspan? He didn’t even get one punch in?

    You are right though Lowell. This is going to be a dog fight. Sure hope the refs don’t ruin the game…for either team.

    December 5th, 2013 8:43 am

  5. Mark M

    Now you’re talking!!!! What a great piece and I’m even more stoked now.

    I can tell you that the season will be a full force drama for me if the Niners show up and kick their ass! If not, I have a feeling my interest in the remainder will fade considerably. At least the house will be in better shape and I’ll get out more with friends in the latter case.

    Go Niners!!!

    December 5th, 2013 9:36 am

  6. Johnc

    We must be mindful that Harbaugh likes to compare a football game to a “fight”. Indeed there is no backing down now from that metphor as the gladiators are about to enter the arena….

    December 5th, 2013 10:22 am

  7. Brett

    I would like to see a Harbaugh vs Carroll version of the Vazquez vs Greenspan brawl.

    December 5th, 2013 11:00 am

  8. Stan

    Harbaugh bested Jeff Fisher. That was one down. Now its the other guy,who wants to be known as a better coach then Jim Harbaugh. Not just any better coach,but outdo Harbaugh.
    Its personal. The what’s your dealgate. The “we beat the highest paid coaches” crowing.
    Time to mix it up. Only one stands.

    December 5th, 2013 12:51 pm

  9. Stan

    My fight metaphor interpretation.

    December 5th, 2013 12:52 pm

  10. dharte

    I suspect this will be a street fight of sorts; the 49ers had games like this against both the Bears and the Giants throughout the 80s, and against Dallas in the 90s; they have not played in a game with such bad blood in a long time. Seattle is an obnoxious team: their attitude agains the Saints was outrageous, and Sherman and Thomas are the ring leaders. If the 49ers don’t try to break their will, I will be surprised, and I also suspect Justin Smith will be the key player. He has far too much pride to let a hustler like Richard Sherman strut out of Candlestick on a high. I’ll be fascinated to see how the Smith brothers, Willis, Bowman & Brooks attack Lynch and Wilson.

    Sunday will be the game of the year.

    December 5th, 2013 2:32 pm

  11. Kathy

    I could swear you’ve posted this story before … and I think it was before another Niners game but I don’t recall which one.

    December 5th, 2013 3:15 pm

  12. Gopal

    Your typical vazquez v greenspan scenario on the streets of Brooklyn nowadays would probably end differently, wouldn’t you say?

    December 5th, 2013 6:31 pm

  13. CohnZohn

    Kathy, I may have posted it before. I’m not sure.

    December 5th, 2013 7:02 pm

  14. CohnZohn

    Gopal, Yes it might get out of hand and there really might be a death.

    December 5th, 2013 7:02 pm

  15. Kathy

    Well it’s a memorable story so that’s fitting. Really looking forward to this game.

    December 5th, 2013 8:46 pm

  16. Brady

    Yes, you have posted this before. It was good then and it’s good now.

    December 5th, 2013 9:33 pm

  17. mendozaline

    This may or may not be a story about Tim Lincecum.

    http://cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com/15860/this-is-or-is-not-a-story-about-tim-lincecum/

    December 6th, 2013 12:57 am

  18. CohnZohn

    mendozaline, Thanks for finding this. I didn’t remember writing it. Obviously, the story about Vazquez and Greenspan lives inside me in a deep place, not exactly sure why. Sometimes when I’m in New York I take the subway back to Brooklyn and walk past my old apartment house and go into the Park and sit on a bench and go all the way back in time. The first piece I ever sold to Sports Illustrated in the 1970s was about the Park — not about Vazquez and Greenspan, though.

    December 6th, 2013 8:51 am

  19. Johnc

    Lowell, I for one would be interested in reading that first piece to Sports Illustrated if you still have it and would like to share it.

    December 6th, 2013 9:30 am

  20. CohnZohn

    Johnc, I went on SI vault and could not find it. Gee. I’ll keep looking. The piece ran, I think, in 1976.

    December 6th, 2013 9:34 am

  21. mendozaline

    This is the earliest Lowell Cohn article that I could find:

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1091637/1/index.htm

    Here is one about your youth:

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1095326/index.htm

    December 6th, 2013 10:22 am

  22. CohnZohn

    mendozaline, It was very kind of you to find and post these articles. God, they were a long time ago.

    December 6th, 2013 11:58 am

  23. B-Rad

    Let’s say the Seahawks win.

    It has been said that it’s difficult to beat another NFL team 3 times in the same
    season. But is it?

    As of the the latest stat I could find, JAN 3, 2010, which didn’t cover the last 4
    playoffs, since the merger in 1970 there have been 19 instances of a team
    trying to beat another team 3 times in the same season. On 12 occasions
    that team did go 3-0 but on 7 occasions they ended up 2-1 for a winning
    percentage of 63%.

    I had been hoping with Manningham and Crab coming back that we would
    be getting healthy heading toward the playoffs, but with Iapatti’s and Staley’s
    situations my hopes have been set back a bit. With the Bucs and Falcons up
    next, even if we lose this one, as long as we come out in good health we
    should be rolling along just fine toward Arizona in week 17.

    And remember, since the advent of the current playoff system in the 2002-03
    season, just as many 6th seeds have won the Super Bowl as 1st seeds.

    December 6th, 2013 3:44 pm

  24. Mase

    Nice work Lowell

    December 6th, 2013 10:34 pm

  25. CohnZohn

    Thanks, Mase

    December 6th, 2013 10:44 pm

  26. Max

    Saturday Stanford Sidebar: Don’t think David Shaw & Co. will have much trouble beating Arizona this afternoon. Will be fun to watch. (Shot a 3×2 buck two weeks ago. Field dressed it, processed it, put it in the freezer. And am now listening to a huge pot of venison stew gurgling on the stove. Temperatures at night are below zero. Daytime sky today is crystal blue. The air sharp and clean. Have a good weekend.)

    December 7th, 2013 11:12 am

  27. Paul

    Nice article Lowell, and thanks for not trying to make a prediction. I think the real truth is, like any good dramatic event, this one is really hard to predict. On the one hand Seattle is on a roll, and the 49ers look a bit wobbly and can’t really make a stand, but they still win often enough. I can see this going either way……..

    but in one of my possible visions…….the niners slam the hawks heads to the turf early and often, and Crabtree and team come alive……….

    at least I can dream!!!!

    December 7th, 2013 11:14 am

  28. Stan

    I had this weird dream I met you Lowell. Some park on a walk. You and Mark Purdy. Some other park guy introduced himself like ” Hi,I’m Mike” and you and Purdy smiled and shook his hand. Then when he steps back I did the same- big smile and with a dramatic pause say ” I’m Stan”..it sinks in. You look perplexed and Purdy starts giving me dirty looks- lol.
    You sort of kept that distance as the small talk gets going. After that, its just me talking sports to you,and you listen,while Purdy still giving me dirty looks walks away.
    And that’s how it ends.
    Must have been the Adobo.

    December 7th, 2013 3:49 pm

  29. lameduck

    I’m kinda seeing Rocky III vs
    Clubber Lange with the Seahawks playing the role of Mr. T. In the first fight Clubber knocked the snot out of Rocky. Let’s what happens in the rematch.

    December 7th, 2013 5:48 pm

  30. Johnc

    Thank you Mendozaline for finding that 1976 article.

    Well , Lowell upon reading it I discovered a new word. … “verisimilitude.”
    Niner verisimilitude will be challenged today by Seahawks.

    December 7th, 2013 8:04 pm

  31. CohnZohn

    lameduck, Haven’t heard from you in a while. Hope you are well.

    December 7th, 2013 9:31 pm

  32. CohnZohn

    Johnc, I used to use words like verisimilitude. Thank goodness I don’t use them anymore.

    December 7th, 2013 9:33 pm

  33. lameduck

    “To quote Doc Holiday from the Wyatt Earp movie, “I’m in my prime.” Thx 4 the wishes.

    December 7th, 2013 10:13 pm

  34. Stan

    I often use Vermiculite.
    For a certain crowd out there,that got a big laugh.

    December 8th, 2013 9:36 am

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