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 firstname.lastname@example.org.