The team I'd least mind winning the NFC is ...

I'm not comfortable with rooting for the San Francisco 49ers, but I'm going to do it this weekend, and -- if they win in Green Bay -- I'll do it again next weekend.

I didn’t always hate the San Francisco 49ers.

For the first 15 years of my life, I considered them to be a generally benign if increasingly successful franchise. I was relatively indifferent to the professorly vibe of Bill Walsh and Joe Montana’s perpetual cool makes him impossible to dislike, but a football team oriented around its offense — and a passing offense at that — didn’t really resonate with me. I found their color combination snooty, I thought their style of play was pretty.

Then, in 1990, my family moved from the hinterlands of Oregon to Santa Cruz County. Having been raised to loathe frontrunners and to err on the side of the underdog, rooting for the 49ers was not an option. I was raised not just to view any bandwagon with suspicion, but to actively root for that bandwagon to crash spectacularly into a ditch. Intead, the 49ers rolled right along through most of the ‘90s.

And now, in my late-40s, I fear I’m losing my fastball. My vitality may be withering. For the love of God I am rooting for the San Francisco 49ers not just this weekend against Green Bay, but should they prevail, I’m going to do it again next weekend.

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Now let’s back to the team I apparently no longer hate because if I’m being honest, these 49ers are pretty likable. They play a ton of defense, they’ve got a powerful running game and their 38-year-old offensive coordinator is a history major who went to Yale and is freaking hilarious. Even the quarterback has become endearing. Jimmy Garoppolo is the NFL’s resident himbo, not because he’s dumb, but because he’s really, really good looking but he’s not that good, and everybody knows that at this point, including I suspect, Jimmy himself.

Besides, how can you hate a team whose left tackle celebrated beating the Cowboys last week by doing this:

It’s hard for me to give up this particular ghost, though. My dislike of the 49ers has roots that run deep. All the way back to when I played fantasy football with my friends in high school. This was back before any of us were on the Internet. We created our own scoring system, and used newspaper boxscores to keep track. There was a year — either 1991 or 1992 — I had the first pick in the draft, which meant I absolutely had to take Jerry Rice. It was the only choice if you had even the most primitive understanding of positional value. Not only was Rice among the best scorers in the league, he was a receiver and the gap between Rice and the second receiver taken was a chasm. So I picked Rice, and that football season was thereafter soiled. Not because my team wasn’t any good. It was pretty good, though I don’t think I won the league. Having Rice prevented me from rooting against the 49ers with the zeal I wanted. Each time they got in scoring position, or I saw an update indicating they had scored, there was a part of me that got excited because perhaps Rice was going to benefit my time. It. Was. Awful.

Never again, I decided. I wasn’t ever going to draft a 49ers player ever again because I didn’t want even a sliver of my being to be happy should something good happen for them, and now I’m going to root for them on Sunday, which should tell you how much I don’t want to see any of the other teams in the conference advance to the Super Bowl.

Let’s start with the Green Bay Packers, and their thin-skinned baby of a quarterback. Aaron Rodgers would probably tell you the reason I don’t like him is because he’s not vaccinated, but this is not entirely true. I don’t even think it’s mostly true. I can name three other starting quarterbacks in the NFL who aren’t vaccinated, and I don’t root against them the way I do Rodgers. Then again, Rodgers is the only one who deliberately misled reporters about it, but what bothers me most about Rodgers is that he’s under the impression that’s he’s some sort of victim here even though — best I can tell — all that’s happened to him was he got fined $14,650 for not wearing a mask like he should’ve been and some MVP voter nobody knows called him a jerk on the radio. His State Farm ads are still airing. He’s probably going to win another MVP award yet he feels put upon. Well, I hope he sulks into this offseason without getting back to the Super Bowl again. Then we can wait a couple of weeks and see if he’s still mad the Packers drafted a quarterback two years ago.

I don’t want to see Tom Brady win again, either. Enough already. He’s the Yankees at this point, and while I can’t begrudge him any success, at this point rooting for him is like cheering for Amazon to corner the market in yet another area of our economy. The fact that Brady is still playing this well at this age makes it impossible for us to make fun of the one thing that should be a slam dunk: his weird diet. The guy who eats avocado ice cream and cuts the ends off his bananas to get rid of the “seeds” might be on to something.

And then there’s the Rams. They’re the spoiled kids on the block living in the new house whose Daddy buys them the newest toy as soon as it was was released. Nothing’s too good for our little gravel-voiced Seanny! First it was Jalen Ramsey. Then it was Matthew Stafford. Oh, now let’s go ahead and throw Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr., in there because why not.

No one wants to see the store-bought contender win. No one with any semblance of a sporting soul. I would like to see the Rams win this weekend, however, for two reasons. The primary one is that takes a second straight title off the table for Brady. Second, and not to be overlooked, relates to something we don’t consider often enough when rooting against a team: What is the most painful way for this team to lose?

In the Rams’ case, the most painful way to lose would be to the 49ers, who are coached by Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan previously worked alongside McVay in Washington, and Shanahan has beaten McVay with such regularity in their head-to-head battles that if the 49ers should win again in the playoffs, McVay is legally obligated to wish Kyle, “Happy Father’s Day.”

Which brings me back to the 49ers, that team I least want to lose in the NFC playoffs. In fact, it’s hard to come up with a worst way for this team to lose. This season is going to feel like a success in San Francisco even if the 49ers get blown out in Green Bay this weekend.

However, another Super Bowl might sting. It has been a while since the 49ers won a crown. You have to go all the way back to the 1994 when San Francisco skunked San Diego in the Super Bowl, which means the 49ers have been stuck on <strike>four</strike> five rings for a while now, and while I’m going to be rooting for San Francisco this weekend and next, should the 49ers advance to the Super Bowl, there’s no doubt I will be cheering for whoever comes out of the AFC. Hmmmm. Maybe I haven’t lost my fastball after all.

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