49ers faithful: worldwide
Football used to bore the shit out of me. The irony in that sentence is pretty funny, actually. My entire online presence would scream at my past self. It’s crazy how much the things we go through can influence our path in this life. Just like most mornings, the sun smacked me in the face through the window today and I proceeded to lay in bed cuddling my dog for ten minutes thinking about my workday. I’m a Content Creator for Traxion, an entity of Motorsport Games. My inner journalist is happy because I’m able to tell compelling stories that go beyond the grid (see what I did there) by focusing on the humanity behind the sport. After a solid session of snuggles with Ruxin, my Puggle, I usually grab my phone and catch up on social media. Facebook is one I tend to avoid lately, but something inside of me felt the urge to look at my “On this day” feature. I clicked and instantly felt nostalgic. Seven years ago, I was hired for my first journalism internship. At the time, I was completing my Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and took every assignment very seriously. I’ve always loved writing and knew I’d have a career with it someday. When I was little, I used to interview my stuffed animals—each with a unique diary entry tucked away in my nightstand drawer. Honestly, I wasn’t always the greatest at voicing my feelings back then (and even now), so I used written words as my escape from reality. When I was 21 years old, I decided I wanted to be a journalist. Not just any kind of journalist, though. I dreamt of being a reporter for the Vancouver Canucks. I grew up just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada. At the time, I didn’t follow many sports. It was hockey or bust. My favourite line will forever be the West Coast Express, which consisted of Markus Näslund, Brendan Morrison, and Todd Bertuzzi. I used to have a Canucks blog (Google "Cryssy Canuck" if you want a good laugh) and promised myself that I would be in the press box soon after obtaining my degree. Well, that dream shifted big time when I started dating a boy who was obsessed with the San Francisco 49ers. By the way, this was back in the Alex Smith days, so you know it was real. The boy showed me videos of Patrick Willis on YouTube and instantly, I was hooked. After Willis’ E60 interview aired on TV, I fell in love with the players behind the sport. At the time, my boyfriend started physically and mentally abusing me. I felt insignificant most days, but watching Willis overcome his adversities and achieve his wildest dreams lit a fire inside of me to keep going. I’ll never forget being at a Starbucks one cold afternoon in January, typing away furiously in hopes of meeting my 3pm article deadline for a Citizen Journalism class. A man tapped me on the shoulders. “Are you a journalist?” Not yet, I said. I explained my situation and how I had two years left in my degree. He then asked me if I was writing for any publications at the time. Of course not. The truth is, between my roller coaster of a relationship, school and working full-time at a bar, I could barely keep my head above the surface. I wanted to graduate with amazing grades in order to land an internship as soon as I walked off that commencement stage. The man told me about his own career in journalism. He was the Sports Editor at Vancity Buzz, an online social blog for events and concerts in Vancouver. The advice he gave me was a defining moment for my career. “Take every opportunity you’re afforded in journalism. Even if they’re unpaid. Hell, try and get an internship right now so you’re ahead of the game when you graduate. It’ll be a lot of work, trust me. But you won’t regret it.” I went home that night and applied to every single journalism internship I could find on the internet. Not even two days later, I received an email back from 604 Now, one of Vancity Buzz’s biggest competitors. I remember crying while reading the words that would inherently change my life: I believe you’d make a great editorial intern and would like to officially welcome you to the 604 Now team. That email lives in my Inbox forever, because every so often I like to read it aloud to myself and embrace just how far I’ve come since that day. Despite all odds against me, I landed my first gig in journalism. To top it all off with a big, red cherry, I was afforded the chance to write about sports. So, in my naturally cheeky fashion, I coined The Bandwagoner's Guide to Super Bowl 49 , which featured my most loathed team, the Seattle Seahawks. Who knew that debut article would be a foreshadowing of my future in sports journalism. My journey throughout my career led me down some incredible paths. And I have to say, had it not been for the asshole ex-boyfriend, I wouldn’t be typing this right now. In fact, I would have never fallen in love with the San Francisco 49ers had it not been for him. Which is such a weird thing to admit. After seeing my “On this Day” post, I spent most of the day reminiscing and reading my old articles. I watched YouTube videos and my first sports reel featuring clips from my time as a Hockey Host for the Delta Ice Hawks. In those moments, I always thought I wasn’t good enough to be in sports. I felt like an imposter most of the time. And a lot of my lack of confidence had sprouted from the insecurities I dealt with daily in that relationship. But looking back, I see a girl with so much drive. Even on my worst days, I got out of bed and made shit happen for my career. I used every ounce of pain I had ever endured to fuel the fire constantly growing inside of me. I knew I deserved more for myself and that alone gave me the strength to keep going. And I can honestly say, had it not been for that dream of being a 49ers reporter someday, I wouldn’t have accomplished every milestone—big or small—along the way. One of those milestones was finding myself amongst a community of like-minded 49ers fans: the Faithful. My mentality to never quit is something I learned from being a San Francisco 49ers fan. Not only does the team continue to get up no matter how many times they fall, but this fanbase has given me a home after so many years of feeling like I didn’t belong. Isn’t that what being Faithful is all about? Staying true to yourself and to your community, even when faced with some really terrible things in life. However, giving up just isn’t an option. These days, being a fan of something is so much more than just cheering for your favourite team. It’s cheering for each other . And after experiencing this emotional season alongside the Faithful, for the 49ers to be where they are right now is truly mesmerizing. Sure, the lows may be really flippin' low. Those wins, though? They feel f—ing great, baby. By the way, this entire article was sparked by me wanting to focus on one major positive heading into this weekend against the LA Rams: the Faithful. Y'all are the reason for the Red Out; the reason Matt Stafford's wife went looney tunes on a podcast about how he had to do a silent count...that's how loud the Faithful were in the Rams house. Scratch that, the Niners house. At this point, we're 1/4 teams left out of 32 after starting the season 3-5. We're still here, while Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers sit alongside us on the couch, watching the final four NFL teams. We're still here. Now, we can sit around and pick on Jimmy G's INTs and his constant trips to Fumble City. We can compare apples to oranges, really, because all those elite QBs aren't where Jimmy Jawline is right now. He may not be "elite" like the aforementioned. But he's an elite leader. The talk surrounding Garoppolo has, at times, divided our Faithful fanbase. I choose to focus on how he's united us, though. And this playoff run, paired with the dedication so many of the fans have to fly from all over the USA...the world, even...just to show up in that stunning scarlet red and glorious gold, and completely take over another team's stadium is impressive, to say the least. That other team had to cry to Ticketmaster just to limit sales to the Faithful. And they call us the 40-Whiners? Mary had a little lamb for a reason. So, to continue the Red Out, I thought I'd end this long-ass story about my own Faithful-ness, with your stories, too. This season has been absolutely nutty, but all of you (for the most part, lol) have been an anchor amidst the storm. Bang bang. Thumbnail image credit: Yahoo Sports
49ers fall to Raider Nation, but I won the jackpot
I usually write my grocery list in my notes app. Instead, I decided to give this whole 49ers blogger thing a crack again while that ass-whoopin’ is still fresh in my mind. Look, I’ll be honest: the 49ers were awful in their first preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders. They looked like a bunch of high schoolers who had just come back from summer break and were struggling to recover from a two-month bender. One that cost them a 34-7 loss to Vegas. Thankfully, it’s only preseason. However, as a fan of that beautiful brown ball flying through the air, the YACs and the sacks (for our D only), and the “feels great, baby” interviews, I had this game circled on my calendar for the entire offseason. Well, once the schedule dropped, that is. Jimmy Garoppolo became a Raider on March 13th. I’ll never forget the day. No, not because I have a tattoo in his honour. Or due to his chiselled jawline and devilishly handsome face. I remember announcing my daughter’s birth, which happened three days prior, that same evening Jimmy’s tenure with the 49ers came to an end. When I saw Adam Schefter's Tweet, I immediately texted my dad. “looks like i’m buying you a jimmy Garoppolo raiders jersey,” followed by a fancy graphic of the breaking news. “Love it,” he said. “please take care of him.” For the record, I did buy him a badass black and silver kit—Garoppolo across the back, just like my favourite red and white I’d rock for nearly every San Francisco game since he joined the squad. 10 will live on forever thanks to my baby’s birthday. A much better reason for loving that number, anyway. Dad’s been a Raiders fan since the Oakland era. 1984 was the first year he pledged allegiance to his American football team, actually. And despite some of my mom’s family from Frisco cheering for the 49ers, he chose the dark side. A cheeky move that goes against his usual wholesomeness, to be honest. Nearly 40 years later, he’s sitting on his couch in Italy watching those two teams battle it out, sitting alongside his Faithful daughter, while her own lil baby girl sleeps in a crib upstairs. Life is pretty, pretty wild. I metaphorically pinch myself daily that my dad and mom are residing here with me in this small town on Lago Maggiore. Dad and I stayed up past our bedtimes to watch second stringers—and third and fourth (thanks, Brandon Allen) compete on the gridiron in hopes of wowing their coaches enough to make the final 53. My father’s been fighting, too. Last year, he was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a rare form of cancer stemming from a mutated gene (promyelocytes) that overproduces and accumulates in the bone marrow. APL affects only 3,000 people each year in the United States, which makes it extremely rare. Coach Chuck Pagano had the same leukemia. Most recently, so does John Metchie III of the Houston Texans. I mention this because while I watched a disastrous 49ers football game unfold in front of my eyes, dad and I still found ways to laugh and debate the greatest players of all time. “Charles Woodson, now he was an awesome Raider,” he said. The broadcast camera panned to him right after, as if the TV’s built in Siri had been eavesdropping on our convo and magically added curated content for my dad’s benefit. I’ve missed watching sports with him. It’s definitely a tough thing to coordinate on this side of the world, given our game kicked off at 10pm the night before an important hospital visit for my daddio. He goes to a cancer clinic in Novara where the doctors truly treat him like family and take care of him enough to ensure he’s around for Raiders vs. 49ers games. And cuddles with his granddaughter, Ariana, too. To me, that’s what football’s always been about. The moments that happen off the field; the memories you make with loved ones while watching your team’s kicker—who was drafted in the third round, by the way—miss two FGs. Relax , it’s just preseason. Jake Moody will find his footing and make those 58-yarders look easy peasy one day, like Robbie Gould used to. Trey Lance will pump the brakes on his nerves and make the quick passes we all praised Jimmy for. He did throw a weird touchdown that should have been an INT, yet somehow ended up in the hands of Ross Dwelley. They don’t call him Da Boss for nothing. And Hey Darnold may not be him …again. But that’s okay, we’ve got Allen in line, as well. Accountability has always been huge for me. And that’s something Lance surely has. He never places blame on those around him. Even though he could have thrown the entire offensive line under the bus. Just kidding. Well, not really. Regardless of the shitstorm, I saw promise out of players like Ambry Thomas and Ronnie Bell. As always, there’s silver linings in each failure that keep us warm at night, like a weighted blanket and a fantastic glass of Malbec. As much as us Couch Potato GMs judge and pick apart all the preseason misplays our heart can handle, we’re all just watching from the sidelines while these guys—our team we love and support—play in the NFL. Preseason or not, that’s an incredible feat. These games really aren’t that big of a deal. The moments around them, however…well, those are pretty special. My dad hugged me after the demolition finally came to a halt. “It’s just practice, Cryssy. Goodnight, love you.” God, I’m so lucky he’s still here to watch these games with me. He listened to me empathize with Lance’s situ. He chuckled when I yelled, “HEY DARNOLD!” at the screen. And he even endured not one, but two, “Wow, Jimmy G is the hottest QB in the NFL,” outbursts, too. Not all heroes wear capes; mine just so happens to wear a Raiders jersey. Sure, Las Vegas got the W. But I won the jackpot when it comes to dads. Now, bring on Broncos Country – Let’s ride! Feature photo courtesy of 49ers.com
Believe the hype: Brandon Aiyuk will soar as WR1 in San Francisco
Full Disclosure: a large portion of my brain lives and breathes 49ers football, and I wholeheartedly believe that Brandon Aiyuk, or #AirAiyuk as I like to call him, will most assuredly be a valuable fantasy commodity for the foreseeable future. Aiyuk is like the Road Runner: quick on the ground, but with the right wind under his wings, he’ll soar right over that pesky Wile E. Coyote. If the past is any indication of what to expect in the future, the odds are pretty good that Brandon Aiyuk will hurdle over a defender during the 2021 NFL season. But the real question is, will he leapfrog Deebo Samuel to be the unquestioned WR1 for the 49ers? The short answer, is hell yes. There’s been a lot of hype surrounding Aiyuk going into his second year in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers. With an 81-inch wingspan, it is hard not to compare him to Calvin Johnson, AKA Megatron. Johnson’s 82-inch span made him one the top WRs in fantasy football during his time with the Detroit Lions. His speed, athleticism, and ability to catch the ball high, low, and everywhere in-between was something to admire. You know that old saying, “Size doesn’t matter?” Well, whoever said that clearly never watched Megatron play . Johnson’s wingspan alone allowed for him to literally snatch balls out of the air while his defenders were left in awe below him. Sound familiar? Now, there can only truly be one Megatron, but Brandon Aiyuk is ready to play that role for Kyle Shanahan, who claims to have had Aiyuk as his WR1 of the 2020 draft class, whereas most were locked into CeeDee Lamb. There is no doubt that Kyle wants him to be the alpha and he will ultimately finish as the WR1 for the 49ers over Deebo Samuel. Though Kyle Shanahn is known to spread the love between his receivers, running backs, and tight ends, Aiyuk has historically stepped up his game in his second season of play. Just peep his stats from Arizona State: in 2018, he had 33 receptions for 474 yards and 3 touchdowns. He had 65 receptions for 1,192 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2019. Aiyuk’s wingspan ratio (9 inches longer than his height) reminds me a lot of an NBA player. Wingspan is an incredibly valuable trait simply because it gives an athlete the ability to play far beyond their physical size. So for a guy like Aiyuk, who stands 6’1, he can play like a wide receiver that is actually 6’3 or 6’4. That added length can give you the edge over a defender. This is terrifying for defenses to consider, especially because Aiyuk excels after the catch. He literally is #AirAiyuk out on the gridiron and with a healthy quarterback at center, the second-year receiver will no doubt improve on his rookie season numbers. In 2020, he had 60 receptions for 748 yards and 5 touchdowns, with guys like Nick Mullens & CJ Beathard throwing to him. Imagine what he’ll put up this year if the 2021 offensive squad can stay on the field? No disrespect to my boy Deebo Samuel, but Aiyuk will hurdle over him for that top receiver spot, especially after Samuel’s lack of play last season. While Deebo is a tremendous part of the team, he looks like he is better for the 49ers than he is for your fantasy rosters. It’s no secret that Deebo is prone to injury. He suffered multiple hamstring injuries and even a broken leg in college. And last year, Samuel suffered a fracture in his foot that kept him off the field for the first three games of the season. He also suffered another hamstring injury in Week 7, missing another three games. That same hamstring acted up a few weeks after his return to play, and he missed the final three games of 2020. Sports Injury Predictor says there’s an 82% Samuel will be injured again in the 2021 season. On the flip, SIP predicts a 0% chance of injury for Brandon Aiyuk, who does not have an extensive list of past wounds looming over him like his fellow receiver. And with the 49ers sustaining the second-most injuries of literally any NFL team in the past 20 years last season, the odds of Aiyuk being utilized more than Samuel are definitely higher. Sky high, even.
If 2020 was an athlete
Twitter is full of fun trends. For the most part, the trends are harmless jokes that help us engage with our friends from all parts of the world. We scroll. We click. We laugh. And sometimes, we block. I've been doing that last bit A LOT, trust me. As I type this, I'm laying in my hotel room in Aruba. The palm trees sway as if they're dancing to J-Lo and my hands are puffy from an allergic reaction my skin had to sunscreen, of all things. So I realize my privilege in this moment, but in prime 2020 form, it's been a wild rollercoaster that led me to where I am today. My daily routine consists of waking up, scrolling through Twitter and either smiling or throwing my phone across the room. I'm sure y'all can relate. This morning was a bit different, though. I came across this tweet by Dan Clark, a podcaster/sports personality: And I had a little chuckle. The first athlete who came to mind was obviously Johnny 'Football' Manziel. Back in 2014, Manziel was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the first round at pick 22. He was one of the most hyped up players I remember watching, and his whole Johnny Football nickname had me cheering him on from the West Coast (back when I was still considered a Vancouver resident). I'm a 49ers fan, but a part of me really wanted to buy myself a Manziel jersey. There's something about the Browns that you hate to love. Maybe it's their inability to do well in a season. Who knows. Anyway, I followed Manziel's career in Cleveland from hero to zero. He had such promise. And then he had a drug addiction and a plethora of other problems that made him a complete liability in the NFL. Of course, he was released by the Browns in 2015 after too many off-the-field controversies and then spent two years away from football. Only to make his triumphant return to the gridiron, this time on my side of the border in the CFL. Manziel signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, then the Montreal Alouettes, and eventually in the AAF with the Memphis Express. Boy went around the block and for whatever reason, life got in the way and derailed him completely. Isn't that the most 2020 athlete you could ever think of? Especially if you break down how great this year started. I rang in the New Year with my boyfriend and family in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. I had spent the holidays with my parents and was looking forward to getting back to Toronto for my second semester in Sports Broadcasting school. Life seemed too good to be true. Then one of the most admired basketball stars in the world died in a helicopter crash on January 26th and it's as if 2020's big plans for the year came to a complete halt. Something shifted in the universe the day we lost Kobe Bryant. And I think we all kind of switched into this weird autopilot mode, drifting through the weeks without any recollection of why or how. Then on February 2nd, the San Francisco 49ers lost in the Super Bowl and I became a zombie, only half-smiling most days because what was really the point otherwise? And just like the rise and fall of Johnny Manziel, March came along and dropped a pandemic on planet Earth. My school went on reading break on March 9th and I remember feeling so broken down on what to do in my life. Financially, I was a mess. I had just paid another ridiculous tuition instalment and had no money left to my name. My boyfriend was away in New Zealand. I spent my days alone in my tiny 419 square foot apartment and struggled to get out of bed most mornings. Toronto was still pretty cold, so I'd Netflix & Chill with my dog, Rux, until it was absolutely necessary to get out of bed. I barely ate. And I missed my family with every shred of my heart. "What the hell am I doing with my life?" I thought. On March 14th, I worked an 11-hour shift at the restaurant I serve at. I went home feeling sick as shit and I curled up into a ball of numbness. I had never felt so lost and alone. My reading break was supposed to finish and we were meant to go back to school on March 16th, but the coronavirus put a big 'X' to that and basically anything else on our schedules. For the first time in my legal years, I didn't go out to a bar to celebrate St. Paddy's Day--if you walk around downtown Toronto, you'll still see old signs that say, "Come celebrate St. Patrick's Day with us this Tuesday!" It's pretty damn eerie. Thankfully, my boyfriend was back by my side and after having what I thought was a panic attack the night he returned, something inside of me finally shifted. And I began to ask myself questions I had been too scared to face before: "Why are you unhappy?" "If you could change anything in your life to be a happier version of yourself, what would it be?" There was no hiding the fact that I felt underwhelmed at school. I had learned everything in other experiences in my life. I was paying so much money to do exactly the same things I had already done. I was digging a big hole filled with more debt and uncertainty, and it had left my mind and body completely disheveled. After one month of lockdown, I remember FaceTiming my mom and she cried with me on the phone about my Nonna, who had been moved to the hospital due to the severity of her dementia. And to top it off, my sister was struggling to work her full time job and teach her two kids from home, since school had moved to homeschooling due to COVID. My family was falling apart and I was across the country, miserable in my little condo, with no word from school on how we'd progress during the pandemic. I realized I needed to go home, so I flew back to Vancouver on April 26th. There's something extremely comforting about flying over mountains. I grew up in the most beautiful place in the world, surrounded by white-capped peaks, lakes, oceans, rivers, and everything in between. I felt my soul smile for the first time in a long time and I knew I made the right decision to be back with my family. Sports were non-existent, so my school wasn't really a thing either. Sure, we submitted articles for one of our classes, but in no means did it feel like I was a full-time student. If anything, I felt like a full-time daughter again. I embraced my mom and dad in ways I had forgotten to do since I was a little girl. I spent real, quality time with each of my nephews. I bonded with my dad about his beautiful mom, who I never had the pleasure of meeting because she passed away when he was only 13. My sister and I grew closer than ever, since I spent every day attempting to teach her two boys while she'd work in her home office. And I felt my big brother's protection again in a way that I had longed for since our high school days together. It was family for the soul. Eventually, school returned and we began doing Zoom shows via an online platform. Yet, it just didn't feel the same. The passion I had for the program dissolved. I began to look around me at what really mattered and finally focused on what was truly important: my family, my health, my happiness, and my boyfriend--someone I had neglected while pursuing different endeavours in sports podcasting and beyond. He deserved so much more from me. After interviewing former 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis , he told me that I am the hero of my own journey . So I decided to take control of my life and put not only the people I love first, but also put myself first. I took an internship with a sports radio network not long after I realized my worth went far beyond school. Little did I know, my boss was extremely mentally abusive. Now, I've dealt with my share of jerks in my life. I knew going into sports, there would always be at least one dude trying to "help me succeed" in ways that definitely were not okay. I put in a solid month of interning before I caught on to the inappropriate behaviour. It didn't really click until I was back in Toronto, away from my family, and truly in my own head about what I needed to be happy. After a night of what I can only describe to y'all as complete closure with my past, my happy-go-lucky, free-spirited self jumped outside of my body and took me by the shoulders. She gave me a HUGE shake and basically told me to snap out of it and look around at what is going on. To listen to how I'm being talked to. Phrases like, "you're mine," "you're signing a lifetime contract with me," and "think of me like your boyfriend" loomed over me EVERY single day. To top it off, if I posted something that wasn't deemed appropriate, I was berated then ignored by the person who was supposed to be my boss. Enough was enough. I decided to quit the internship. My boyfriend and I booked a vacation for the first time since we began dating three years ago. And I let go of every single asshole in my life who ever held me down. It took a pandemic to snap me back to who I am. And while there's a lot in my life I still need to sort out, for once, I'm sorting it out with a clear mind and an open heart. Every door that has been shut on me was shut for a reason; luckily, there's a whole lot of windows in my hypothetical house for me to climb out of, too. This year has been a bitch, there's no sugar-coating it. One thing 2020 has given me, though, is incredible connections via social media. My "fam" on Twitter has been a virtual hug for me, even during my lowest of lows. Today, my online BFF, Ryan Hallam , said it best: "While 2020 has been tough at times, it allowed us to spend more time with family and gave me an opportunity to pause, slow down, and reflect on the good things in life." After reading his quote, I sat back and reflected on Dan Clark's tweet. Johnny Football is not the athlete who represents this crazy-ass year. Not for me, at least. So, if 2020 was an athlete, it would be Kobe Bryant. Mamba mentality never dies. Even after a fatal crash, Kobe has inspired so many to live the life they were meant to live; to never settle for less than we deserve; and to win, despite an onslaught of adversity and struggle. 2020 may have broken me down in so many ways, but I promise you, the rebuild has only just begun. Just wait and see. xx
Love, pizza and American football: Seamen's QB Luke Zahradka embracing Milano life
It’s never easy uprooting your life and moving to a different country. For the longest time, I thought that being successful in a place outside of where I grew up didn’t actually count. That sounds ridiculous, I know. But it’s hard not to fall into mind traps and get caught up in “not making it” where you thought you would, surrounded by your loved ones and the same language you’ve been comfortable speaking your entire life. After chatting with Seamen Milano’s quarterback Luke Zahradka , my perspective has changed, though. Zahradka’s been in Milan for seven years now. He holds an Italian passport and even works a job in the city, all while speaking fluently amongst his teammates and his fiancé, too. "Being able to speak the language here in Italy, I find myself more relaxed." He’s a Jets fan, born and raised in Long Island, and while his hopes of playing at a professional level may not have kept him in his hometown, the QB’s dream of competing in the sport he loves brought him to a place he’s embraced with open arms…touchdown style. “[Milan] is very international,” said Zahradka. “It’s an up-tempo city, lots of nice things to do. You’re never bored as opposed to being in the suburbs or a small town in a random country where maybe you don’t have much to do. “There’s a lot more outside of football that you can do to keep yourself busy and entertain yourself.” Zahradka is one of five kids. And even though he’s temporarily said arrivaderci to his family in Long Island and other parts of America, he’s revelling in the Italian life. Which happens to include a delicious amount of pizza. “Everyone loves pizza." Of course, I had to ask, New York or Italian? He laughed. "You can eat a full mini pie in Italy and still be good to go walk around and have energy, where if you were to have a couple slices in New York, you're gonna feel full and just want to hang out on the couch." Italy is known for the food and history. Especially Milan, with spectacular views of the Duomo mixed with the art and fashion of the city makes for a truly unforgettable vibe. Add football to that list, as well. And no, I'm not referring to American football. Milan's two biggest soccer teams, AC Milan and Inter Milan, draw insane crowds and fans from all over the region. The games are highly entertaining both on-and-off the field, given the atmosphere which includes flares, flags and heaps of curse words in the form of team chants. So, I wasn't surprised that this past Saturday, June 10th at Seamen Milano's home opener, the ambiance felt just as exciting. From delicious paninis and beer to fans from all over Italy, rockin' the iconic blue and silver, plus a few 49ers faithful, too. It's the Milano's first year in the European League of Football , although the team itself has been successful in the Italian Football League. "We've won three championships since my time here," said Zahradka, who was also part of the national team that won the European Championship in 2021. They didn't get the W on the weekend, but the NYC native says they have something to prove to the league and won't be backing down this season. "We're playing in the new European League, not just in Italy. But at the end of the day, it's 11 versus 11 on the field. You got to just play your games the best you can. I think everyone plays to win. "If you don't, then you probably shouldn't be playing." Zahradka's always known he wanted to play professional football. It's been his dream ever since he was young. And ironically enough, his peewee football coach had a colleague whose son played for the Seamen. That coach is the reason he stumbled across the European scene, actually. Fast forward to today, and he's living out his aspirations amongst his teammates who have become so much more than just the dudes he shares a locker room with come game day. "The guys, I've known them for six years now, seven years, so they're more family than they are just teammates." And that family has grown off the field, too. Amidst the practices and championship wins, Zahradka found his soulmate. Outside of football, that's the thing he's most proud of. "My first year we were playing in Vicenza, where the Italian Super Bowl was, and she was working the event. She works for a model agency, so she had to be part of the event and hand out the medals." After a year of messaging here and there, they hung out and the rest is history. Zahradka proposed to his fiancé, Jessica, in New York and ever since, he's had his person beside him while continuing to live his dream here in Italy. When the game ended on Saturday, the quarterback didn't sulk over the loss. In fact, he walked over to the fence that lined the field and was greeted by a sweet smile in the form of his future wifey. Rockin' Zahradka's name and # 7 on her jersey, she embraced him in a warm hug. Football truly is family. And a tasty slice of pizza, too. Be sure to tune in this Sunday, June 18th at 12pm CET as the Seamen Milano take on the Stuttgart Surge in the European League of Football!
Panthers Wrocław's Matthew Vitale: From 105 days in a hospital bed to QB1
Of course, I thought. He's an Eagle's fan. It's been a minute since I've hopped on a Zoom call to interview a professional football player. And given the way the 49ers season came to an abrupt halt at the wings of Philadelphia, it only made sense that my first chat with an ELF (European League of Football) athlete came in the form of Matthew Vitale - a southwest Philly-born, New Jersey native now living in Poland, who just happens to cheer for the Eagles. "I'm sorry about your boy Brock Purdy going down in the first drive," Vitale smirked. Even through a screen, I could feel how genuine his smile was. I almost didn't mind the subtle reminder of that soul-crushing loss in the NFC Championship Game this past NFL season. Now, I'm not one for typically talking about auras, but the 25-year-old had this presence about him that immediately gave me a sense of comfort. Maybe it's the fact we both hopped on a plane to chase our dreams. Vitale landed in Poland in March and I've been in Italy since October 2021. There's something pretty powerful about leaving behind everything you know and love to follow your heart into an unknown place outside of your comfort zone, though. "This is my first time in Europe. Ever." Vitale has been playing football his entire life. The multi-sport athlete (football, basketball, baseball and track) is incredibly competitive, actually. But he always knew in his heart that he was meant to be the man at center. Despite a bit of doubt from his coaches along the way. "My coaches always saw my size and especially in little league, they would see my size and they'd be like, 'Nah, you're not playing quarterback.' Or the coach's son would play quarterback or something like that. "But in my head, I would always train as a quarterback. When I was in elementary school, I used to ride my bike across town and just go to practices and try to learn their offense...so I could have a head start and learn because I knew that my size was always going to be in question." Growing up, he'd play wide receiver, running back, safety and cornerback instead. It wasn't until high school that Vitale finally laced up as QB1 in his freshman year. After transferring to a bigger school in his junior year, he had a lot of success, even while undersized. The Jersey native bounced around between colleges in West Virginia and California, but due to health issues, Vitale missed the 2018 season. "In 2019, Temple gave me an opportunity to walk on. And I was moving up the depth chart all year. Going into next spring, I was competing to start, and then the sickness and COVID, it all caught up to me and I had an infection and had to have an emergency surgery in my 2020 season." He missed that entire year and given the team's morale paired with a bit of a toxic atmosphere, Vitale left his "dream school" in Philly by diving into the transfer portal to Jackson State. After a year off to be with family and coach at his former high school, he took the field in the 2022 season under Coach Prime, Deion Sanders. An experience the 25-year-old says made him a better person and player. "I really went to Jackson State for something that was bigger than football when I was sick. I was in a hospital bed for 105 days . I had nine procedures and one major surgery. It was a very traumatic time for just life in general. "But Coach Prime, before I knew he was ever going to be my coach, I followed him on social media...and I would always see his inspirational tweets or videos. I remember just sitting in the hospital bed and looking at his stuff, trying to keep my mind healthy and my mental health up. So, when I had the opportunity to go and play for him, I knew I had to be in that environment and atmosphere." Sanders' mantra for the team is something Vitale needed in that moment, more than he could have imagined. When Vitale spent 105 days in a hospital bed, he found solace in staying neutral. Through every pain and setback, rather than try to stay positive or completely sulk in sadness, he balanced his emotions to be somewhere in the middle. "I had pain medicine withdrawals...I had a giant gash throughout my stomach and abdomen. I couldn't laugh because it hurt. There were some things where I could find little victories, but the majority of the day, it was a negative situation. Just because my situation was negative, it didn't mean that I had to let my being become negative and my circumstances that surrounded me become negative. "So I just stayed neutral," he said. During his time in the hospital, Vitale's dad suffered a stroke and lost all mobility on his left side. "Even though it sounds like a terrible story, so many people rallied around us. We as a family came together and became even stronger in ways that you didn't know you could. Looking back on it now, we all know we got through this stuff together. And yeah, we still carry some scars with us, but it just makes you appreciate every single day more. "Life is truly really precious." Like the iconic Ted Lasso sign above the door in Richmond FC's locker room read Believe , Coach Prime preached a similar vibe to his players, which really resonated with Vitale during his time at Jackson State. "It was, 'I believe.' It's as simple as that. That kind of stemmed everything in our program. 'I believe in God. I believe in all things that are working for the greater good. I believe in myself, in my teammates and my coaches, in where I'm at and me being right where I'm supposed to be right in this present moment.' "And that was something that really helped me. Just being in the present moment and not looking ahead at things or not looking at my past and struggling with things and traumatic moments, but using them to fuel [me]." Vitale did just that when he bet on himself by moving to Poland. He's now the starting quarterback for the Panthers Wrocław and made his debut in the European League of Football--a league consisting of 17 different teams from nine countries--tonight, posting four touchdowns. Sheeeeeesh. In fact, in the Panthers' opening drive, he threw an absolute dart to teammate Tony Tate for a touchdown. "Something my mom always wanted me to do was to travel," Vitale said. Fun fact: Vitale's mom just so happens to be his biggest inspiration off the field. "Coming out here, I feel like I'm making my family proud...we have very humble beginnings. My mom is from southwest Philly. She grew up in a little row home. I was born into the row home. I don't forget where I'm from, like I was playing football on a little baseball field with glass on it when I was like four or five years old. "And then I was able to go see my sister in Venice. Just to see her in Italy was so cool. For me, I can't believe this is happening because just very shortly ago, we didn't know what the outcome was going to be with life in general. We definitely don't take it for granted as a family." It's crazy. I had this weird feeling that I was meant to chat with Matthew, to hear his story and share his experience, because my family went through our own adversities this past year when my dad was diagnosed with leukemia. In the moment, I couldn't talk about it either. I shelled up and hid myself from the world. It was too painful to talk to friends, too scary to look forward to the future. One month ago, my dad walked me down the aisle at my wedding. We shared a daddy/daughter dance, something I had dreamt of my whole life, actually, and we both cried because we honestly didn't think we'd get to have that moment together due to his diagnosis. Had I not moved to Italy, he may not have been diagnosed in time. Vitale said it best: life truly is precious . And if you can take anything from his story today, remember to stay neutral through the negative and celebrate the heck out of the amazing moments we are afforded. "I think my younger self would be extremely proud of myself now. I do. I still feel like I'm the same kid, I'm just grown up a little bit. And I have a lot more life lessons that I've learned, but if I told myself those things from back then, then I wouldn't have been able to experience them for what they are right now," Vitale said when I asked him what he would tell his younger self. "I might just keep it quiet and give my younger self a smile." Be sure to follow Matthew Vitale and the Panthers Wrocław in the 2023 European League of Football season, happening now until September 24th, 2023.
Patrick Willis, My Hero
It’s not every day you get to talk to your hero. But there he was, sitting in his RV one afternoon, wearing a white fedora and a huge smile, and vibing over Zoom with someone who idolized him. In fact, he’s the reason I fell in love with football—and more importantly, the 49ers. I’ll admit I was worried it might not be him on the other end of our Zoom call. We all hear stories of catfishing . So in a flash of weakness, the thought definitely crossed my mind. But to my absolute honour, our screens connected and Patrick Willis was staring back at me. That moment will easily go down as a Top 10 Greatest Moments of my Life . In all honesty, it’s currently # 1. Willis greeted me in a way that made my whole soul stand still. Before our interview even started, I knew my life was about to change for the better. He first took me back to his hometown of Bruceton, Tennessee, where Willis paints the picture of a young boy tossing the pigskin around his grandma’s front yard with his cousin, Jonte. “He was a year and some months older than I was,” said Willis. “But his mom and my mom were sisters, and so growing up it was always…I mean, everything he did, I was like the little bro to him.” Willis, being the oldest of the four siblings, was the caretaker of the household. He carried most of the responsibility and had no one to really mould himself after. And so, Jonte quickly became the “bigger brother” Willis needed. He’s one of his biggest inspirations in life, actually. “It was one of those things I’ll never forget, how when we began to get into ball, he [Jonte] would say, ‘P, you gotta work out. P, you gotta get stronger,’” recalled Willis. “And I really didn’t understand what that was…it was him really pushing me.” Willis also drew inspiration from his uncle, Arthur Willis, who was a professional super middleweight boxer, and his father, Ernest. If you’ve seen ESPN’s E: 60 on Willis, you’re aware of his hardships growing up. Throughout his childhood, “when it rained, it poured.” Growing up in a rural Tennessee trailer park, Willis began working in the cotton fields when he was only 10 to help support his family. All the while, he and his siblings also endured an abusive, alcoholic father. Despite all of the painful moments, Willis admired his father as an artist. “My dad had a little gospel-hip kinda-like group. And so, we would go and travel every weekend. Man, we were on the move,” Patrick laughed. “I just remember being front and center watching [my dad] perform and I was kind of seeing the crowd cheering for him. And then seeing one on the drums, other one is singing, one on the guitar; and…all I could say was, ‘Wow.’ To me, they are special. I thought that was special that you could take a guitar and play it the way they could. And drums. Or sing. If they can do that—be up there being awesome like that—then I can, too.” In the sixth grade, Willis discovered his awesome. “I’ve kind of mentioned this story before, but now it’s even more strong and paramount in me. It was my first year having regulation football,” Willis said. “And on game days I had to stay after school because I couldn’t get home in time to get back because my dad wouldn’t be home in time to take me back.” Willis hid out in library so no one would question why he was still there hours before game time. He’d sneak in and go straight for the VCR tapes, typically the sporty ones, like the Greatest Hits in the NFL. But one day, Willis reached for a different tape. “I look over and…I see a VCR tape that says Walter Payton Autobiography .” Willis admits he didn’t know the difference between an autobiography and a biography at the time, but he was hoping it was the kind where the subjects talk about themself. And of course, it was. “I remember watching it and was glued to it,” Willis said about the Walter Payton flick. “And at the very end…I felt like he was like music to me. I mean, the same way that I had always listened to music, is the same way I was listening to this. “I kept hearing them all say the words ‘work ethic.’ It’s work ethic. It’s work ethic.” Willis’ dad taught him at a young age “if you want something, you gotta work for it”. And then it all clicked. He started to connect the dots and realized he had a lot of this thing called work ethic. It was in him all along, he just needed the spark to ignite the fire. “It was in my gut, it was in my soul,” said Willis. “It was in me .” Finally, Willis let football consume him. And the adversity in his life only added more fuel to his internal fire—a fire that cleared the way for his many successes on-and-off the football field. In high school, Willis became the first athlete in Tennessee state history to be nominated for both the Mr. Football Award for a Lineman and for a Back. “To be there and to share it with my brother, Orey…through all the stuff we’ve been through, him and I have always been here,” Willis crossed his fingers tightly together. In 2003, Willis committed to Ole Miss and moved away from his family for the first time in his life. He says his freshman year was definitely his fondest. It was also very humbling. “So we’re big bad Tigers in high school,” Willis smiled. “And then all of sudden, now you’re in college. And now it’s almost like being a freshman again, being a sixth grader again, being in kindergarten…you have to learn how to play at that level. “I’ll never forget we were playing against Alabama. My fondest memory was that week, I remember going into my coach’s office. I said, ‘Coach, I want to hit people like such-and-such is hitting people; I want to hit like he’s hitting people.’ So we sat down and watched some film.” After the film ended, they had the little x’s and o’s talk. But what really struck Willis was when Coach told him to “get down the field and hit as hard as you can whoever’s carrying the ball.” “So that following Saturday,” Willis recalled. “We were playing against Alabama. First kick off. Boom. I run down the field. Whoosh. And that was the hit that everybody was like, ‘Wait a minute. Who was that?’ That was just an amazing moment.” Willis excelled as a linebacker for the Ole Miss Rebels. As a freshman, he played in all 13 games. And in his last collegiate year in 2006, Willis led the SEC in tackles with 11.4 per game with a total of 137 tackles. He was SEC Defensive Player of the Year, first-team All-SEC, and first-team All-American. Willis even won the Jack Lambert Award and the Dick Butkus Award—an award that honours the most outstanding linebacker in college football. It’s no surprise that in the 2007 NFL Draft, with the 11th pick, the San Francisco 49ers selected Patrick Willis in the first round. “It was a reality come true,” Willis reminisced. “When I got drafted, all that just kind of came back into one moment and I was like, ‘Okay, you got drafted. Now what?’ And that was my focus the moment they actually even called my name.” Fun fact: Before he was drafted, Willis wasn’t really a fan of the 49ers. “I hated the 49ers growing up,” Willis laughed. His brother, Orey, was a huge 49ers fan, which is one of the reasons Willis despised the team. Instead, Willis and other members of his family cheered for America’s team.
“We were Cowboys fans.” Mainly because that was only team they’d get to watch on their limited TV channels. “I used to be like, ‘I’ll never play for the 49ers.’ On draft day, that was the team that called,” said Willis. “I just never forget just centering myself like…this is where it’s going to start for me. Time to go make it my home—my new home.’” Willis embraced the 49ers with open arms and in his first NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals, he made 11 tackles, including 9 solos and a forced fumble. San Fran edged Arizona 20-17 in truly dramatic form. # 52 finished his rookie season with an NFL-leading 174 tackles, though the team credits him with over 200. Willis gave every piece of his body and soul to football. As his career with the 49ers took off, his leadership within the team also began to take shape. “The relationship with Navorro…I mean, big shout out to Navorro,” Willis said when asked about the dynamic duo in him and Navorro Bowman . “He was a heck of a player. It was amazing to play with him. “I had that kind of feeling as if he was put here for this exact purpose for me to…grow in many ways because then my role had switched, but it was humbling because now I had to learn how to play the position…all the while admiring that a younger guy was ballin’ out and having just as much fun where I once used to do that. And so, that was the beauty in that whole dynamic duo-ism we had.” Willis admits him and his cousin Jonte were the original dynamic duo, prior to playing with Bowman. And I’ll admit, Willis was my secret dynamic duo, too. ~~~ 2011 was the first real year I started to really watch football. My boyfriend at the time was a big San Fran fan, so he opened my eyes to the team and I never looked back—even after a painful breakup that left me with permanent scars on my mind and body. Throughout our relationship, I clung to football with the little strength I had left in me. It was my escape from the dark reality of an abusive boyfriend who took out his insecurities on me, both mentally and physically. Since I was afraid to leave, I used football as a way of connecting with him in hopes of having more happy days than bad ones. I don't know how I survived the bad ones. After ESPN aired Willis’ E: 60, I felt more connected to the star athlete than ever before. He was no longer Patrick Willis, 49ers legendary linebacker. He was Patrick Willis, my hero. We had both been through an abusive relationship, yet rather than let his past weigh him down or define him, Willis set goals for himself and worked so damn hard to accomplish them. Regardless of every obstacle along the way, he made it to the NFL, just like he imagined he would. ~~~ And even though the rodeo is over, Willis has no regrets. “This was never the end all be all.” He had given himself two options: be a professional athlete or get a regular job and work until 60 or 70, then get a “John-John boat” and fish the Tennessee river. “I said, ‘I’m going to give myself no option. I’m going to do this first one.’” The rest is history, of course. Post-NFL has been just what the doctor ordered, though. “I never really could be in the present because I was always trying to obtain what I had ultimately was able to do. And so now, I’m just sitting in an RV and whatnot, I guess I could be in the house, but I’m just sitting in the RV,” Willis grinned. Retired life looks great on him. I was in awe of our conversation. Have you ever felt like a moment was crafted just for you? I felt that with Willis. I’ve dealt with doubters my entire existence. I’m sure a lot of people have. But this past year has been beyond challenging. So when Willis agreed to our Zoom interview, my soul lit up in colours I never knew I had inside of me. Recently, people have told me that women do not belong in sports. Someone even lectured me and said people who haven’t played the sport don’t deserve to report on it. No joke. While others tried to hold me down, Willis metaphorically grabbed my hand and showed me that I am worth it. In a way, his interview saved me. I ended our nearly one-hour conversation with a question that hits very close to home for this reporter: "If you had a daughter, or even just to myself, what kind of advice would you say to other people out there going after a dream that maybe others say that isn’t something that they could ever accomplish?" His response was beyond perfect: “I would tell her to pursue you ,” Willis gleamed. “Because at the end of the day, it’s only going to be you looking at you. If you’re going after something for a job, just for the job of it, then you are putting your happiness and you are putting your joy in something outside of you that someone can ultimately take away from you. Or say that you are not worthy to have. And you will allow that to dictate and define who you are and what you are. And what you want to do as a human being, I would say. And I would tell you never give anyone that much power to make you feel like anything less than what you want to go after. “In the deepest of you, pursue all of you. Remember, you are the hero of your journey," Willis chuckled. “That’s all.” xx
The NBA Bubble is better than my real life
TORONTO. - Aside from my life in Animal Crossing New Horizons, the NBA bubble is where it’s at. Picture this: waking up each day near a magical castle in sunny Orlando. Your best friends are living with you—each in their own room/presidential suite (depending on how iconic they are) with endless gaming systems, food delivered straight to your door for every meal, and a free ride pass to some of the best rollercoasters in Florida. Pair that with being able to play basketball with your pals whenever you feel like it all while escaping the regular responsibilities of every day life, like kids and wives, and crazy side girls. It’s basically basketball heaven. Well, not all of the players agree with that statement. LeBron James tweeted about the bubble and compared it to going to prison…
Prison vibes and all, the NBA bubble is more than just a protective dome to keep players and media members safe during a very unique playoff situation. It’s a lifestyle.
And for some athletes, like Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard, the bubble is a canvas for creating art in the form of rap music. Yup, after Dame D.O.L.L.A. hits the paint, he skips the kiddie rides and focuses on making music in his mini recording studio within his suite.
If you haven’t heard Dame’s most recent album, go download it ASAP rocky. It’s hype.
Back to the bubble, though. If you love nature, they’ve got nature walks. If you love tennis, there’s a clay court for that, too. Fishing? Most definitely. Golf in all its glory? Oh, heck yes!
And if you live for the hoppy taste of a cold one, there’s a new challenge in town.
It all began with Pelicans’ JJ Redick shotgunning a Bud Light in an ice bath. Then “The Hammer” himself, Miami’s Meyers Leonard, took to Twitter and gladly accepted the shotgun challenge by downing a full Coors Light can in THREE seconds. If he ever retires, Leonard could kick some serious butt in a food-eating contest. I just know it.
Utah’s Jordan Clarkson ‘jazzed’ things up with a shirtless shotgun ft. a Corona tall boy and a fellow teammate in an icy tub joining in on the challenge in the background.
Clarkson called out both Leonard and Redick for shotgunning “baby beers” and of course, Leonard crushed back with a 16oz monster can of Corona in a race alongside Clarkson. Meyers finished first, but when he slammed his can on the ground, it sounded a little on the heavy side.
Not like the Heat have a history with cheating or anything. Eye roll.
The shotgunning has come to a halt for now, but as a fan of watching people enjoy the little things in life, I look forward to the next man up in this fun new challenge in the NBA bubble.
If y’all need to tag someone in, I’m pretty much the shotgun queen and have been keeping the bench warm for far too long. Put me in, Coach.
I’d take the bubble life over my Kraft Dinner any day. Originally published on La Portada Canada.
dear colin kaepernick
Dear Colin Kaepernick; Not sure if you know this, but you’re the first quarterback who made me fall in love with football. My ex boyfriend was a huge 49ers fan. He introduced me to the team when we first started dating and Alex Smith was the guy at center. Don’t get me wrong, Smith was a great dude for the job. But when you took over and walked out onto that field donning my dad’s favourite number for a jersey, I instantly had heart eyes for every bit of who you are. You took command of the team with ease, as if you had trained for that moment your entire existence; as if you were truly made to be QB1. Never would I have guessed you were ever a second choice. Nah, you couldn’t be. Because in my life, you were always number one. Now, most people reading this might be thinking, “This girl loves Jimmy G more than her dog! What the heck is she spittin’ right now?” And it’s true. I have a tattoo to honour James Garoppolo. I even dressed up as his cheeky nickname this past Halloween. Most folks know me for who I am right now, but there’s a bit of a history with me and the 49ers, and you, Kap, have always been the headline of my journey. You see, just like I said to Patrick Willis back in May 2020, you were one of the players who made me feel alive in a time where everything around me was falling apart. I’ve shared my abuse story countless times, yet, the wound still feels fresh whenever I think about my first few seasons as a 49ers faithful. You and Willis were my much-needed distraction, really. The first time I ever saw you “Kaepernicking,” I swooned. I had an iPhone 3 at the time and you were undeniably my lock screen background picture. The iconic kiss of your bicep…one that I tried to replicate whenever I needed to feel on top of the world. My ex bought me your jersey for the first birthday we spent together as a couple and I cried when I opened up the package to see the # 7 staring back at me. Every bit of who you are was inspirational. And this is way before I even knew how hard you worked to get to the NFL, let alone a college team. When you took over as the 49ers starting QB, every bit of my life changed for the better. You took us to a Super Bowl in my first real year as a fan, and to this day, I admire that season as my favourite one to date. Sure, the team lost to the Ravens, but the bigger picture gave me so much more to be grateful for. Whenever the lights go out in a room, I forever am brought back to that shift in momentum when I thought, Jim Harbaugh would be lifting the Lombardi trophy and you’d be kissing your bicep right beside him while he did so. Sometimes, we create a version of life for ourselves that makes the hard shit easier to swallow. That Super Bowl loss will forever stick with me. Not because we went home without the shiny hardware…no, that night, I walked back to my ex boyfriend's’ mom’s house where I used to stay with him in the basement. We both drank too much and had been kicked out of the bar due to my boy mouthing off the manager, who happened to be a Seahawks fan. After one too many tequila shots, we stumbled back home and rather than go directly inside the house, he took out his anger on me and threw me down the stairs. It was a weird situation, though. I remember him pushing me, yet, immediately he reached out his hand to grab my collar, in hopes of saving me from scraping my face along the steps as I tumbled down to the cold ground. He ripped my new Michael Kors jacket and held a piece of it as I flew through the air. I lay on the pathway for a while and contemplated calling my parents to come pick me up. Which, I eventually did because part of me knew it’d be dangerous to go inside with the person he was in that moment. My parents showed up and my ex sweet-talked them away. The worst part about the whole ordeal is his mom came running outside and witnessed the entire aftermath, to which she yelled at my ex and told him to pick me up. She had no clue her son abused me every single time he drank. I looked her in the eyes that night, mascara tears running down my pale face, and admitted that I was scared to be with him; that he had thrown me down the stairs and I didn’t feel safe going to the basement by his side. She laughed at me and told me she’d fix us a snack…that we were too drunk and just needed to sleep it off. I woke up the next morning with scratches on my face. My ex had smashed my phone and used a tiny shard of glass to cut me while I was sleeping. When I asked him what happened to my cheeks, he told me that I was a mess and had fallen down due to my own stupidity. At least that’s what I told my mom and dad when they saw my beat up face the next day. Whenever I think about that Super Bowl, I don’t think about the loss. I think about how much pain I endured because I was in the wrong relationship. And honestly, had it not been for you, Colin, and the 49ers, I probably wouldn’t be alive today. Because somehow, in spite of all the horror going on behind closed doors, we found peace while cheering you and the team on. Let’s fast forward to happier times, though. I’m currently living in Italy with my now fiancé, who is nothing like that boy I dated years ago. He has a bigger heart than anyone I’ve ever met in my life and he’s empathetic—a quality I’ve always longed for in a partner. Tonight, we watched Colin in Black and White and I let myself feel every emotion I’ve held in since that night back in 2013. Back then, I always thought I was a second choice. My ex constantly made me feel like I wasn’t enough; like I had to be this perfect version of some pretty little flower he picked that'd never been touched by a ray of light other than his own. But as fairy tales usually play out, the prince I had fallen for was never really a prince at all. I became trapped in a tower of control and every time I tried to escape, I lost a piece of myself I thought I’d never get back. Colin, you gave me those pieces back while watching your story. It’s like every empty page of who you were and who I had come to admire back then—who I idolized during a time of warfare in my private life—had finally surfaced and I was seeing each beautiful slide in black and white film. My life is nothing like what you went through. And it breaks my heart to know that you and so many others have battled through moments that no one should ever have to endure. You’ve always been this Kaepernicking King in my little world of football; a gorgeous light of hope on the days when I felt like I wasn’t able to keep going. Somehow, you throwing a deep bomb to Vernon Davis or handing the ball off to Frank Gore always ignited the fighter in my soul. I’m so sorry for your adversities. I wish people could have seen you for every bit of who you were back then. I wish I could have been there to tell you it’s going to be okay; that you will go on to do heroic things and stand up for so many by taking a courageous knee. You changed my life when you took over as quarterback. Because despite years of abuse, I felt alive when I watched you play. You’re a legend to me (and so many, no doubt) and tonight, you brought me back to that girl I used to be—the girl who would hide her sparkle from those around me, simply because I was suffering alone. But thankfully, I now feel so empowered to know that you were always there, without ever really knowing it. You lifted me up from the ground when I needed it most. Even after you had been through days, months, and years of constantly picking yourself up and striving for more, too. You are not only my first choice in football, you’re my first choice as a human being. Everything you’ve done since you’ve made it as a quarterback has changed the lives of so many people around you. Including me and definitely my future children, too. They will know who you are because you have paved the way for my family and so many others to live in a space that hopefully does not have to ever endure racism the way you (and countless others) did/do. Thank you for using your voice and your platform to tell a story that goes far beyond the gridiron. You know, you may not have been a lot of team’s first choice. But because of all those rejections, you were chosen to be so much more than just a quarterback. You took a stand for issues that many before you were afraid to tackle. For that, you aren’t just a college or NFL quarterback: You are a quarterback of the world. And whenever I wear the number 7, please know, it’s always for you. xx - crys
dear richard sherman
Dear Richard Sherman; I don’t really know you, but I want to tell you I’m sorry. Sure, you’ve played for my team, the San Francisco 49ers, for the past few seasons. You’re 5x All-Pro and a Super Bowl Champion with a team I love to hate, the Seattle Seahawks. You’ve made 484 tackles and intercepted the ball a whopping 36 times. And you’re really smart, too. Like, a complete scholarly genius who has a way with words that I’ve come to admire as a young writer. You’re the reason I wanted to be a sideline reporter , actually. And surprisingly, you’re the same age as my brother. A very young 33 years old. On the surface, your wisdom made me think of someone approaching their 40s. But age is really just a number, and you’ve proved that nothing is impossible in 33 years on this planet. So truly, you’ve been my inspiration in nearly everything I do. It’s been just over a week since the news broke about your arrest and as I write this laying in bed, post-second dose shivers and all, I’m frantically wiping the tears from my cheeks and hoping you’re okay. You see, when the headlines popped up all over social media, I didn’t believe a word of what I was reading. It just all seemed far too out of character for someone like you. I tend to hold my favourite athletes to a higher standard, as if they have super powers and can’t ever feel the same pain that us regular folk do. Boy, was I wrong. And I’m writing this letter to you tonight because my heart is heavy thinking about what you’re going through in this moment. I know I’m a little younger than you. It’s my 32nd birthday next week, yet all I can think about is how similar I’ve felt to that heartbreaking 911 call. Your wife’s voice shook me to my core. That feeling of not wanting to live anymore—to be reckless in such a way that you just don’t care if you survive a drunken crash or your own self-inflicting harm—is one of the loneliest feelings in the world. I want you to know that I’m sorry you feel this way. I’m sorry that everything around you hurts so much that you don’t want to hold on anymore. I’m sorry that you felt like you weren’t enough. But with every piece of my soul, I want you to know that you are. Nearly five years ago to the date, I drove my car off a road at 120km/hour and nearly killed my friend, my dog, and myself. I was in-and-out of an abusive relationship, and rather than lean on my family and those around me, I suffered alone and drank myself silly every chance I could get. Car rides became more aggressive. Alcohol became my crutch. And honestly, I just wanted my life to end because everything inside of my head just kept telling me I don't want to be alive . We sometimes do reckless things when we’re in pain. Opening up to others about our demons can be too fucking hard when we’re really going through it. So we bottle it up and put it on the shelf, hoping that pain will slowly just go away. Here’s the thing, though: we’re not meant to suffer alone. We were put on this earth to be social creatures who love and lift others. And, at times, we tend to forget that those around us are just the hand we need when everything else seems like it's falling apart. I’m so thankful I didn’t die that day alongside one of my best friends and my precious doggo. And honestly, I’m incredibly thankful that those headlines didn’t read differently for you, too. You may never read this. And that’s okay. But to every single person who feels like death is the only way out of whatever darkness you’re trapped in, I promise you…it’s not. We may truly never know how you were feeling in that moment, Uncle Sherm. Hell, I still have my major downs, too, and when the world paints you in a certain light, it’s hard to press the reset button. I’m speaking from experience on that, as well. I’ll save that for another letter, though, because this one is for you. I still think of you as one of the best corners in the league. Your Boom has not faded in my mind. If anything, I feel more connected to you than ever before. Honestly, even super heroes fall down. We all crumble every now and then, and that’s okay. It’s that next play that truly matters. And I know in the deepest part of my heart that you will rebound from this. We all do, only if we truly choose to. Sherman, you’re only my brother’s age, and damn, you’ve got a whole life to live. There are so many of us here to metaphorically hold your hand when the weight of it all feels a little too heavy. Because I promise you, you are enough. xx – crys.
just hold on.
If I could write a list of names of people who were meant to come into my life, Bradley Braich would definitely be in the top five. I met Bradley in 2018 at Robert Bateman Secondary School while covering high school basketball. At the time, my boyfriend and I worked together at BC Sports Hub, basically THE online source for high school sports. But mainly the one with that dreaded orange ball. Side note: I used to play basketball in middle school and somehow sprained my finger every damn time I’d dribble down the court. I, despite my extreme enthusiasm to prove my taller teammates wrong, was a terrible player. At three-foot-eight, the only time I felt like a star was when I could cheer on my friends from the bench. At least I literally gave it a shot. When I first interviewed Bradley, he was the captain of the Yale Lions men’s basketball team. He was shy, yet had a purposeful voice. His eyes were full of determination and in the next moment, a glimpse of uncertainty mixed with heartbreaking pain. Bradley had attempted to take his own life just seven months before the day we met. I remember internally gasping and fighting back tears during our interview. My heart sunk deep into my stomach and I even forgot my next question. All I could think about was how different life would have been if the pills Bradley swallowed took his life. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t even be writing this story. The truth is, I think I met Bradley back then so he could save me now. Life is all about divine timing , which is basically the belief that everything in your life happens at exactly the right moment. I used to think Bradley came into my life in order for me to tell a story of a courageous high school athlete who wanted to spread awareness about mental health, specifically when it comes to athletes, by creating the Bigger than Basketball tournament. Which is an unbelievably selfless thing to do, by the way. But I’m almost certain I met Bradley to get me through some of my dark days, too. Let’s fast-forward to 2020. I was attending sports broadcasting school in Toronto and my professor announced our next assignment early into the new year: a story pitch to the head honcho over at CBC Sports. I immediately thought of Bradley Braich. His story stuck with me over the years, probably because I suffer from anxiety and depression, too. Bradley agreed to the interview and courageously told me his story again. This time in an audio interview edited specifically for radio. I handed my file in on March 4th, 2020 and then our program had a two-week reading break, which we never returned from due to the coronavirus pandemic. I really thought my teacher would applaud Bradley’s perseverance in life and maybe the audio file would go to air on CBC Sports radio. Sadly, I never went back to the school and I have no idea what grade I even received on that assignment. We went into lockdown and I eventually moved back west to downtown Vancouver to be closer to my family. My whole life — along with I’m sure many others — was flipped upside down. The rug had been pulled out from underneath me and I was about to crumble to the cold hardwood floor. Then, a little silver glow appeared around the dark clouds hovering over me and I began a new journey with ethno. sports. I had been hired as a freelance writer for the sub-brand of ethno. branded original content. My bosses urged me to find a unique story in the community that goes beyond just the box score for my debut piece. Luckily for me, I knew the perfect guy. I met Bradley, again, on a chilly day in November at Coopers’ Park in Vancouver. He wore a pink hoodie with matching Vans. Even though he had on a face mask, I could still see his genuine smile. We debated about LeBron and MJ. And we took a few shots from half court. Bradley sniped it; I completely air-balled. When we sat down for our interview, I remember looking into his eyes. He opened up to me about his pain and his OCD. Bradley thanked his incredible support system and made a point to reiterate how much his family meant to him, too. And of course, he lit up when I asked him about the Bigger than Basketball tournament, something Bradley says he will continue to grow in the future when sports and normalcy can finally co-exist again. Secretly, an hour before the video crew and I met with Bradley, I had contemplated bailing on the whole production. My self-doubt made it almost impossible to leave my condo. In that moment, I was scared to fail at something new. So, I slammed a coffee and got over it…eventually. And thankfully, during my conversation with Bradley, it all just seemed to click. I mentioned that whole divine timing thing before and apparently the universe had placed Bradley in my life to give me the boost I needed in that moment. As we sat in Coopers’ Park, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of a peace. There were kids laughing on the swings behind us, a group of dudes playing pick-up ball on the concrete, and a few boats cruising by under the Cambie Street Bridge. Life was living out loud in vibrant colours all around us. I looked into Bradley eyes. “If you could go back and speak to yourself on that day in October, what would you say to yourself?” I asked, unaware of the powerful message he was about to share. He thought for a moment, and then he calmly replied as if he was truly speaking directly to his younger self: “This pain that you’re feeling, it has to go away. Yes, you may struggle and you may hurt for weeks, months, but eventually you’re gonna get to that other side. No matter how hard it hurts, no matter how bad the struggle is, no matter how much you feel like you can’t go on…you just have to hold on.” Just hold on, I still replay it my head whenever I need a little reminder. You ever see the same number in every day life, as if the world is trying to tell you some top-secret code to crack the key to happiness? Well, hearing those three little words kind of felt like that to me. And now, that same phrase has been tattooed on my soul forever. Some people come into our lives for an undeniable purpose. I think Bradley came into mine to save me. And maybe, just maybe, his words will save someone else’s life, too. #JustHoldOn
week one: humble pie
The game started off with a bang: Raheem Mostert literally shot out like a canon ball, zipping down the field at mach speed, to put the 49ers up 10-0 over the Cardinals. It's what we all expected, right? They looked as though the #RevengeTour was actually a REAL, tangible thing. My Super Bowl hangover had lifted off my shoulders and I felt like a new woman—slightly vulnerable, but ready to get back out into the world again. Maybe slap on some lipstick and smile at the new boy in the park with the cute puppy.
Then Jimmy Garoppolo struggled to throw the ball. He left open receivers High & Dry like a terrible Radiohead cover band. Now, everyone rips on Jimmy Jawline more than any other QB in this league. It’s like any quarterback who played under Bill Belichick can excel, yet only knows how to do so when Belichick’s at the helm (cough, cough Tom Brady in Tampa was a major flop—at least Jimmy didn’t throw an interception...although he was close). Let's be real. Garoppolo looked a little lost. His feet would prance around when he should have kept his ground. And when he should have moved, his feet were glued to the field. He lacks confidence in himself. Last year, we saw Jimmy break out of his lil shell after the team went 8-0. You know how I know? Look at the smile he flashed Erin Andrews in that interview. When he said, “feels great, baby,” you KNOW he meant it. Garoppolo carried that cheekiness with him into BIG games. Cue Week 14 and the Saints. We saw a shooting match. We saw a side of Jimmy G that made Stephen A Smith do a double-take. The 49ers need that Jimmy. They need him to start “feelin’ himself” in order for him to trust himself. It's not that Shanahan doesn’t trust him—Jimmy doesn’t trust himself. And coming off the heartbreaking loss of the Super Bowl, he's been playing through a hell of a lot more adversity than ever before (BLM, COVID, and whatever other BS goes on behind closed doors). Pair that with the sheer disrespect Garoppolo has endured after the loss. It’s truly a mental game. And from the looks of it, Jimmy is a very mental QB. He wouldn’t dance like that in the pocket or shy away from throwing to his receivers—like they have friggin' cooties—for nothing. Food for thought: after a heartbreak, you go through all the stages. Sadness. Anger. Denial. Acceptance. Usually, you have a decent off-season to heal. You give yourself the “hot bod summer” to try to feel some sense of self worth. But instead, a pandemic literally stood up and was like, "Hold my beer," so there was no hot boy summer for Jimmy Garoppolo. Rather than enjoy the offseason, feel the emotions, and get back to work to heal, Jimmy had to overcome even more adversity, while trying to mask the Super Bowl hangover with the distraction of the #RevengeTour. And that’s fine. But Jimmy needs to heal. Maybe that’ll be tough to do without the love of the faithful fans around the stadium. Maybe it’s an adjustment. But he will adjust. He’ll feel the loss of the Cards game. He’ll feel the overthrows and missed timing in his throws. And he’ll compare that to the SB loss. Now, at this point, he’ll either tap into that fire inside and wake up the monster we saw against the Saints—and he’ll bring that every game going forward. Or he’ll have another bad game and be yet another sloppy headline in sports media. But please, give him the time to heal. Let’s see what Jimmy can do without starting the season 8-0; let’s see what he’s made of when it doesn't feel great, baby. Another takeaway: the receiver corps was underwhelming. I’m looking directly at Kendrick Bourne and Dante Pettis. Bourne was open, and Jimmy was to blame on a throw or two in there, but Pettis, man? As much as I love the guy, he needs to step up. To watch a receiver blatantly not give any effort to reach out his arms for a throw, when the game is basically on the line, is pathetic. I’ve played flag football and specifically one game in particular I can remember that was a scratch game, since the other team had to forfeit. Guess what I did in that game? I DOVE for a catch. And I caught it. In a game that didn't even matter... When you step out on that football field—no matter what level of play—you decide how much you want to give. You decide how great you can be. And I think Pettis has a lot of great in him. He just looks scared to fail. So rather than dive for the ball or reach out his arms, he looks like a four-year-old soccer player who just wants to be on the field so he can feast on free orange slices at halftime. If your coach benches you in a Super Bowl game, and then somehow gives you another shot the following season, you need to step up. You need to prove your worth. Because Pettis is worth it. Shanny sees a light in him. And I can feel it when I look at him. But I didn’t feel it against the Cards. Pettis, man. You need to play with that do-or-die passion every single game, especially when you’re in the hot seat. Play like the WR we all know you can be.
Let's move on. The defense looked fire in the opening minutes. I was literally jumping up and down on my couch like a mad woman. I even tweeted "49ERS ARE GOING TO DISNEY WORLD!" because the D looked so spicy, so determined to put a stop to every Arizona drive. And they did. But then they got too cocky. After that whack-ass special teams play by Ari, the momentum shifted and it’s like our special teams fell apart. They let the Cards get into their head. They were sloppy on plays, which led to multiple wide open lanes for Kyler Murray to take off and burn too many defenders. Richard Sherman should have been on Hopkins like a bunny. Emmanuel Moseley had moments where he could have capitalized, but the team as a whole couldn’t adjust. Robert Saleh couldn’t adjust. So instead, they crumbled. And then it’s as if they looked around, hoping one of their teammates could pick up the pieces. But this team never used to be about that. This team used to play like a family . That’s what was missing more than anything in this game. They didn’t take care of each other the way we saw last year. That might be the Super Bowl hangover, but it could also be the "The Great Joe Staley Depression". Dude was part of the organization for 13 seasons. That’s a seasoned leader . Gone. Someone Kittle—who damn near went out with a leg or knee injury after a sloppy Jimmy throw—had looked up to. And as much as you don’t want the vibe of a team to change after certain players leave, it’s pretty normal for there to be a hole in the heart of what used to be this unbelievably strong brotherhood of a team. You can blame it on no preseason games, but that’s BS, too. Just refer to what Sherman said. Nah, this team came out hot, but forgot to get the last minute oil change necessary before stepping on the field. They misjudged Arizona and they looked like a bunch of excited/anxious puppies just trying to grow into their big, old paws. The fire in this team—the family mentality—is there. But leadership needs to step the heck up. And i’m looking at Captain Jimmy, George, and Sherman to do so.
All around, the team was lacking conviction in their plays. It just wasn’t the team we saw most of last season. Luckily, this is the first game of the season. There’s a lot more football to play. And at least Jimmy G has thrown two less interceptions than Tom Brady thus far.
On the flip: the run game is just as amazing as we left off. If Jimmy needs to lean a bit more on Mostert, Tevin Coleman, and Jet McKinnon (a healthier and more "warmed-up" version), they can at least ease Garoppolo into the mental aspect of the game by gaining his confidence with some easy touchdowns on the ground. Mostert will continue to have monster performances for the team, but at the end of the day, he can’t carry them every week. Side note: I’m pumped for Fred Warner. He’s going to be a star linebacker. I get the same butterflies in my tummy like the days of watching Patrick Willis. He’s exciting to admire and though he wasn’t a complete difference maker in the loss, he looked primed and ready to compete this season. Zebras and Hopkins-being-open-all-the-flippin'-time aside, Niners just ate some humble pie and they’re going to come back hungrier than ever next weekend. LFG xx