Talk About Doing Something Mad…
Having seen the 49ers finally win at Levi’s Stadium back in October 2019, their season continued to get better… and better. They ended up atop the NFC West and as first seeds in the NFL Playoffs. Levi’s Stadium was about to host its first ever NFL Playoff game, against the Minnesota Vikings. So I decided I’d go and watch it. History in the making. Simply the small matter of a 5,000 mile weekend trip to California… 🙂
So on Friday January 10th 2020 I boarded a British Airways flight to San Jose, California. I stayed at the Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott San Jose Airport. I knew they provided a shuttle bus from the terminal to the hotel, which took just a few minutes. So that was easy. There’s also a VTA stop to Levi’s Stadium just outside the hotel, another reason to choose it.
Looking for some evening entertainment pre-trip, I’d discovered that the Poor House Bistro was close to a VTA stop downtown, which made travelling there from the hotel easy. So later on Friday evening I got the train to San Fernando station, which was literally yards from the bar. Playing that night at the PHB were the R.J. Mischo Band. They were very good. Watch them playing here on YouTube. I didn’t have any food, as I’d eaten well on the plane, just a few beers to go along with the music. It was of course now the middle of the early morning next day for me on UK time. After the gig, it’s back onto the VTA and to the hotel, hoping to get at least some sleep. I get to bed around 7 am UK time, 11 pm in San Jose.
I sleep OK. Breakfast is provided by the hotel, the usual standard buffet. At breakfast I can see that the hotel is quite popular with 49ers fans. The game kicks off at 1.35 pm so there’s not much time to kill before I head out to the VTA around 10.30 am. On my way out of the hotel I realise that, as it is January, this is the first 49ers game I’ve been to that I’ve ever had to wear a jacket or sweater. It’s always been hot and sunny before, T-shirt weather. It’s not cold today though, but not warm like it usually is in the autumn either.
A Wild Tailgate and Mike Tirico Close-up
When I get to the stadium, the tailgate is wild, there’s an electric atmosphere in the parking lot. NBC have got a “studio” set up in the parking lot and I can see Tony Dungy, Mike Tirico and a host I don’t know getting ready to broadcast. Then there’s a bit of a commotion nearby and what sounds like a marching band. I work my way through the crowds – and then some of the Gold Rush, the 49ers cheerleading squad, walk by me! I follow them and they stop and form two lines. Sourdough Sam is there along with Niners Noise, the 49ers official drumline, and some of the flag bearers who put on displays in the end zone during the game and charge across the field after a touchdown. There is some video footage of the tailgate here and here on YouTube.
I have no idea what’s going on but there are TV personnel there trying to direct matters. Then Mike Tirico appears and I’m standing right next to him! Tirico does a piece to camera with the flags waving and the Gold Rush waving their pom-poms. And then it’s all over. It’s obviously a pre-game promotional piece and when done everyone starts to disperse. Something different…
Watch (short) clips of the Gold Rush here and here on YouTube. There’s an even better buzz around the concourse when I get inside the stadium. It is after all an NFC Divisional Playoff. I’m back in the United Club for this game and it is absolutely full to the rafters. In fact Levi’s Stadium is full – no surprise there. A few Vikings fans are in attendance but mostly it’s a sea of red: the Faithful have claimed Levi’s Stadium at last!
The game started and Jimmy Garoppolo threw a TD pass on his opening drive. He then mostly watched the defense and running game take over from there, ending up throwing for 11/19 and 131 yards. Who cares? The 49ers won, beating the Vikings 27-10. The noise in the stadium throughout the game was fantastic. Levi’s was rocking! And all around me fans were mostly standing, high-fiving everyone within touching distance on every good play and of course whenever we scored. It was truly a great game to witness and be a part of. Onto the NFC Championship…
Back To The Poor House
I go the Team Store after the game and buy a branded mug and t-shirt to celebrate. From there, there is a short wait for a VTA train to turn up. But it’s now around 5.30 pm and I stay on the VTA past the hotel stop and head back downtown, straight to the Poor House Bistro again. Playing tonight is Cathy Lemons & The Lucky Losers. On arrival the bar is packed out, very busy, almost full. Turns out most of them are San Jose Sharks fans fuelling up before their ice hockey game, just up the road at the SAP Center.
The Sharks fans slowly start to filter out as tee-off looms, some of them seeming to leave it until the last minute before departing. It’s a shame for the band because from playing to a full house they are suddenly left with just a handful of folks watching. The crowd doesn’t increase by much either throughout the evening, which surprises me.
The band is good and they finish their set around 9.45 pm. Some video here. Sharks fans begin re-appearing and someone else is now setting up on stage. I ask the barman and it’s bloody karaoke… time to leave, I decide. This is a bit odd though because I was told last year that there is a 10 pm curfew on live music as they are located in a residential area. Maybe Saturday nights are later?
I’m on the VTA back to the hotel when I realise I’ve forgotten something. My mug and t-shirt!!! I’d placed the bag on the floor by my feet under my bar stool – and now I’ve left them there. I get off at the next stop but have no idea when the next train is back down to San Fernando station. I do remember from the timetable that they were every 30 minutes at this time of night but I cannot find out when the next one is due.
So I hail an Uber, which turns up in a couple of minutes, and I am soon back at the bar. Luckily my bag is still where I left it under the stool. Back outside, bag secured, the railroad crossing up the road starts to flash its lights. I realise a train with which to re-start my journey back north to the hotel is due any minute. The crossing gates then commence their descent, and I think I’ll be OK, but in fact the train is early. It arrives into the station as I’m still walking up, literally as soon as the gates are fully down, and I have to start running to catch it. Which I do, thankfully.
I get off at Metro/Airport Station and walk across the car park opposite the hotel and into the Casino M8trix. The hotel does not have a bar but the Casino does. Sitting at the bar I order a drink but no-one chats so I go for a wander around the casino floor, just to people-watch. I have another drink then decide it is bedtime. I wander out back across the casino car park and into the hotel. It’s lights out around midnight.
What a historic – and excellent – day!
Time To Kill
Sunday morning, I’m awake around 6 am but manage to doze off again for a while. It’s then down for breakfast. Afterwards, back in my room, I have the rest of the day to kill as the flight home is not until 6.20 pm. I read some magazines and books in the room until checkout time of 12 noon. Leaving my bags at reception I ask about booking a time for a shuttle back to the airport terminal but the guy says just to turn up about 10 minutes before I want to leave.
Back across the car park and into the Casino again. This is where I shall spend the afternoon, having lunch and watching another Divisional Playoff on TV. This turns out to be the epic Titans vs Chiefs game where Tennessee go 24-0 up but end up losing 51-31. It’s an amazing turnaround by the Chiefs.
I have some excellent wings for lunch and curtail my beer intake to a just couple, not wanting to turn up drunk at the airport! At some point a couple of guys come and sit to my right and we end up talking. They are quite amazed that I’ve flown over from the UK just for the game yesterday. Go figure. So am I.
I explain about it being the first ever Playoff game at Levi’s. But then one of them says, “Well if they get to the Super Bowl, you’d better go to that game because you can never tell when a team might get to one.” Now there’s something to think about…
I leave the casino around 3.30 pm and at the hotel there is a shuttle bus outside. Reception calls the driver and soon I’m walking into the terminal about 3.45 pm. We start boarding the plane at 5.30 pm and I’m greeted at the door by a couple of the crew I flew in with. They remember me. I say I wondered if they’d be flying me back, as crews usually get a couple of nights stay-over.
During the flight I tell them what my trip was about. I also gave a stewardess details of the Poor House Bistro, as it seems they didn’t find any particularly good bars. The plane lands back in Heathrow on Monday around 1 pm, and my weekend in California comes to an end. Now, about Miami…