The guy in front of me in the supermarket checkout line was wearing a 49ers T-shirt and a 49ers cap. While he waited, he paged through a copy of Sports Illustrated that featured a 49ers story on the cover.
When I entered a sporting goods store -- yeah, more shopping; it's good for the economy -- I walked past display racks filled with the 49ers jerseys of Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis and Frank Gore.
Piled high next to the cashier was a stack of boxed footballs -- collectibles, not the kind used in games -- imprinted with "Super Bowl XLVII: San Francisco 49ers vs. Baltimore Ravens." Someone must have felt they were in high demand. They were priced at $39.99 apiece.
Psychologists have tried for years to explain the giddiness that overwhelms a community when a local sports team excels. A UC Berkeley professor wins a Nobel Prize, and he gets a polite round of applause. The 49ers win the National Football Conference championship, and fireworks go off.
Allegiance to a red-hot sports team answers no demands for logic. So a fan in Antioch rides the wake of a team headquartered in Santa Clara that plays its games at Candlestick Point with a roster of players largely devoid of Bay Area roots. And a Walnut Creek resident who couldn't pick Colin Kaepernick out of a police lineup cheers for any player wearing red and gold.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once famously described this as "rooting for laundry," but even political figures get into the act. Mayors of competing towns wager on title games as if the outcome matters.
Fan fever inspires high fives with strangers, boastful rants on blogs, happy water cooler conversation and binge spending on team merchandise. Geography doesn't matter.
Consider: With one more pass completion, the Atlanta Falcons might be taking the 49ers' place on Sunday. If that had happened, those commemorative footballs would still be available for $39.99, but they'd be on store shelves in Atlanta.
An essay in Psychology Today once described sports fanaticism as "BIRGing." That's short for "Basking in Reflected Glory," a phenomenon that manifests itself in good humor the day after a victory.
Fans have no effect on a game's outcome, and in most cases, they've never met the players, but they happily take ownership of success to the extent that they change speech patterns. After a victory, they say we won the game.
The opposite of BIRGing is "CORFing," when fans distance themselves from their team's defeats by Cutting Off Reflected Failure. You may have heard something like this after a loss to the St. Louis Rams: "How could they lose that game?"
If you say this makes fans fickle, history says you're right. There was no rush to buy 49ers merchandise two years ago when the team's record was 6-10. But that's water under the bridge. All that matters now is the 49ers are our team, playing for our community, and will make us proud by defeating the Ravens on Sunday.
Meanwhile, if you still need to gear up for the game, lots of deals await on the Internet. You can pick up a 49ers NFC Championship hoodie for just $84.95; or a 49ers Polo shirt for $56.95; or 49ers pull-up leather boots for $364.95. All would be perfect for a victory party.
What if they lose?
Then you can pull out that Giants World Series jacket you bought in October when we stomped the Detroit Tigers.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org