When I was eight years old I decided that the San Francisco 49ers were my football team. On a trip to San Francisco, my family and I paid a visit to the 49er home stadium -- Candlestick Park. I saw the giant posters of quarterback Joe Montana and star receiver Jerry Rice, and the jersey of high stepping running back Roger Craig. As a young Jewish boy from Canada, the strongest person I had ever met was my gym/computer science teacher Fred Cohen. So to me, these men were giants. In an instant, they became my idols, and this team became my team.
I began to follow the San Francisco 49ers with vigor. Every Sunday or Monday they played, the TV was off limits to anyone who wasn't wearing red and white, and if you even thought about picking up the remote control you would be the recipient of a blind side tackle or chop block to the backside by a little Ronnie Lott in training -- even if you were my sister (sorry Jessica).
Every win wasn't just a win for the 49ers; it was a win for me.
As the years went on, my sense of being part of the team grew to the point where I felt that my actions could somehow influence the success of my 49ers. If I wasn't able to watch the whole game and the niners lost, it was probably because I hadn't been watching. If a friend had called and the opposing team scored a touchdown, then this friend was obviously cursed and henceforth banned from calling during game play.
I even had the strange ritual of eating a frosted malt after the third quarter and chewing on the little wooden spoon for the first few minutes of the fourth. If I didn't, I thought the coach would call Joe Montana over and tell him, "That Canadian guy didn't chew on the wooden spoon again. Put the football on the ground - we're leaving."
Our streak came to an abrupt end when I went off to college and kind of lost interest in football.
Even though it sounds crazy -- alarmingly crazy -- the proof was in the pudding (or in the frosted malt). The San Francisco 49ers won four Super Bowls in the 1980s and 13 division titles in the 80s and 90s combined. We were practically unstoppable.
Our streak came to an abrupt end in 1994 when I went off to college and kind of lost interest in football, which just so happens to be the very same year that the 49ers won their last Super Bowl. (If you think that's just a coincidence, you've obviously never had a frosted malt before). It wasn't that I had anything against football -- I played every Sunday. Something had changed; I just didn't feel like a 49er anymore.
Around the same time, I went off to Israel and got reacquainted with my Jewish roots. The more I studied and grew in my relationship with Judaism, the more I realized that I was already a member of a team, a very holy team. I called it: Team Jew.
I realized that my intense relationship with the San Francisco 49ers had actually taught me how to feel a part of the Jewish People. Just as I felt I had personally won when the 49ers had a victory, when I heard about an Israeli rescue team digging out some survivors in Africa or about a Jew doing some act of kindness and performing a Kiddush Hashem (a sanctification of God's name), I felt as though their actions were a victory for me too, because they were on my team.
I also realized that my actions, no matter how seemingly insignificant, could have an impact on my team. If I carried out an act of kindness, it could inspire someone else to do the same. If I performed a mitzvah like learning Torah, the spiritual ripples generated could have a powerful affect on a team member halfway across the world. Observing these commandments didn't taste as chocolaty as a frosted malt, but their impact on the Jewish people was more genuine and everlasting.
On any given Sunday, I get together with a bunch of guys from my synagogue and play a game of touch football -- or more accurately, we play 10% of the time and argue about the calls for 90% of the time. This Super Bowl Sunday however, we may end up sitting on the bench, out of respect for the sanctity of the day.
And if we end up watching the big game this year instead of playing, I am not overly concerned that I have yet to decide who I am going to root for, because it doesn't really matter. There's only one team that is truly my team, and that's Team Jew.