Columns & Blogs

Andy Furillo: Game is in Santa Clara, but San Francisco still has the Super Bowl spirit

A crowd walks toward an entrance to Super Bowl City in San Francisco on Sunday. The Denver Broncos will play the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 next Sunday in Santa Clara.
A crowd walks toward an entrance to Super Bowl City in San Francisco on Sunday. The Denver Broncos will play the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 next Sunday in Santa Clara. The Associated Press

The N Judah was packed. Giggling teenage girls shared a Ben and Jerry’s and held on tight while the streetcar bounced from the Sunset District to Market Street.

A woman held a strap and read a mystery novel. A man and his wife discussed the Warriors’ narrow escape in Philadelphia. Seven of every 12 people zeroed in on their cellphones, and fireworks, a free Chris Isaak concert and a relighting of the new Bay Bridge awaited them and hundreds of thousands more at the end of the line.

Ah, the joy of Saturday night in Super City.

Of all the places in the world, San Francisco isn’t one that needs football to enhance its self-esteem, and some San Franciscans will tell you that. The irony is, they’re not actually getting the Super Bowl – Santa Clara is, and many in this suburb of Google aren’t pleased with that circumstance. They’ll have to be satisfied with the off-site Super Bowl festivities. Maybe the Peninsula gets the game, but the fun will stay here until Santa Clara comes up with a bay view and an Irish coffee to match the Buena Vista’s.

Tye Strickland lives in the Millennium Tower, south of Market, where you can get a bedroom and two baths for as little as $2.35 million. In the checkout line at the Whole Foods on Fourth Street, Strickland said he’s concerned about Super Bowl traffic, the first thing everybody mentions when you ask how Super Bowl week is going. But transportation is not a monumental problem for Strickland. He goes into the office only three days a week at the Intel campus in Santa Clara. In the meantime this week, he feeds off Super Bowl energy.

“For the excitement it brings to the city, I think it’s worth it,” Strickland said of the car snarls. “It’s actually quite exciting to see all the people in town and the atmosphere of just being around the Super Bowl. I think the city is hyped. They’re shutting down a lot of streets and people are a little nervous, but people seem to be handling it quite well. We just took a walk with our dog on the Embarcadero, and you could see hundreds of thousands of people out there. I’m very excited to see that kind of experience.”

Along with the excitement, San Franciscans strolled downtown Saturday to the unnerving sight of police with machine guns strapped across their chests. As a civic attraction, light arms on the city streets are not the same as seeing Alcatraz by ferry, or Carol Doda back in the day when she worked the Condor Club up in North Beach. But times have changed around the world, which San Francisco is a part of, and the events of Paris and San Bernardino have played on the minds of those who create crowds.

The weaponry caught the attention of Michael Drew of Marin County. He and a friend, Kurt Muelbach, went to an afternoon showing of “The Big Short” while companions Nancy Drew and Olga Victoria attended French lessons. The four met for lunch at Oola Restaurant and Bar on Folsom Street. While they waited afterward for their Lyft, Michael mentioned, “This is the first time I’ve seen armed SWAT men on an entry way into San Francisco.”

Nancy wondered about the need for machine guns. “Because people are going to have arguments during the game?” she asked, and you never really know what you’ll need to put down a disagreement on the volatile issue of Cam Newton’s post-touchdown celebrations.

Out in the Avenues and away from the heavy weaponry of the inner city, Michael Steliga worked the bar at Yancy’s on Irving Street. It’s one of the more important sports-viewing establishments in the Sunset. In the National League divisional playoffs two years ago, you were lucky to cram in for a glimpse of Hunter Strickland while he got the final three outs in the bottom of the 18th against the Nationals. Steliga said the neighborhood Super Bowl feeling is only so-so. Maybe it’s because you can fly to L.A. faster than you can drive from the Sunset to Santa Clara.

“You’re talking a couple hours down there and a couple hours back,” Steliga said of the typical three-county commute to Levi’s Stadium. “There’s a lot of people who are not happy about it,” and the disfavor of the 49ers’ departure from the city, Steliga said, colors the locals’ view of Super Bowl 50. “There’s a little bias against it,” he said, speaking from his corner of the Sunset. “I mean the game is so far away. It isn’t even close to here.”

The 49ers used to play right around the corner from Yancy’s. LauraLi Kamelamela, who lives in the house her great-grandfather built, recalls the Kezar Stadium days and how her pop charged $5 to park in their driveway on Eighth Avenue. She and her husband, Gilbert, are up for the Super Bowl. They will remember Kezar and throw a Super Bowl party on Sunday where the parking will be free, although most attendees will arrive on foot.

Downtown, there’s a sense of the manufactured about the Super Bowl excitement, an inorganic event in a city that is GMO-free. So what. In another week or so, the Embarcadero will be returned to the displaced homeless.

As for the Super Bowl, “It’s a good thing for the city,” said LauraLi Kamelamela, and if only they played the game in Kezar, she could make a killing off it.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo