The San Francisco 49ers are playing in the Super Bowl this weekend. (You might already know that.) It’s their sixth visit, but their first since 1994. The media has been covering the event like crazy, just like they do every year, so we were looking for a new angle … and we found something … old. Actually, someone.
Mart Bailey has been a 49ers fan since 1946, when the team played its very first game. And she was there when the brand new hometown team beat the Chicago Rockets in a home game at Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park. I sat down with the woman who is arguably the 49ers most faithful fan to talk about the team then and now.
I met with Mart in the sunny front room of the Noe Valley apartment she has lived in for over fifty years. She’s always impeccably made-up and ready to go. Mart’s traveled all around the world and made friends wherever she stopped. She always wears one of her signature lavender outfits––except for this week. She’s making an exception to put on some 49ers red and gold.
She was born in February of 1923 in San Francisco. Twenty-three years later, she was at Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park, watching the 49ers take the field for the first time.
She tells me that she “always liked football” and “went to all the football games in high school.” So when San Francisco got a football team, she “naturally wanted to go see them play.”
Because she wasn’t too rich, she always just bought her tickets at the gate. She can’t remember what they cost that first season, but said “it couldn't be very much if I went to games.” She used the money she got babysitting.
The cost of tickets was well worth it. Seeing professionals play, live, was thrilling and exciting.
Part of the excitement came from watching the team’s star player.
“I did fall madly in love – as everybody did – with the quarterback, who was Frankie Albert at the time. You know, he was a little go-getter,” Mart said.
Frankie Albert is widely considered to be one of the best left-handed quarterbacks ever. He was a master of legerdemain who’d pretend to hand the football off, and then run the ball in the other direction.
Mart Bailey didn’t know too much more about him or any of the players than what she saw on the field––the 24-hour sports news cycle hadn’t revved up to today’s level.
“You saw them play and just loved watching them,” says Mart. Of Albert, she recalls, “I think he was everybody's favorite and he was short.”
Albert was barely 5’10”. Compared to the starting quarterbacks in Sunday’s Super Bowl: the Niners’ Colin Kaepernick is 6'4" and the Ravens’ Joe Flacco is 6'6". The players look different today, and the media coverage is incomparable. And, Mart thinks that football now is a little less about the local fans and the glory they bestowed on their hometown heroes.
“Business is business, that's what it's all about now,” she says. “It seems more like it's more the money, more the – you know when it's so expensive to go to the games and people that buy season tickets are, blows my mind when they tell me.”
In the new stadium opening up in Santa Clara, season tickets start at nearly a hundred dollars a game – after a licensing fees to get seats, which costs several thousand dollars apiece, even for season ticket holders at Candlestick. That’s a lot of babysitting.
But Mart’s still a fan. After 67 years, she says she’ll always be.
“I enjoy watching it on TV. You can get up and go have a beer whatever you want, you know, so I have seen a couple of games,” Mart says.
In a city of transients and newcomers, Mart Bailey, and the San Francisco 49ers, are both longtime natives. But while the football team is working on its third stadium, one of its first fans is staying put.