042721-Shirley-FB

Most 81-year-old grandmothers are content spending their Sunday afternoons quietly at home. Not Shirley Caracci. Sunday means football for Shirley, specifically 49ers football. It's been that way since the 1950s, long before she became a 49ers season ticket holder.

"My dad was a big 49ers fan," she said. "He followed the team from the beginning in 1946. He got us involved with the 49ers. There was no TV back then. We were lucky if we got the games on the radio."

Listening to the Bob Fouts and Lon Simmons radio broadcasts led to a lifelong devotion to the 49ers. By the mid-1950s she was hooked.

"There was a game in 1957 or 1958. John Brodie was at quarterback. We ended up losing and I just cried and cried. My dad told me, 'if you're going to cry, we're not going to listen to the games anymore.'"

In her teenage years, football Sundays involved a 300 mile trip from the family home in McCloud, a tiny town in the shadow of Mt. Shasta, to San Francisco's Kezar Stadium. They often traveled by train, sometimes by car. At Kezar, they had a connection they could rely on for tickets. Henry Schmidt, the 49ers team trainer in the 1950s and 1960s, and affectionately known as Schmitty, took care of that.

"Henry Schmidt was an old family friend," Shirley said. "He always called me 'Queenie.' He would leave tickets for us at will call."

Kezar Stadium was well-known for its notoriously tiny locker room. Players and coaches often spilled out of the clubhouse and onto the adjacent sidewalk and parking lot. They were easily accessible to fans.

"My favorite players were Matt Hazeltine and Hugh McElhenny," she said. "They were such good players. I talked to Y.A. Tittle one time after he came through the tunnel."

Through the 1960s and 1970s, Shirley watched the team through thick and thin. Then in the 1980s she purchased 49ers season tickets. It came at just the right time. Super Bowl championships were on the horizon. One of her favorite moments was the 1981 NFC Championship Game win over Dallas, also known as "The Catch" game. It led to the 49ers first Super Bowl appearance.

That was so emotional. We never seemed to beat Dallas. All those playoff games (1970, 1971, 1972) they beat us. To win in the last minute like that. Wonderful!” Shirley Caracci

Candlestick Park provided another heart stopping memory for Shirley -  the 1998 NFC Wild Card Game against the Green Bay Packers. Receiver Terrell Owens was having a rough day, which included a few dropped passes. He redeemed himself in the game's final seconds by nabbing quarterback Steve Young's 25-yard touchdown pass to clinch the game.

"I was sitting in Section 17. I saw the whole thing," she said. "I could see Steve Young was going to throw to Terrell Owens and I was thinking 'oh, no.'"

Owens' touchdown catch caused the Candlestick Park crowd to erupt in joyful celebration.

No one was happier for Owens than Shirley.

Gameday for Shirley no longer entails a 300 mile drive from Siskiyou County. She now lives in San Jose and rides the light rail to Levi's® Stadium. Nevertheless, her gameday preparation remains intact.

"I can be superstitious," she said. "If there is a shirt or slacks or earrings I wore the last time the 49ers won, I'll wear those again. I got that from my father. He always wore the same white striped shirt for games."

She also prepares herself with intricate knowledge of the team and individual players. Ask her about Kyle Juszczyk's rushing average and she has a quick reply.

"I love Kyle Juszczyk. He's my favorite player," she said. "He comes to work and does everything expected of him and more. He's just a quality person who goes out of his way to do things for people off the field too."

Over the years she has collected a cavalcade of team items and player autographs that span several decades, from Jerry Rice lithographs to personal notes from former team owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr.

"I wrote notes to Eddie DeBartolo a few times, usually just congratulating him on something. Then he wrote back. I still have those notes."

Shirley had a long career as an executive secretary, but is retired now. She remains active in the community by working as a courtesy clerk at Safeway.

"I still have to pay for my 49ers tickets," she said with a hearty laugh.

Those are tickets she doesn't plan to give up soon.

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