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The Meaning of Eye Black


This year, the San Francisco 49ers want you to Put Your Game Face On in support of the team's 2008 season. Fans are invited to show their loyalty and help provide a unique home field advantage by having nearly 70,000 49ers Faithful wearing eye black in Candlestick Park.

Chief Operating Officer Andy Dolich considers the 49ers Faithful the best fans in football and sees no better connection between them and the team than to literally have it shown on people's faces. 

"That can be a really exciting and powerful opportunity," Dolich said. "You just look forward to a stadium where you have nearly 140,000 eyes with eye black under them and everybody's got their game face on along with our players on the field."

Despite not even knowing the name of the person who might be sitting in the aisle in front of or behind you, the 49ers believes the eye black allows fans to identify with one another and make an automatic connection.

According to game-goer Wayne Buder, a 49ers Faithful, the concept is catching.

"I feel as if I'm as much a part of the team as the players are," Buder said. "Forget the terrible towels, forget the 12th man, this is about nearly 70,000 fans at the stadium on game day that are an extension of the team."

Guard Tony Wragge quickly noticed the passion and excitement from the fans over the eye black stickers. 

"I think it's awesome when the fans put their Game Face on," said Wragge, who has worn eye black since college. "It's just something to see them out there in the stands with the eye black on. It's their game day, too, and they're ready to go. I love it. Every time I see it, it pumps me up."

Wragge isn't the only player who appreciates the fans sporting the eye black.

"Any time the fans can get involved with the game and bring their intensity, it gives us extra energy to feed off of," linebacker Tully Banta-Cain said.

While the 49ers are using eye black to build a connection between players and fans, the history of eye black can be traced to 1942. The first known documentation of its use in football occurred when Andy Farkas, a Washington Redskins fullback, was pictured wearing it in their 1942 team photo. In an attempt to reduce the glare from the sun during games, Farkas simply smeared the black soot from burnt cork ashes onto his cheekbones to help deflect the glare so he could see the football better.

Times have definitely changed from Farkas' day. Presently, 49ers Equipment Manager Steve Urbaniak supplies players with team-issued equipment that gives the players both a psychological and competitive edge. Part of that equipment is the eye black.

"With some players, that's part of their pregame routine," Urbaniak said. "That's kind of the switch that clicks it on. They put the eye black on and that's one of the last things they do as they go out to the field. It's kind of like they look at it as a switch to turn up their game."

Urbaniak recalled former 49ers such as Marquez Pope, Jeff Garcia and Bryant Young who used eye black as part of their intense game day preparation.


"Bryant Young was a player that wore it from time to time," Urbaniak said. "He'd come in and put that eye black on and that was one of the last things he did before he went onto the field. He was ready to go."

Historically, the use of eye black has the same symbolism as the war paint worn by different tribes and clans throughout history when going into battle against opposing forces. With its different variations of colors and markings, this war paint can symbolize courage, pride and honor.

Like a true warrior, Pro Bowl linebacker Joe Staley feels that eye black helps get him ready for action.

"Sometimes people wear it to signify intimidation to the other person," Willis said. "I wear it because it makes me look tougher and also for the same intimidation factors. I feel like if you look good, you play good."

Wragge also agrees that the eye paint gets him battle-ready.

"Every time you put it on, it's a feeling," Wragge said. "I don't like to say that anything changes in me, but I'll tell you what, it makes me aware of where I am and what I'm about to do. You put it on and whether it's game day or practice, it's go time."

Whether you are a player, or an eight-year old kid attending the game with his father and an 80-year-old grandparent, it's go time. So, pick up your eye black as you enter the stadium each Sunday and Put Your Game Face On.

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