The Coach's Son CoverExcerpted from Chapter One

Just Close Your Eyes, Baby

The San Francisco 49ers had just lost the opening game of the 1963 NFL season by a score of 24–20 to the Minnesota Vikings. The barely halffilled Kezar stadium crowd of 30,781 stood in unison and showered their so-called professional football team with ridicule and loathing. Their mood was motivated by three hours of mediocre sport and fueled by generous portions of Falstaff and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. It did not matter that the team had lost their first and second string quarterbacks to season-ending injuries and had tried their hardest. It did not matter that most in attendance would forget the game as soon as they left the stadium and walked to their cars and homes through the charming Haight, or windblown majesty of Golden Gate Park. The fact that they lived in one of the most beautiful places civilization had dared to conquer mattered not one bit next to the effrontery of a bad football team that was only going to get worse. Before they left the stadium that day, they would make their feelings known and it did not matter who they offended in the process. The true villain responsible for the debacle had been identified, both by the general populous and the sporting press. His name was Chester O’Bern and his tenure as head coach of the 49ers was drawing rapidly to conclusion.

As soon as the final gun sounded, Chester walked to mid-field and shook hands with Viking head coach and old friend Norm Van Brocklin, who advised Chester to keep his chin up. The 49er team hustled off the field to avoid the derision and possible refuse being hurled in their direction. They were also mindful of the seagull flocks circling and depositing their own brand of debris while impatiently waiting to have at the litter.

Chester removed his hat, squared his shoulders and advanced slowly across the field. Sensing this might be the final time he coached in Kezar Stadium, he was going to walk out of there like a man. The deliberate pace only fueled the wrath of the profoundly inebriated patrons. As Chester approached the tunnel that led to the locker room, several men reached over the guardrail and poured full cups of beer onto the bald and reddening bull’s-eye of his head. Chester kept walking and never acknowledged the violations, but the raucous crowd was at last content and a strange victory for everyone concerned was achieved from the day.

Watching all this from the press box were the other members of the O’Bern family, including six-year-old Mark, who was attending his first football game. The day had been difficult for Mark and his older brothers, sixteen-year-old John and thirteen-year-old Paul. Soon after their arrival at the stadium, they watched their mother, Anna, unsuccessfully attempt to pour freshly brewed and boiling hot coffee on the head of a local sportswriter. Another writer thwarted her and the attempt went unnoticed and unmentioned by all but the O’Bern children. The family watched the game and listened to the crowd with dawning horror and beleaguered defiance. John and Paul did the best they could for their youngest brother, because Mom was no use at all. She was medicated and her eyes were glazed, though what recognition she showed could only be perceived as hateful.
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