By Ashley Luthern | firstname.lastname@example.org
It started with Joe Montana.
Danny Gregory, 29, noticed his cousin’s poster of the legendary San Francisco 49ers quarterback and at age 9 became a fan.
“I fell in love with the team,” he said.
How in love?
When Danny and his wife, Brittney, added a bedroom to their Berlin Center home, they decided to add a second room for Danny’s 49ers memorabilia, which ranges from homemade collages to a football autographed by Jerry Rice when the lauded wide receiver was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I’ve had a room like this in every house that I’ve lived in. Each time, I try to make it bigger. A lot of people think I’m obsessed, but you accumulate a lot of stuff,” Danny said.
Brittney painted the room red and gold, but it’s hard to tell because memorabilia covers most of it. There’s a leather bracelet Danny made in fourth-grade art class, a collection of Wheaties boxes, framed photos he took himself at games, plates, Sports Illustrated issues and even a 49ers toaster.
“None of that stuff gets by me,” he said.
And there are sentimental items: A stocking Brittney made, mementos from friends and a Steelers onesie and bib next to a Niners blanket. Danny had planned to give the Steelers items to his best friend, Gar Cole, of
Wellington, to celebrate the upcoming birth of Cole’s son.
But he didn’t get the chance. Cole, his wife, Simone, their daughter, Ryleigh, and their unborn child were killed in a car accident in November 2010.
“Gar was a Steelers fan, and I have a lot of good memories of him. He was my best friend,” said Danny, who also is from Wellington. “I took Gar to his first pro game, when the Steelers played the Browns.”
Danny’s wife, Brittney, was a casual Steelers fan but turned over her gear to Cole when she married Danny seven years ago.
“I was a Steelers fan when I met Danny. I had a couple of jerseys, a coat. He said all of that Steelers stuff has got to go. I knew it went to a loving fan,” Brittney said.
THE YOUNGSTOWN 49ERS
Although the 49ers are San Francisco’s professional football team, their owners John and Denise DeBartolo York are based in Boardman. The DeBartolo Corp.’s Market Street building prominently displays the team’s emblem.
Danny said he didn’t know about the connection, but when he saw the corporate building, he snapped a photo for his collection. He and his family have gone to the Holiday Inn when the players are visiting and this year, they met kicker David Akers.
“It’s almost fate. I’m a homebody, and the one time I move, it’s to a place with a Niners connection,” Danny said.
Many in the Mahoning Valley embrace the 49ers because of the team’s local ties.
“It’s like a second or third local team if you count the Steelers with the Browns,” said Fred Whitacre Jr., of Girard.
Whitacre, a teacher at Warren G. Harding High School, describes himself as a Niners super fan: “If 49er fandom was a city, I’d like to think I’d be the mayor.”
It started decades ago when he and his father were at a garage sale and found a 49ers baseball cap with earbuds and a radio built into it. Whitacre persuaded his father to buy the hat and has been a Niners fan ever since.
“Even though the team is very much a San Francisco team, it definitely has roots in the Valley,” he said.
John Young is a 49ers fan because of the Valley connection. He and his wife Marguerite Young graduated from Cardinal Mooney High School with Denise DeBartolo York. John is now Mooney’s principal.
“The Yorks are the kindest people. Since we’re friends — Denise was in our wedding and is godmother to our kids — we’ve been fans since 1977 through the lean times and good times,” Young said.
Young and eight family members are in New Orleans today to cheer the team to victory.
“This is my sixth Super Bowl. I’ve been lucky enough to go to all six. We’re 5-0, and I think it will be a jinx if we don’t go,” he said.
Their tradition is to sneak a 49ers flag into the stadium, so if Valley viewers see a flag waving, it’s probably Young and his family.
Those who couldn’t travel to New Orleans, such as diehard Niners fan Chris Taucher, 26, of Canfield, are planning parties.
“When it’s your team, you’ve got to host the party,” Taucher said.
Taucher said he’ll probably use his griddle that brands the 49ers logo into food during the party and wear a new Colin Kaepernick jersey that his mom, Jackie Mullen, gave to him as an early birthday present. He’ll also have his lucky cross around his neck.
Taucher fell for the 49ers hard during the 1994 season when he was still living in Texas, even taking his school picture in a Steve Young jersey.
“I admired the team. I knew good times were coming,” Taucher said. “I idolize Browns fans because they stick with their team.”
That was a sentiment mentioned this week by many fans who wrote to The Vindicator, including Michael Adams, 41, of Salem, who grew up in California in the 1970s.
“I’ve been 49er faithful for as long as I can remember. It’s been 18 years, but my devotion has never faded. You’ve got to be true to your team no matter what,” Adams wrote in an email.
In Berlin Center, Danny, Brittney and their children, Dillon, 3, and Kaylie, 6, will move memorabilia out to the living room for a Super Bowl bash.
Party guests who arrive without red and gold on will borrow one of Danny’s jerseys (he estimates he has about 100). Danny will wear the complete uniform, from gold football pants to team helmet.
Brittney said she’s making a Lombardi trophy out of Rice Krispies. She and the kids will be dressed in their Niners gear, too, even though Dillon has recently expressed interest in other teams.
“He kind of bucks the trend. He likes the Chargers because of the lightning bolt symbol and a while ago he said: ‘Dad, I like the Green Bean Pickers,’” Brittney said, chuckling because Dillon had meant to say the Green Bay Packers.
And if the 49ers win, Danny has a celebration in mind.
“I’m jumping in the pond in the back,” he said.