Super Bowl brings back memories for Zoldan
By Joe Scalzo
They’ve slept in our hotels, visited our hospitals, practiced at our stadium and (famously) eaten our ice cream.
The owners attended our schools. So did one of the receivers.
For the past two years, the San Francisco 49ers have made Youngstown their second home.
“For one week out of the year, they’re Youngstown’s team,” said Phantom Fireworks owner Bruce Zoldan.
Considering the area’s loyalties to the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers — and mutual hatred of the Baltimore Ravens, the 49ers’ Super Bowl opponent — there’s little doubt they’ll be Youngstown’s team again today.
Twenty-three years ago, Zoldan brought his father Sam, to New Orleans to watch Eddie DeBartolo Jr.’s 49ers put a 55-10 whooping on the Broncos (and the player who did more to break Browns fans’ hearts, John Elway).
“My father grew up a Browns fan and, of course, they never made it,” Zoldan said. “The 49ers provided something the Browns couldn’t provide.”
For many, they still do. Zoldan is one of a handful of Mahoning Valley natives in the Big Easy this weekend. Sporting a Youngstown 49ers shirt and tickets to (he thinks) his 15th Super Bowl, he said memories of the 1990 game have been flooding back.
A lot has happened over the last 23 years — Eddie sold the team to his brother-in-law and sister, John and Denise DeBartolo York, who have since ceded control to their son, Jed — but Zoldan said this weekend feels a lot like the glory years.
“Being here has just brought back some wonderful memories,” he said. “In my personal opinion, there couldn’t be a nicer family than the Yorks. They are so sincere. So down-to-earth. So non-materialistic.
“They’re so typical of Youngstown. It’s so great for them to carry the torch that Eddie passed on to them.”
In late September, the 49ers spent a week in Youngstown before their game against the New York Jets. They practiced at Youngstown State’s Stambaugh Stadium, stayed in the Holiday Inn in Boardman, visited Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley and continued their love affair with Handel’s ice cream.
They also learned how to stay focused while spending a week in an unfamiliar city. Sort of like this week.
“Youngstown, they seemed to treat us well for two years in a row,” said 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith. “We are pretty much treating this week like that one.”
Added linebacker Patrick Willis, “It’s the same kind of work that we had when we were in Youngstown. The only difference now is we have to do a whole lot of media.”
Outside of Warren Harding High graduate Mario Manningham, a 49ers receiver who will miss the game due to a knee surgery, San Francisco’s Youngstown connection is mostly limited to the front office. (Like his mother, Jed York graduated from Cardinal Mooney.) But Zoldan believes many 49ers embraced the city because it reminded them of their hometowns.
“It’s small-town America,” he said. “I think the players get the feeling of being where they grew up.
“I think the 49ers can’t wait to get back to Youngstown next year and be part of a great community with all the ethnic diversity and wonderful, friendly people.”
The 49ers won seven straight games after their Youngstown trip in 2011 and won four of five after this year’s stay.
Whether it’s because they bonded or because they ate a couple pints of Spouse Like a House, the city’s been their good luck charm.
Will that continue today?
“The results speak for themselves,” Zoldan said. “I have a good feeling the game will have a good outcome.”