It’s July of 1980. The Cold War is in full force, and the U.S. is boycotting the Olympics that are getting underway in Moscow. The Rockford Files was officially cancelled, ending months of speculation. Billy Joel’s It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me is the #1 song in America, and The Eagles are about to break up. It is the darkest of times.
You, well, you are a San Francisco 49ers fan, and you just watched your team go 2-14 for the second consecutive team, the worst record in football. Your franchise has never won a championship. They’ve had three coaches in two seasons and Bill Walsh’s first season in San Francisco was more of the same. Your franchise is a haven for ne’er do wells and has beens, as Jim Plunkett and an aging O.J. Simpson have been key acquisitions in recent years.
Against this backdrop, a mysterious man appears at your door, offering you a Faustian bargain. Renounce your claim to being a fan of the 49ers, he shows, and experience the best the NFL has to offer. He shows you a Magic 8-Ball shaped like a football, and explains that if you accept, every off season, it will reveal the name of a different franchise. The Magic Football has knowledge of the future, he explains. It knows how teams will do. It knows that there will be four more teams added, and that a team will move to Phoenix. It knows that the NFL draft will become a thing, and explains that you must watch a guy with a flowing mane talk about 40 yard dash times as you embrace your new team each year.
He explains that if you accept the offer, you must root wholeheartedly for one year for the team it reveals, no exceptions for 32 straight seasons, and that you will draw each franchise exactly and only once. The Magic Football will maximize wins across all the franchises, so that while you may not get every team’s top season, you will get one of their best. There will be one year, he tells you, that four different teams have their best year, for example, but you will get the best of that group.
Do you accept? You are a San Francisco fan, tired of losing, and dreaming of watching good football for the next three decade. Of course, you do.
You sign the deal. He didn’t tell you that the Magic Football does not pay attention to the postseason results in defining best seasons, a small fine print feature. He hands you the Magic Football, you shake it, and it says:
Atlanta Falcons (1980): What? The Falcons? They had made the playoffs exactly once in their history, and were 6-10 the year before, barely better than the 49ers. You had visions of getting to root for the Steelers, Cowboys, or Raiders. If you are going to sell your soul, at least get the best, right?
Atlanta surprised, though, after a 1-2 start, and reeled off 11 wins in 12 games. Former first overall pick Steve Bartkowski was finally healthy and threw 31 touchdowns. They clinched their first division title ever against your former team in December. They went on to claim the #1 seed in the NFC, and got to play the Cowboys at home, with Danny White at quarterback. You watch Atlanta jump to a 24-10 lead entering the fourth quarter, and dream of Super Bowl glory. Then, the Cowboys rally with 20 points to win it in what still stands as the most devastating loss in Atlanta history.
Dallas Cowboys (1981): Cruel fate turns you immediately to a Cowboys fan after cursing them a month earlier. At least you get America’s Team with Danny White, Tony Dorsett, and Drew Pearson. Fate isn’t done with you yet, though. The 49ers have their best season ever, setting up a showdown in Candlestick in January of 1982. You must root for the Cowboys. You get to watch The Catch. This won’t be the last time Joe Montana makes you pay.
Los Angeles Raiders (1982): Fittingly, the Magic Football reveals a team that moves cities for you to cheer next. You watch excitedly in the draft as Marcus Allen falls to the Raiders. You anticipate that second round pick Jack Squirek will make an impact–and he will, for you, later. The 1982 season is interrupted by a player’s strike, but you watch as the Raiders go 8-1. Then, you watch in the playoffs as your team for the third straight year loses a fourth quarter lead, this time to the Jets.
Washington Redskins (1983): Ahh, finally you draw a team coming off a Super Bowl win, and dream of a repeat. Washington sets a NFL record for points in a season, and rolls to a second Super Bowl appearance. There, the Raiders, Jack Squirek, and Marcus Allen await.
Miami Dolphins (1984): You watch every minute of Dan Marino’s record setting 48 touchdown season. You watch Marino lose to Montana and the 49ers in the Super Bowl. San Francisco 2, Magic Football 0. You try to hire a lawyer to get you out of the deal with Mephistopheles. He tells you to gut it out, and unlike NFL player contracts, this one has to be honored.
Chicago Bears (1985): You get to purchase a Super Bowl Shuffle video as the Bears tear through the league. You watch as the guy who you rooted for the year before ends the perfect season. You brace yourself for postseason disappointment. Finally, though, you draw a champion.
New York Giants (1986): Two years, two championships, as the Giants win their first Super Bowl. You now hate Joe Montana with every cell in your body, so you celebrate gleefully when Jim Burt drills Montana into the turf, as New York rolls to a 49-3 win.
Cleveland Browns (1987): What might have happened if the strike didn’t happen, and a week 3 game rematch of Denver at Cleveland occurred? Chase Stuart had a breakdown of how history might have changed. As it turned out, though, Cleveland did not get a chance to beat Denver at home, and finished 1/2 game behind Denver. The Browns still were in the game, and had a chance to tie late, when Earnest Byner joined football lore with The Fumble.
Cincinnati Bengals (1988): You spend two straight years in Ohio, proving the Magic Football also has a sense of humor. You become the pre-eminent Ickey Shuffle expert in the country as your team rolls to the #1 seed in the AFC. You love the no huddle offense and watch Boomer Esiason put up astounding numbers. Then, your team draws those 49ers again. You know the rest: John Candy, Joe Montana, and John Taylor. You begin to wonder why you haven’t gotten one chance to root for San Francisco.
San Francisco 49ers (1989): Finally, you shake the Magic Football in March and watch the words “San Francisco 49ers” appear. You cover your Joe Montana wounds from the last decade and root for Rice and Montana. They do not disappoint, rolling through the year in dominating fashion, and destroying Denver in the Super Bowl 55-10.
What will the next decades bring? You’ve watched your teams win a combined 82% of their regular season games and go to six Super Bowls, winning three. Of course, your former team won four. You’ve been on the wrong end of the Duel in Dixie, The Catch, and The Fumble. Part II is coming up, see if you can guess how evil the Magic Football will be.
[photo via US Presswire]