Alexis Terrazas/Special to The ExaminerWhat’s under the hood? Chris Mejia shows off his ’72 Cutlass

Niners Faithful show off devotion after team’s best start since 1997

Some get tattoos, while others tailgate and dress up.

But when a 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass drove past Chris Mejia while at work nearly 10 years ago, he knew exactly how he was going to showcase his 49ers pride.

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“I thought, ‘I gotta figure out a way to let people know I’m a fan,’” Mejia said, who purchased the car shortly after seeing it. “Someone like me is going to spend tons of money on their car to show everybody, ‘Yeah, I’m a fan.’”

What was originally a 1970s stock muscle car, Mejia slowly customized into a scarlet and metallic gold machine with a massive 49ers emblem that is only visible when one pops the hood.

“I was so pumped,” said Mejia, 35.

Though Mejia, a current season ticket-holder, has religiously attended Candlestick Point for 12 years with his car by his side, he has displayed his fanaticism long before this recent run of success.

Like many faithful, Mejia mulled through the previous eight doldrums seasons, oftentimes watching his team, as he phrased it, get their “a– handed to them.” And with his 49ers seemingly a shoo-in for the playoffs, he poses a question that is on the minds of many around the league: What’s different about this team as opposed to last year?

Some have a simple answer.

“There’s a very clean explanation for why they have success right now,” said Jamie Williams, former 49ers tight end and 1989 Super Bowl champion and current athletic director at Academy of Art University. “And that’s a new head coach — Jim Harbaugh.”

A former NFL quarterback, Harbaugh has lifted a saddened team of seasons passed from the slough of inferiority, starting with the transformation of quarterback Alex Smith, who was ridiculed for bad play last year.

“The thing that I see with Alex Smith is that he looks a little more comfortable in his own skin,” Williams said. “He’s playing with confidence that obviously coach Harbaugh has been able to inject in him.”

Williams recalled a moment this spring when someone asked Harbaugh a question regarding Smith’s lack of abilities. “Harbaugh silenced the guy and said, ‘listen, Alex is one of our guys. And all I care about is what our guys are going to do to win,” Williams said.

And win this season they have, posting their best start since 1997, a time when San Francisco was considered a perennial contender for the Lombardi Trophy.

“My excitement … it’s off the wall,” Mejia said, who owns seats behind the 49ers’ sideline and four rows back of the 49-yard line. And others feel the same.

“I love football,” Marielle Mathews said, a New York Native and converted Niners fan who tailgates with her friend Derinda Gaumond. But despite their excitement, there is a tinge of sadness when talk arises of the Niners relocating to Santa Clara.

“The connection with San Francisco, that’s what I’ll miss,” Gaumond said.

But for now, the faithful will continue to do what they’ve done through the first half of the 2011 season.

“We are taking our respect,” Mejia said. “And we prefer it like that.”

Coming in droves

49ers’ home attendance:

</tr>

PER GAME TOTAL
2011* 69,732 (12th in NFL) 418,392 (second in NFL)
2010 69,732 (11th in NFL) 488,124 (25th in NFL)
2009 69,732 (12th in NFL) 557,856 (11th in NFL)

* Through six games

Source: ESPN.com

Fanatics raise the roof

“It’s like 1981 all over again. We didn’t expect it to happen. Now, it’s really happening.”Stacy Samuels, 61, Fairfax, aka “Banjo Man” and “Super Niner,” has played his banjo at every 49ers home game for the last 30 years, equipped with his 49ers cape and rainbow propeller hat

“This is our church. It’s amazing. The last eight years, it’s been horrible. It’s been pretty hard to come to the games.”Adam Torres, 36, Redwood City, 15-year season ticket-holder, tailgates out of his taqueria van with an HDTV hooked up to a dish

“[Jim Harbaugh] seems to coach Alex [Smith] with realism about his abilities. He’s not asking him to go out and put up Tom Brady’s numbers. He’s asking Alex to go out and manage the team … manage the moment.”Jamie Williams, former 49ers tight end and 1989 Super Bowl champ, current athletic director at Academy of Art University

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