Ultimate honor goes to rabid Jewish 49er fan from S.F.

The No. 1 fan of the San Francisco 49ers isn't a beer-guzzling couch potato from Burlingame or a Volvo-driving wine snob from Mill Valley.

He's a 56-year-old member of Conservative Congregation Ner Tamid in San Francisco.

Marty Jacobs — who hasn't missed a 49ers home game since the 1950s, when his parents dragged him to Ner Tamid rather than let him go to a game that conflicted with a High Holy Day service — was recently selected as the 49ers "Ultimate Fan" in a contest sponsored by Visa.

He and winners representing the National Football League's 30 other teams were recently "inducted" into a fans' wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. A plaque with Jacobs' picture will hang there for a year.

Moreover, he'll be going back to Ohio in July to participate in festivities surrounding the real Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Fortuitously, he'll be there when 49er greats Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott and Dave Wilcox enter the hallowed hall.

No need to ask Jacobs how he feels about Montana, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

"My second wife told me I love Joe Montana more than I love her," Jacobs said.

She might have been right. Jacobs ended up divorcing his second wife — and his first wife, for that matter — largely because of his devotion to the 49ers.

His first wife, a Chinese-American who converted to Judaism so they could raise their five children in a Jewish home, divorced him after 17 years when she couldn't take his 49er mania anymore.

At their house in Rohnert Park in Sonoma County, Jacobs had decorated every room, including the dining room, with 49ers and sports memorabilia.

"She was so embarrassed. Whenever people would come over she would say, 'This is Marty's house.' I would say, 'Hey, this is your house, too.'"

Jacobs' second wife didn't fare any better trying to pry him away from the 49ers. Right before they divorced, Jacobs was given a choice: Move with his wife to a new house in Arizona paid for by his wife's parents or remain behind in the Bay Area so he could live, eat and sleep 49ers.

Although it was a major life decision, he left the choice up to a coin flip, which he won. But even if he lost, he admitted, he would have nixed the move to Arizona.

"I couldn't leave," he said. "I just couldn't leave the Niners."

Jacobs, who has remained single since then, lives with his elderly parents in the Sunset District.

His devotion to the 49ers has had other consequences, including strained relationships with his five adult children. They rarely talk to him now and are upset "because I didn't give them the attention that they deserved." As if that isn't enough, he adds that "none of them are 49ers fans.

Jacobs more than makes up for their lack of fanaticism.

He claims he wears red-and-gold 49ers caps and jackets 365 days a year. He estimates that he has attended 836 consecutive home games.

In his winning essay, Jacobs wrote that he hasn't missed a 49ers home game since 1951. But he recalled in an interview that isn't true; he had forgotten about the games that conflicted with High Holy Day services when he was a kid in the mid-1950s.

"I guess I did miss about three or four games back then, but I don't consider that a miss, because the High Holy Days were a separate category. I was emotionally with the 49ers. I wanted to be at the game, but I had to go to temple to please my parents."

To extinguish the "vicious arguments" he and his parents had over the issue, a compromise was reached: Jacobs' parents took him to what was then the 49ers' home, Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park, and let him buy a program before heading to synagogue.

Fortunately, it was the off-season when Jacobs celebrated his bar mitzvah at Ner Tamid in March 1956.

At age 6, he saw his first game. By age 9, "I was addicted to 49er football," he wrote in his essay. "A 15-cent milk coupon entitled me to my own seat. I took special pride in being the first fan in the stadium and usually the last one to leave." At age 16, he started working as a stadium vendor.

As a youth, he begged the players for their chinstraps after the games. Once, a player gave him a cracked helmet; another time, future Hall of Famer Hugh McElhenny gave him a torn jersey.

Jacobs' Judaism took a back seat to his enthusiasm for the 49ers, but he was active in the AZA youth club, serving as the editor of the Willard Blackfield chapter newsletter.

But most of his time was usurped by the 49ers. As a student at George Washington High in San Francisco, he incorporated 49ers players and colors into his art projects. He also produced a 30-minute film called "Nothing Could Be Finer Than to Be a 49er" with his father's 8mm camera.

After a stint in the Army — fortunately for him, he was stationed at Ford Ord near Monterey and was able to sneak away every time the 49ers had a home game — he opened the Sports Stop in 1972, when he was 29.

Specializing in sports apparel and souvenirs, the enterprise grew into a five-store chain in San Francisco, the North Bay and Las Vegas that earned Jacobs a lot of money. By age 38, he was traveling to 49ers away games and Super Bowls. At age 50, he sold the business and retired.

He also dabbled in high-priced sports collectibles, selling a set of Mohammed Ali's robe and trunks for $25,000 and a Babe Ruth bat for $1,200.

Jacobs said he isn't active in the Jewish community but does attend High Holy Day services. He takes pride that his children are "very involved" in Judaism. His son Joshua won a gold medal in the 400-meter relay in the World Maccabiah Games in 1997.

Jacobs almost deserves a gold medal for keeping his 49ers attendance streak alive despite not having season tickets since 1980.

He simply goes to the stadium on game day and buys a ticket from a scalper. He said he always gets a prime seat location and has never paid more than $50.

Such a strategy is easier when attending a game alone — and Jacobs, dressed in his 49ers cap and jacket, always goes alone.

"A lot of my Jewish relatives have this attitude about them, that they have to go first-class on everything," he said. "I'm the opposite. I'm the kind that will go through the back door and sneak in."

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.