Grasshopper Soup: Former 49er misses golden opportunity | SierraSun.com

Grasshopper Soup: Former 49er misses golden opportunity

Bob Sweigert
Special to the Sun

TAHOE/TRUCKEE and#8212; Most of his life Saladin Martin wanted to know if there really are eagles in Tahoe. He had been hearing rumors about them since the early eighties, maybe longer, when, as a young defensive back for the San Francisco 49ers, he came to Rocklin, CA with his team for pre-season practice at a higher elevation to increase their stamina. Thatand#8217;s when Saladin, born in San Diego, first took the opportunity to visit Lake Tahoe.

He fell in love with the lake and the mountains on his first visit. Tahoe became a yearly destination for Saladin, and other Super Bowl XVI champions from the 49ers epic ball club of the eighties. They won four Super Bowls during that decade. Saladin had his Super Bowl ring, but he never saw an eagle in Tahoe.

Last weekend, the San Francisco 49ers 12th annual fundraiser began with freshly fallen snow on an ice cold morning just a few days into Spring. For all the success the 49ers Foundation, and the 49ers Academy, has had providing education and hope for under-privileged, at-risk youth the last fifteen or twenty years, Old Man Winter made sure the event lived up to its name, WinterFest, and that Spring didnand#8217;t spoil everyoneand#8217;s fun.

I met Saladin that morning and he couldnand#8217;t wait to ask me about Tahoe eagles. I told him about my sightings of bald eagles over the years, and the two golden eagles I saw in Squaw Valley around 1995. Saladin was as excited as a little kid to hear about the legendary birds. It was obvious he really wanted to see one.

Also making sure WinterFest was a success were current 49er teammates Delaney Walker, Ricky Jean-Francois and Nate Byham. Nate plays tight end but he injured himself before the season started last year, and he never got to play. But he is good to go this year, and looking forward to great things in the upcoming season.

Nate, Delaney, Ricky, coaches, donors, family members, friends and last, but not least, the 49er cheerleaders, converged on the Resort at Squaw Creek for the family event and to support the charities. Everyone I met was a perfect example of what a privilege it is to be a 49er fan. Like everyone associated with that class-act ball club, the 49er charities are among the most successful, high quality, and praise-worthy projects in the country.

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But the ice conditions for the big curling event, even after the little Zamboni made its rounds, were not quite up to 49er, or Olympic, standards. Not even John Benton and Tracy Sachtjen, the two U.S. Olympic curling team members on hand to help everyone, could get the stone to slide very far. But they did a fantastic job with the crowd anyway.

The 49er players trying curling for the first time, hoping to remain injury free for a winning football season this year, were careful not to slip on the ice. But the crowd of participants and spectators was steaming with enthusiasm in the cold morning air.

Curling is not as easy, nor as simple, as the pros make it look. Some of the most in-shape 49er curling rookies ended up sprawled out on the ice, smiling and laughing along with their teammates, family and friends.

Then I heard a woman exclaim, and#8220;Wow! Look at that bird!and#8221; Few people looked up because of the action packed curling event in progress. What could be more interesting than that!

For Saladin, it would have been the golden eagle circling directly over his head. I looked everywhere for the man. By the time I saw him he was on his knees on the ice, with a curling stone in one hand, surrounded by 49er fans, and the eagle was gone.

All Saladin ever saw was the blue curling target painted on the ice at the other end of the skating rink.

Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 30 years.