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faith. by definition, it's something that is felt with strong conviction, without tangible evidence of its existence. many claim to have it, but how do we attain it? it can't be held. it can't be sold. but it can be passed down. faith is invaluable to those who feel it. how is it that this belief can unite us regardless of our differences? it's because of conviction. that feeling inside that links so many, from the far corners of the earth to the closest reaches of our neighborhoods. faith is all around us. >> everything hangs in the balance now. >> faith brings from a glorious path forward to a promising future. the faith of those who not so
quietly defeated rivals can redefine record books and inspire their brethren today to reach an epic accomplishment. and all along, there are those who cheer. in their minds, they envision. in their hearts, they believe. and because of that, they are simply known as "the faithful." >> growing up in el paso, texas, pretty much everybody is a cowboys fan. >> growing up, i was 16. i went over to my cousin's house, and her mom is a big niners fan. a football game was on. i was like, ok, so i was watching the game. and she was pointing out to me like their quarterback. and it happened to be joe montana. and i was like, who's that guy? so when i did meet gary, i had asked him, do you like football? and he was like, yeah. and i was like, oh, god, here is another cowboys fan.
he told me, no, i'm a niners fan. >> she didn't believe me. h she thought her parents told me to say 49ers. when i asked her who do you like? she said 49ers. and i said, no way. i couldn't believe it. i had to take it to my house and show her all my knickknacks and my hats and my shirts. >> he was all freaked out when i told him we're going to get married now and have little niner babies, which we do, but back then it wasn't so funny. >> high school sweethearts from the lone star state linked not only for their fri49ers but the hatred of a team that dominated the region. however, these native texans would venture west to the arid desert of arizona, where they still rooted for their niners. >> we lived in casa grande,
arizona. when we moved out there, we had some neighbors who were very football oriented. they were big vikings fans. and gary and mike would kind of go at it. they would both hang their flags outside. it was great. >> inspiration. it comes to different people in different forms. and for gary and diana martinez, that inspiration came from an invite, an invite that would change their lives and open their eyes to what would be the genesis of an idea. >> he invited us to go watch the niners versus the vikings came. >> we ended up coming down to tempe, and went over to the brewery. >> when we went out there, i'm not kidding you, it was a sea of purple. when you walked in there, the vikings vibe was awesome. >> from the patio all the way inside the bar, nothing but a sea of purple. >> this is what we wanted. and when we left, i told mike, i'm so jealous that you guys have a place like this. in arizona, away from minnesota, and you guys are like one.
>> just to see it, and i'm thinking to myself, there's got to be something for us. >> a need for a place that could be called their own. a simple idea, with no simple answers. the start-up az 49er empire was on the look for new members and a watering hole that was sympathetic to their cause. and they found just the place. the native new york. it helped catapult the chapter to numbers they had never imagined. >> we wanted a familiar place to call home, and to feel welcome. and being away from home home and in arizona, we needed to create our own family. >> family. a simple word with so many definitions. definitions that don't necessarily have to do with blood line as much as a common bond. that bond for many of the az 49er empire was created by a move to arizona and the need for a group that shared each others'
faith. >> coming down here and being born and raised in san francisco and being a dire 49ers fan, i used to go to games out in california. moving to arizona, it's not really 49er country. but my roots are always with the 49ers. obviously, arizona is not 49er country. but being part of the az empire makes me feel like it actually is. went into a sports bar one day. and the empire was in a room. somebody looked at my jersey. gary, diane, and the rest of the empire was in there. and from there, that's where it all started. >> it started out with three or four people to sit in the bar and watch a game on the small tv. >> we called that place home until recently, where this club just blew up. there were too many people in there. people were getting turned away. >> like any good leaders would do, gary and diana began the search yet again for the well-being of the club. their search might not have turned up any takers, except like the namesake of the team they dearly loved, they struck
gold in the heart of the city. >> we were out with a friend of ours, just having a drink. and we saw the flags outside. and i was excited. i'm like, any bar that has niner flags outside deserves our business. so we came in, and we were hanging out. and steven, he tapped me on the shoulder. >> i see this tattoo, and i tap her on the shoulder and i'm like, what's up? do you have any idea we're a 49er bar? >> and i said, yeah, saw the flag. very excited to be here. we couldn't believe that there were niner flags outside the bar. >> my whole goal was to get you guys to come, to bring those stars and throw the party here basically. >> i was, like, sold.
what the niner empire is all about, basically if you're a fan, you're part of the niner empire. there's a 49er group located in enemy territory. that's about the best way i can put it. >> we see you're a 49ers fan, and we know how difficult it is to be a fan in arizona. and we have this fantastic group. it doesn't cost anything to be a part of it. all you have to do is show up and show your love for our team. and be part of it. and that's all it takes. >> nestled smack dab in the heart of cardinal country, a collection of 49er fans organized almost a decade ago.
from humble beginnings, the group grew. with every passing season, the az 49er empire expanded as the word spread to its faithful. >> it's a blessing to see everybody come together after all of these years of struggling with just a little crowd. >> i didn't know there were this many 49er fans in phoenix until i started, you know, hanging out with the empire. >> definitely they're good people. it's kind of like san francisco. one of the most diverse places you could be a part of. being born and raised out there, maybe that's a reason i have an attachment here because i feel like i'm at home. >> we didn't anticipate to be this big at all. as the word keeps spreading, niner fans are coming out of everywhere where they were at home watching tv by themselves or got together with, like, a group of four. >> being faithful outside the bay area can be a challenge, but to do so in the backyard of a divisional foe adds a difficult element. the president of the az 49er
empire has created an oasis for game day, where his group can enjoy the game. >> yes. on game day, this is our island. this is kind of like, you know, the mecca of 49er fans. we all feel safe here. no one is going to mess with us, and no one is going to talk trash or anything like that. >> we do have a rowdy bunch. and we do have a quiet bunch. everybody finds their way around things. but when we are together, we are pretty much rowdy because we feed off of each other. >> they wanted somewhere that was a die-hard 49er bar, and we were willing to give them that. >> on the corner of south mill and east 5th street in tempe, arizona, you'll find a little slice of heaven if you're a fan of the 49ers. footsteps away from arizona state university's campus, bar owner and manager steven sperry flies the flag, literally, for the faithful. >> i knew from the first meeting with them that they were serious
about this. this was their life. and i wasn't going to screw it up. we did everything from put up their banner, you know, like we have it up 24/7. we have flags flying out front all the time. we really take care of them. >> because the staff and, you know, management are 49er fans, they know and understand us. they expect what we expect. you know, we want the 49ers blasted in. they want that too. >> it's been nothing but a blessing to us. we use their audio equipment. we play our niner music. the manager told me you can have every tv on the 49ers, and the sound is unbelievable. we have an arcade here that we open up for the kids. >> going there and seeing the game, it's real exciting. real exciting. >> we get you pumped up. if you're sitting at home on the couch and you live in arizona, come out here. it's an experience like no other.
>> second and 7. palmer. and at caught by san fran! >> now we've got 200 people here every sunday. >> sunday is unbelievable. i can tell you this. you want to talk about emotion, we had a recent game. and at the end of it, i felt like i played because i was that physically drained. everybody turns out. it's all for one and one for all. >> we take a lot of heat on a weekly basis. people see our flags and they're like, what the heck are you doing? and especially being in arizona it's hard to be a fre49er bar. but for all the hate during the week, we get rewarded on the weekend. the whole place is decorated. people driving by on the road have no idea what's going on. they are like what the heck is going on at ringo starr? they just don't understand. >> the party that happens each and every week is just that. a party. fun. rowdy. loud. emotional.
and one other thing. organized. the secret to success for gary and his crew is communication. so much so that the chapter formed a democratic group that takes the group's well-being to heart, but none more than its faithful leader. >> first time i met him, we ended up talking for like an hour and a half. you can tell here's super dedicated to the club. >> i can't speak for all the empire so much because this is the only one i've been a part of. but i can't imagine anyone who brings the people together like he does. >> gary is always striving to create a great atmosphere. >> he is such a good guy with a good heart. all he wants to do is for everyone to get along and be happy and having fun. >> there's a lot of behind the scenes that happens with different people doing different stuff. but when it really comes down to it, gary does make this group.
a lot of people do look up and gary, and they'll say while you're not there, i'm not sure if i want to be there. >> he's emotional attached to the 49ers. i went to his house. he has memorabilia everywhere. you would look around, and he has pictures of the golden gate. and he has a picture of himself back as a little kid in school on a bicycle with a black 49ers coat. i had the same coat. if you go to his house right now, he has that coat hanging in his closet looking brand-new. he takes good care of it. his son wears it. i'm trying to find one right now. it's a classic. ♪ >> the group as a whole is probably one of the most energetic crowds i have ever been around. when you're around this group, it's like a constant tailgate. almost like you're going to the game whether you're tailgating, or sitting together in a box seat, they just bring that kind of energy. >> my favorite part is being
with a bunch of die-hard loyal 49er fans that love the team like i do. we've had to ride the highs and lows, but it's just the atmosphere. >> knowing that you're going to see your family and it's going to be a great time. >> if you can't be at the stadium, the next best thing is to be with a big group of people that love it and enjoy it as much as you do.
jack. what? it's not even a meal? right now, at my place you can get my spicy chicken club combo. it's my classic spicy chicken breast with bacon and melting cheese on toasted sourdough plus fries and a drink for just $4.99. aww, you're just a big softy. nah, i'm still sad about the popcorn. the az 49er empire is not only a club, but it is basically people that love 49ers that live here in arizona, just like the 49er organization, they are very, very classy. we treat people here with class and respect. >> class and respect. it's not only the foundation of the az 49er empire founded in 2006 by gary martinez, but also the foundation of every family. a word that's used often but not lightly by those who don the red
and gold. >> it's like a big family atmosphere. we follow each other on facebook. even weddings, births. >> we all have one thing in common, it's a love for the 49ers. we all feel like we're all brothers and sisters here. >> it's just very inviting. very family oriented. >> you've met with someone and you know right away if they are going to be in your life long-term or short-term. these people are all long-term. >> when we come here, it's one big family. >> my family doesn't live here. these people are my family. >> we all love each other. >> the team brought us together. >> we have a thing we started last year called the niner helping niners. we need to help our own. we felt like since we are a family, we need to take care of our own family. >> after successfully creating a community that rallying around their team and professes their faithfulness, gary and the az 49er empire decided to take it to the next level, focusing on the people in the group. they would choose one person
within their family to follow their love to each year. though the group knew it would be successful, they might not have known how personally touching it would be. >> one of our niner members who was having job issues, we thought why not do a christmas angel thing? >> a year ago, i was in a car accident. i missed a lot of work. there was little money for christmastime, and it was really hard on me. i mentioned it to one of the girls in the empire. one day, gary, his wife and two boys showed up at my door with gift cards and money from the niner for niners charities. they made it possible for me to have gifts for my children and food on the table for christmas. >> it was a blessing to show up unannounced and be like, hey, it's not much, but it's something and it will get you by. they were just so grateful. >> i remember just crying and going to work with a big smile on my face. it was a while since i had smiled. i was trying to play catch-up
with my bills and knowing i wouldn't be able to provide for my kids that christmas. and it was very humbling, you know, to know there's a lot of people out there that actually care for you. >> in times of need, comfort isn't always easily found. such was the case for mark sanchez, a devout faithful and member of the az 49er empire. mark suffered a devastating loss when his 13-year-old daughter and six other family members were struck by a semistruck that crossed the median. tragically, all were fatally injured. no words or prayers could replace the hole left in his heart, but that didn't stop the group from remaining empathetic, loyal, and most importantly an outlet for sanchez in his time of need. >> july 29, 2012, i lost my daughter.
it was just hard to watch the game after that, you know. for me and a lot of others, what you live and breathe every day, not just the season. and those months waiting for the season, the little things like that. >> taking solace in numbers, watching the game with friends. those are the therapeutic things that we often overlook when we think of a football game. perhaps it's not just wins that can heal a wounded soul. sometimes it's something even deeper. >> it's good to see it. does it help? you can sit at home and see a win. but when you have a loss, it's good to look around and seeing people in the jersey and not giving up, you know what i mean? it's family. >> the group has become a family in its own way. and, yes, we all do look out for one another. when mark lost his daughter, that was very -- a very hard and
traumatic experience for him and his family. so we all -- the group rallied, and we took do nations, held a car wash. there was a lot of people involved with trying to support the sanchez family during that difficult time. so this is not just a fan group. it's truly a family. >> that's the kind of thing you take away, which we would have never found had we not had the empire. >> they were just there. people that reach out to you even when you don't ask for it, when you all you have in common is a team. >> commonality. that's what makes being a fan so special. it's knowing a person before you have even met them. it's sharing a bond because of a color or logo. and then having that bond grow and flourish.
not only as a fan, but love for one another. too often we forget how important that bond is. but we only have to pull up to see it at the ringo starr and tip back a few with the az niner empire. >> we're definitely the 49er faithful, because we really believe in this organization, we believe in this game. niners until we die. >> the faithful is you're there for the team. whether win or lose, good season or bad season, you're always there for the team. it doesn't matter. we've had years that were not so great. but we still came. we still rooted for them with all our heart. we cheered, and we still had a good time because we love the team. we don't love just the wins. we love the team. >> being part of something you truly believe in, you've got to feel it, live it, be part of it completely. i can't wait until sunday because i can't wait to see my niners play, and watch them play with these super people.