Do you remember learning how to ride a bike? You start out with training wheels—a little extra support to keep you balanced. Then they come off, and so come the falls. But each time you fall, you get a little better at keeping your balance, and so you hop back on and try again. It hurts, and it hurts often. But when you finally break free and start pedaling on your own? It’s magical—like you just realized you can fly.
The 49ERS have been learning to ride a bike this season, only they’re riding uphill with no training wheels. They’re the youngest team in the league, and entering the season, only one player had previous experience playing organized football, meaning coach Majic Griggs is teaching on the fly. That led to tough early-season losses and frustration for players and parents alike. Griggs, though, has steered the 49ERS through to the other side.
Griggs is steeped in football experience: He was a standout wide receiver and safety during his youth in New York City, and in 2017, he joined the PFFL adult league and was voted an All-Star. Three years ago, Griggs transitioned into youth coaching, a role he feels he’s built for: “I’ve always had a passion for football and a love for working with kids...I love seeing the kids’ faces when they succeed at the game they love.”
Despite a rocky start to the season, Griggs’ vigor has permeated down to his players. “I wasn’t concerned about the losing—I was more concerned with energy and focus. Players were getting down on themselves when they made mistakes, which led to the games snowballing.” His message to the kids and their parents? “Keep the spirits high, no matter the score.”
It would have been easy to lose sight of that message—to fall off the bike and not get back up—but the 49ERS didn’t give in. Even as they found themselves shorthanded—they entered their Sunday matchup with the SAINTS a player short, forcing Finnegan from the five-to-six-year-olds division to fill in—the 49ERS kept pedaling. And when the SAINTS had the ball inside the five-yard line near the end of the game, the 49ERS kept pedaling and got the stop. As a result, the 49ERS broke free and soared, grabbing their first win with a 12–9 nailbiter over the previously unbeaten SAINTS. And the best part? The kids were so locked in, according to Griggs, they didn’t even realize they’d won. “I was already jumping up and down as soon as the ref said ‘game over.’ The kids asked, “did we win?’ I screamed, YEAHHHHH WE WONNNNN!” Spirits high, no matter the score.
When speaking about his players, Griggs gives a glowing review for each and every one. Jake was dynamic on offense, making huge plays both on the ground and through the air. Cortez controlled the field on defense, expertly outmaneuvering SAINTS players to make stops in open space. Davion’s rushing ability sparked the run game turbocharged the 49ERS offense. Levi, typically a center, moved all over the field, breaking up a pass on defense and throwing a dart to Jake (Griggs also mentions his excitement at seeing Levi “come out of his shell” this game). And Finnegan, playing up a division, relentlessly pressured SAINTS quarterbacks, managing two sacks and throwing a Finnegan-sized wrench into the SAINTS’ offensive machine.
The 49ERS haven’t reached the top of the hill yet. The final week of the regular season will see them pitted against the DOLPHINS (1–2) and COLTS (2–1), and as coach reminded them, “in football, you’re only as good as your last game.” As the season wraps up, Griggs hopes his players hold onto what this one has taught them. He wants them to “understand the effort it takes to put yourself in position to be successful,” and to “build confidence from their first PFFL season that they can bring into the next one.”
There’s a chance the 49ERS fall again next week—Griggs isn’t yet sure that they’ll have a full roster, and the doubleheader will test their physical and mental fortitude. They’ll certainly fall plenty of times long after they hang up their flags. But these 49ERS have already proven that, no matter what, they’ll get back up and keep pedaling.