Levi’s Stadium is nearly deserted on game days of late. The proud 49ers mascot since the 1970s, Sourdough Sam, remains. SFist spoke with the man behind Sam's mask — whose name is a carefully guarded secret, as well as 49ers Mascot Manager Constantine Abramson. The duo give unique insight into what it’s like without The Faithful there on Sundays, how the mascot’s role has changed during Covid-19, and the feeling of being the last fan in the stands for the San Francisco 49ers.
With little in the way of direction from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell this season as far as league-wide policy regarding fan attendance at games, electing instead to defer to state governments, different protocols have been enforced across different stadiums. Watching the season opener on Thursday Night Football with the Houston Texans taking on the Chiefs in Kansas City, one might forget that KC was not in fact immune to the novel coronavirus, with a stadium on TV that was littered with fans. At Levi’s Stadium, however, it’s a different story entirely. The only fan still in the stands on Sundays that’s not a paper cut-out is Sourdough Sam, the franchise’s treasured mascot.
Constantine Abramson, or Coach DC as he is known throughout the Niners organization, is the Mascot Manager, and in charge of all of Sourdough Sam’s social media, getting his content out, scheduling him for appearances, as well as getting him to where he needs to be on game day. “For the most part,” Coach DC shared confidently, “Sourdough Sam has it taken care of, going out to tailgates, being a role model in the community.” Sourdough Sam’s birthday is April 9th (for its numerical value). Those who have been to games over the years and have had the chance to see him in action know he’s athletic, loving, and welcoming. He loves breakdancing and can’t help but groove when he hears the music. It’s his tic. “He’s a giant ball of fun,” Coach DC added, “Any time hanging out with Sourdough Sam, on the Richter scale, it’s a 20.”
This season, much has changed for Sourdough Sam on game day. “Going into the first game, there was a lot of different prep and work to get there. With the NFL and Covid, a lot of things have changed,” Coach DC said. Sourdough Sam wears a mask, even on game day, and promotes wearing a mask while outside and with others. Had he travelled with the team to New York against the Jets, perhaps his presence alone might just have saved Head Coach Kyle Shanahan and the team $350,000 dollars in fines this week levied from the league for not wearing masks during the game.
When the 49ers go on the road, Sourdough Sam does not usually attend, unless invited to NFL Mascot vs Peewee Football. If he’s not on the road with the team, you can normally find Sourdough Sam hitting up a watch party or making appearances in the community, doing birthday parties, football clinics, and school visits and assemblies. This year, however, Sam has shifted to creating content and supporting other brands, as well as creating education videos to promote STEAM education and learning in general.
Some changes are bigger than others. Sourdough Sam’s dressing room, where he has a small goldmine set up for his props and signs, is now located a little closer to the action.
The biggest changes to Sourdough Sam’s role on game day are felt at the stadium. An eeriness pools in each end zone amongst the $149 paper cutout ghosts, below the fog and smoke from nearby fires, while a loud but still seemingly-distant manufactured crowd noise drones on without falter. It’s almost dreamlike, or nightmarish, with Sam bringing the same energy for every play despite no fans to cater to.
Neither Sourdough Sam nor Coach DC are feeding anyone any excuses. “Whether it’s one, 1,000, or 10,000, you still gotta give it your all, you still gotta perform,” Coach DC explained. “It took Sourdough Sam a second to adapt, but he quickly got into the groove of everything.”
Coach Shanahan, the players, Coach DC, and Sourdough Sam will all tell you the same thing: they miss The Faithful. “We’re a little overjoyed to see everyone again, the familiar Faithful, season ticket holders, the fans that come dressed up every game, Sam’s #1 fans,” Coach DC said. “It’ll be like seeing your friend after a long break of summer, like back to school with everyone reunited.”
Combine the Niners success in recent years with an exciting brand of football and an insatiably loyal fanbase and you have a recipe for one loud, raucous horde. “The crowd noise the last few seasons, the energy in Levi’s has gotten bigger and bigger,” Coach DC beamed. “To see the fans’ energy go up to this max level has been really awesome to witness.” It’s what Sourdough Sam misses the most, and can’t wait to get back.
Sourdough Sam will tell you he has no enemies or rivals and his best bud is Swoop from the Philadelphia Eagles. In fact, NFL mascots across the league are pretty close. “Once the pandemic happened, we all jumped on Zoom to talk about the future and what’s happening,” Coach DC explained. “NFL mascots and managers group together at mascot summits, we’ll talk shop and see what everyone is doing. There’s a little love lost for the game, but it all comes back.”
With less opportunities to get out into the community, Sourdough Sam is working hard with the 49ers to help promote partnerships. The 49ers recently made Clover Sonoma their preferred milk partner, so you can look forward to a holiday eggnog sweepstakes, and Sam led Clo the Cow through a workout to see if she has what it takes to be an NFL mascot. Decide for yourself below.