Melvin Mackay takes a deep breath and lets out a king-sized sigh. He knew the risks. "We've got to put the flag up," he groans. "You know how bets work. Someone wins. Someone loses."
The president of San Francisco's ILWU Local 10 and his Seattle counterpart, Cameron Williams, engineered a humiliating, football-related wager of the sort fans are compelled to make during playoff season. Except, in this case, gigantic flags and numerous onlookers are involved. Williams' Seattle Seahawks vanquished Mackay's San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game last week. And, if Seattle goes on to win the Super Bowl, Mackay and his longshoremen will be forced to hoist a 25-foot Seattle "12th Man" flag atop a 125-foot crane to flutter, ignominiously, in the Bay Area breeze.
Perhaps it's a fitting denouement to the 49ers' final season in San Francisco. The team will soon decamp for Santa Clara. And the dockworkers who may suck it up and raise that flag will be doing so at the Port of Oakland, since San Francisco's port long since ceased to be a commercially viable cargo center.
Like the Niners, the supertankers took off for richer pastures. "We made this bet while the team was still here," says Mackay. That flag marks "where the work is."