The last game at Candlestick Park had all the elements for an appropriate send-off for the now hallowed ground, soon to become a mixed-use housing and retail project. This last game showcased the good, the bad and the ugly of what Candlestick represented for the last 55 years.
Willie Mays and Willie McCovey were on hand. The first time I entered the park there were no football stands. Mays hit a homerun in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and McCovey put one into the parking lot beyond the right field fence. These icons showed up to say good-bye. Those of us old enough—and lucky enough—to witness their feats firsthand will never forget.
Eddie DeBartolo was the honorary game captain. The former 49ers owner brought five world championships to the city by the bay. He was a fan more than he was an owner. Many of us remembered and appreciated that he went through the tough 2-14 seasons and the Joe Thomas years before he became a beloved figure in the City.
Dwight Clark was there to memorialize the greatest play in football—The Catch. In pre-game warm-ups, Steve Young threw a mock-touchdown pass to Jerry Rice. Both men were in suit and tie, but the throw and catch were familiar echos of a bygone era.
The Niners won and Jim Harbaugh is leading a new generation of elite football players into the playoffs. Jed York, Eddie’s nephew, has taken over the leadership of the franchise and his imprint on the new team cannot be overstated. There will be a day when Jed is treated with the same reverence as his uncle. He is a fan, as well as the president of the team.
Finally, there was the camraderie of the long time season ticket-holders. Many of us have been showing up in the same section for years. One longtime fan came down and introduced himself to me for the first time. He said he had watched my son grow up six rows behind us and realized this would be the last time we were together without having met. My son, who is now 21, did grow up in this stadium. As a youngster he ran the bases of Candlestick in its last baseball season.
One young 20-something fan was impressed that we had actually seen Joe Montana and had been at “The Catch” game. I realized I was around his age when that iconic play occurred over the hated Dallas Cowboys; that season produced the first of the aforementioned five world championships.
The physical attributes of the old stadium are not pretty. Candlestick remained a cold, damp place. It is especially frigid in August, when in years past baseball fans were awarded the “Croix de Candlestick,” a heroism medal for attending an extra-inning night game. Then there are the restrooms, a monument to the ability of human beings to stand in line and wade through pure filth.
Parking and traffic are a nightmare, too. For years, the city of San Francisco extorted the sports public by charging up to $50 to park, sometimes in a dirt lot.
The slow concession lines and overpriced, no-top-on-your-beer policy, which inevitably leads to spilled alcohol cascading down the stadium, is a staple of the aging artifice. (That’s if the over-exuberant fan missed dumping his beverage on your back and the bubbling liquid actually reached the stadium floor.)
Many newer fans at Candlestick have no clue how to act at a football game. Many show up drunk, stay drunk and pass out by the third quarter. One miserable attendee vomited in the row behind us, right next to a father and his young son. Ah, memories. In addition, 30 people were arrested for various kinds of unsavory conduct—mostly fighting. Some people stupidly stood for the entire game, obviously mistaking the 49ers for the Army and the Falcons for the Navy.
Obnoxious fans cheered too loud when we were on offense and many went nuts on any positive play and were overly despondent on a negative result. And always the few whose need for attention can only be satisfied by attempting to make themselves the center of universe during the game—they need to get a life.
For 34 years I bought a program before each game at The Stick, mostly from the same vendor. On this night, he informed us that he was sold out before the game started. It seems the stadium employees bought all the collector items they could get their hands on to sell on the secondary market.
When several fans complained to an usher, he said he would try to fix the problem. He confirmed he had bought his share of the programs before the game. This was a full two hours before kickoff. He sent us to stadium operations, where a receptionist simply denied the problem, told us there was nothing she could do and, eventually, sent us next-door to guest relations.
Guest relations took our names, addresses and email numbers but wouldn’t guarantee anything. This is a scandal that has yet to be reported. It is doubtful that 49er brass have heard of the problem since their emphasis on customer service—even in a dreadful stadium—has been nothing but first class.
In all, attending Candlestick for more than 50 years was a little like sharing a bad experience which many of your friends survived. You have some fond memories of the shared experience and try to push the negatives out of mind. But I, for one, will not be sad to see the old, cold, gray monstrosity come down.
Next year we will be in a state-of-the-art facility in Santa Clara, less than five miles from home. The restrooms will be modern and comfortable and the concession lines and food much better. The atmosphere promises to be first-class, security second to none and the Niners will continue to win as long as Jed York is around.
When they blow-up Candlestick, I will still cherish the great memories, but will not be sad in the least to see it come down. It is long overdue. Maybe they’ll let me push the plunger.
Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley.