Tonight is probably the final 49ers game in Candlestick Park, the oldest football stadium in the NFL (not sure I would count Lambeau since it’s been completely rebuilt), and probably the biggest dump in the NFL (Oakland is a close second). It’s possible the 49ers will play a playoff game or two in Candlestick, but unlikely unless a lot of weird stuff happens next week.
Candlestick was a weirdly configured baseball/football stadium (the 49ers didn’t play there until several years after it was built, they stayed in Kezar in Golden Gate Park for a few years), designed in 1961 before people knew how to design joint baseball/football stadiums. A whole bunch of cookie cutter baseball/football parks were built a few years later, and to my knowledge the only one of those still around is in Oakland. In Candlestick, some of the seats didn’t actually face the field, giving fans a crick in their neck.
Candlestick was a total disaster from the moment it opened. Somehow, the architecture of the stadium created winds off the San Francisco Bay that made baseball miserable there, especially at night. The Giants left Candlestick more than 10 years ago, but the 49ers have continued to play there. For football, the stadium was OK. The winds weren’t quite as big of a deal during the autumn and winter, but the field was basically right at sea level and always muddy and boggy.
The 49ers are moving 35 miles south to Santa Clara, a suburb of San Jose. It will be weird watching the 49ers play essentially in San Jose.
I personally went to three games in Candlestick — I remember all three clearly, but not necessarily fondly.
The first game I went to in Candlestick was in 1978. My dad took me to a Giants game. It was some kind of business trip that he took me on. The Giants were good that year. It was in May and it was staggeringly cold. When you hear people talk about how cold Candlestick was, trust me — they are NOT exaggerating. It was mind-numbingly cold, with 30- and 40-mile-an-hour gusts. The Giants were in first place, but only about 10,000 people showed up to the game, mostly because of the cold.
I remember the Giants were playing the Houston Astros and most of the people around us were hipsters, puffing away on pot. That was the first time I smelled pot. I couldn’t believe people were smoking it in the open. The fans were pretty unruly and foul-mouthed. I remember they kept screaming at Cesar Cedeno that he was a “murderer!” “Killer!” (Found out during the game that Cedeno had been implicated in the shooting death of a girl in the Dominican Republic, but he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter).
Anyway, I didn’t get along that well with my dad, but we got along great on that trip and during that game, which is what I remember most fondly The Giants scored three runs in the bottom of the 9th and won 3-2 on a walk-off double by Bill Madlock that missed being a home run by a few feet. The Giants stayed in first for a few more weeks, but collapsed down the stretch like they usually did and finished second to the Dodgers that year.
The next time I was in Candlestick would have been 1982. The 49ers won the Super Bowl the year before, but they had a rough season that year. They just never got on track. They had Joe Montana, but no defence and no running game. This was before Roger Craig and Wendell Tyler — long before Jerry Rice. The whole team was Montana and he couldn’t carry them single-handedly. They actually lost to the New Orleans Saints, and the Saints were being quarterbacked by all people — Kenny Stabler (bet you didn’t know Stabler briefly played for the Saints). It was a cold, very wet and rainy and miserable game. It was a momentary blip in the Niners dynasty. They were back in the NFC title game the following year and were Super Bowl champs two years after that.
The last time I was in Candlestick was 1984. The Giants were having a bad year, but we went to the game because there was a Neil Young concert after the game. We were late, didn’t show up until the middle of the game, but it was 0-0, so we didn’t miss anything. It was a ferocious heat wave. It was actually 100 F in San Francisco (SF hits 100 about once a decade). Just blistering hot, and our seats in right field were right in the sun. We just kept waiting for that damned sun to set below the top of the stadium.
I remember Dusty Baker hit a three-run home run in the 8th inning and San Francisco went on to beat Atlanta, another bad team 4-0. By the time Neil Young hit the stage, the sun had set and it was comfortable in the shade.
I moved to the Eastern Sierra in 1988 and left Northern California for good in 1992, so never got the chance to go back to Candlestick after that. Good memories, except for that crappy football game.