As a born-and-raised Northern Californian growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's with fondness, and somewhat relief, that Candlestick Park has shut its doors following the San Francisco 49ers' thrilling home season finale against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football.
Unless the 49ers find a way to play a home game in the playoffs (an unlikely scenario given they're probably going to be one of the two lowest seeds in the NFC playoffs), Monday was probably the finale for professional sporting events at a venue with many historic moments both in sports and entertainment.
Born in 1978, I was incredibly spoiled as a maniacal San Francisco 49ers fan. They won their first Super Bowl when I was 2-years-old thanks in large part to "The Catch" at Candlestick Park. The play where Joe Montana threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Dwight Clark which led to the defeat of the mighty Dallas Cowboys, their eventual World Title and the birth of a dynasty.
The 49ers would win their fifth Super Bowl title 14 years later when I was a senior in high school. Between the 49ers and Giants, many memorable games were played at Candlestick Park thus creating many wonderful memories.
Candlestick Park itself is an abysmal structure, full of decadence and resembling more a relic of a stadium that belonged 50 years ago. Given its history, there's undoubtedly a strong amount of sentimentality and nostalgia though that comes with Candlestick Park.
The following are some of my fondest memories at Candlestick Park. I write this as a means not just to share my fondest memories, which you perhaps may relate to, but to also provide readers the opportunity to share your memories of Candlestick Park. Many of your most memorable moments are probably not on this very short list. I'm looking forward to reading those in the comment section below.
July 29th, 1990
San Francisco Giants vs. Cincinnati Reds
I don't remember the first baseball game I ever went to. I'm pretty sure it was an Oakland A's game since it was much easier, especially as a child living near a BART station, to go to the Oakland Coliseum than Candlestick Park.
I do remember this classic game though, played on a warm sunny day at Candlestick Park. The stadium was packed and the only tickets we were able to get were really out there, in the upper deck of the outfield.
The Giants were playing the eventual World Champion Cincinnati Reds, who would sweep the Oakland A's in the World Series that year. Giants ace Scott Garrelts (it says something about your pitching staff when he's the ace of the rotation) threw a no-hitter through eight innings. There was a palpable excitement in the air as the crowd of nearly 60,000 fans attending a baseball game watched in anticipation of a possible no-hitter being thrown.
Garrelts got the first two batters of the ninth inning out. He was a batter away from throwing a no-hitter. The crowd was in a frenzy.
The batter for the Reds, Paul O'Neill, ruined the excitement with a two-out single.
According to Milkees Press Sports Research and Publishing there have been a total of 64 games in Major League Baseball history where a pitcher had a no-hitter going with two outs in the ninth inning before getting hit. Contrast that to 277 no-hitters thrown all-time in Major League Baseball history, and this made it a memorable Candlestick Park moment for me.
It's worth noting that in a two-year span Dave Steib of the Toronto Blue Jays accomplished this remarkably rare feat not once, not twice, but on three occasions, with two of them occurring on consecutive starts during the 1988 season.
I collected trading cards as a kid. Among my collection are these two autographed Scott Garrelts baseball cards.
September 13th, 1992
San Francisco 49ers vs. Buffalo Bills
This is the first San Francisco 49ers game I ever went to. My dad didn't take me to many games during my childhood. This was one of the rarities and it was a gem.
The 49ers lost to the Buffalo Bills 34-31 in a game featuring no punts -- the first game in NFL history to have that dubious distinction. The 49ers and the Bills were offensive powerhouses that season. Steve Young, who would go on to win the MVP award that year, threw for 449 yards and added three touchdown passes, two to John Taylor. His counterpart Jim Kelly threw for 403 yards and three touchdowns of his own, as combined the teams gained 1,086 yards of total offense.
The Bills prevailed and would go on to win the AFC Championship that year, their third straight season reaching the Super Bowl in a playoff run that included the infamous 41-38 overtime win over the Houston Oilers that included a 32-point comeback for the victory.
The 49ers would own the best record in the NFL that year, going 14-2 before losing the NFC Championship game to the Dallas Cowboys in one of the worst moments in Candlestick Park history. That season was also infamous for Joe Montana returning in the final game of the season after missing nearly two years due to an elbow injury. Montana played the second half of a win over the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football as Montana bid farewell to Candlestick Park and would pass the torch to Steve Young.
I try saving tickets to every event I go to. This is from that 49ers-Bills game.
San Francisco Giants
For a high school kid without a car living in the east bay suburbs of Pleasanton, it was difficult to get to Candlestick Park to watch Giants games. I usually went when one of my friends who had a car was willing to go. 1993 was memorable for me as I had the opportunity to go to a significant amount of games at Candlestick Park.
Nearly all the games my friends and I would go to were night games. This is why I have somewhat of a distaste towards AT&T Park. It seems more the place to be seen and not the place real fans of the team go to. I know who real fans are. They go to a rundown stadium where nighttime temperatures are frigid with cold howling winds hitting you to the bone.
With evening crowds measuring in the 10,000 range (that's an optimistic figure), fans would gather at Candlestick Park, sit wherever they wanted -- since the place was basically a giant, empty cavern of seats -- and watched the Giants win 103 games. This was the debut Giants season for huge free agent acquisition Barry Bonds, and together with Will Clark and Matt Williams led the team to a dogfight of a pennant run with the Atlanta Braves.
The season came down to the final series and the final game. The Giants had to sweep a four-game series from their nemesis Los Angeles Dodgers (that season I saw the most intense fan fights during the regular season Dodger games at Candlestick Park; that was a real rivalry) on the road just to force a tie with the Braves. The Giants won the first three games of the series, unfortunately the last game was left in young rookie Solomon Torres' hands and he was shellacked.
Despite winning 103 games, the Giants finished the season in second place. It was still a memorable year for fans of the Giants who went to Candlestick Park.
January 5th, 2003
San Francisco 49ers vs. New York Giants
I was working as an executive producer for KNBR radio's morning show at this time and was fortunate enough to get a ticket for the 49ers-Giants NFL wildcard game. This would be Steve Mariucci's last game as head coach of the 49ers at Candlestick Park, as the organization decided to make the dreadful and idiotic decision to fire Mariucci after the season ended and replaced him with Dennis Erickson, thus beginning the dark ages of the San Francisco 49ers organization.
The 49ers fell behind in this game 38-14 with approximately four minutes remaining in the third quarter. Neither myself nor the crowd around me thought the 49ers had it in them to generate the biggest comeback in NFC playoff history. Yet comeback they would. Led by quarterback Jeff Garcia and wide receiver Terrell Owens, the 49ers would have a comeback for the ages leading to a thrilling 39-38 victory.
I was on the opposite end of the field of the final play, a botched field goal attempt by the Giants that resulted in holder Matt Allen picking up the ball and attempting a throw into the end zone. I had no idea what was going on and only later watched the highlights which included a questionable no-call on possible pass interference in the end zone by the 49ers.
While the comeback and the victory alone is certainly one of my fondest memories of Candlestick Park, the noise generated by the crowd that day is what truly sticks to me. I never experienced such a loud crowd in my life. I remember going to Seahawks Stadium in 2004 to watch the 49ers get shut out for the first time in 27 years (thank you Dennis Erickson, thank you Ken Dorsey, thank you Dr. York) losing that game 34-0, and I don't recall the crowd there being as loud as Candlestick Park was on January 5th, 2003.
September 21st, 2003
San Francisco 49ers vs. Cleveland Browns
It wasn't the game that was memorable for me. The 49ers lost this game, the third of the disastrous Dennis Erickson era, to an average Cleveland Browns team 13-12 to fall to 1-2 on the year. While the loss was a disgrace, at this point of his tenure with the organization Terrell Owens had gone from being the golden boy who caught Steve Young's amazing touchdown throw in 1999 to beat the Green Bay Packers in a wildcard playoff game at Candlestick Park, to the diva who would bring turmoil and chaos to the locker room as he continually complained about not getting the ball enough.
The thing was, I agreed with him. Owens was an incredible talent. And for whatever reason the 49ers coaches didn't scheme their offensive design to get him the ball nearly as often as they should have.
As a producer with KNBR radio, I was assigned to conduct the postgame interviews for that game. With the team losing a game they should have won, with morale and the overall record in perpetual decline, and with Owens an unstable firecracker, I went into the postgame press conference ready to throw grenades.
Owens was answering questions from the media and I immediately lobbed the first explosive.
"Terrell, it seemed you were open for a lot of plays today. Why do you think the coaching staff doesn't design plays to get you the ball more?"
Explosion number one.
Owens went off on a tirade blasting the coaching staff and to a less extent his quarterback Jeff Garcia, with scathing critiques of how they were blowing it not getting him the ball. Cameras were rolling and soon the local and national media were getting the full Terrell Owens experience.
I wasn't finished. Grenade number two.
"Terrell, do you think if you had a quarterback with a stronger arm, you would get the ball more?"
Owens said yes, that if he were on a team with a better quarterback he would have much bigger numbers and the team would have considerable more success. He spoke for a very long time about the issue, and his quotes made national headlines.
I don't know why I took such joy in creating discourse amongst the team. Maybe it was because I was so frustrated by the direction the team was going. I was spoiled as a 49ers fan. To see this fine and proud organization sinking like a ship disturbed me. So I shook things up.
The 49ers finished that season 7-9, then went 2-14 and 4-12 the ensuing years. Terrell Owens was traded following that season to the Philadelphia Eagles, who went to the Super Bowl before losing to the New England Patriots. That locker room experience, and asking Terrell Owens postgame questions, was a very fond memory of Candlestick Park for me.
January 14th, 2012
San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints
I worked as a creative director, executive producer and broadcaster for KNBR radio for nearly 10 years. I had left the station for over a year when the Jim Harbaugh era began and was fortunate enough to remain friends with many talented individuals in the building when the 49ers finally returned to their successful ways. That's how I got tickets to the game, approximately 15 rows up in the corner end zone where Vernon Davis would catch his game-winning touchdown throw. The Vernon Post.
I had confidence in the 49ers winning their divisional playoff game against a New Orleans team that the bookies considered the favorite to win. When it comes to the NFL playoffs, nine times out of 10 the team who is tougher in the trenches wins the game. There's much more to it, sure. I strongly believe though that the game of football is won with toughness and smarts, and the 49ers had both. New Orleans meanwhile had the high-powered offense; their defense though was average at best and I didn't think Drew Brees could handle the 49ers defense.
The finish was one for the ages. The 49ers would win the game 36-32 to advance to the NFC Championship game. This video footage was around five minutes after the game ended and the mayhem continued all evening in San Francisco.
Following a San Francisco 49ers home game at Candlestick Park in the early 1990s, my dad ran into Steve Young at Tommy's Joynt in San Francisco, which is an amazingly delicious Hofbrau restaurant. My dad asked Young if he would sign an autograph for me. Young, a very kind man whom I have had the distinct privilege and honor of meeting and working with, told my dad he would be happy to do so. Young signed the autograph on a restaurant napkin.
The relevance of this brief story, other than the fond memory, is that encounters like these are going to be unlikely when the San Francisco 49ers start playing at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. The franchise is going to leave the friendly confines of Candlestick Park and take with them a long history in San Francisco.
I will cherish the great memories I have of Candlestick Park.
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