"Holy Toledo!"

December 23, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Candlestick Park

Filed under: Baseball, NFL — Bill @ 1:02 pm

For the final time the San Francisco 49ers will take “Bill Walsh” field at Candlestick Park, a place they have called home since 1971. In a rematch from last season’s NFC Championship the Atlanta Falcons will take on the 49ers this Monday night. For Jim Harbaugh’s team the game is an important one that will help determine their postseason fate. For the Falcons it is simply an opportunity to audition their younger players with an eye on next season. For the 49er Faithful however it will be their last chance to take in a game at “The Stick”, cherish some special memories, and then say goodbye to an old friend. Candle Stick Park is coming to an end, it’s final curtain is Monday night.

I thought it might be fun to take a walk down memory lane looking at those special moments that occurred in the stadium made famous by “The Catch”.

The San Francisco Giants were the first pro team to call 602 Jamestown Ave. their home, when they officially opened the stadium on April 12, 1960. They remained there until 1999. The Giants had a decent number of postseason games there, including two World Series appearances in 1962 & 1989.

The actual field was originally a real bluegrass surface, until it was switched to AstroTurf in 1970. Once team owners recognized that the artificial turf was tearing up their ballplayers the field was changed back to real grass in 1979. However it wasn’t the field, the stands, or its space aged architecture (created by John Bolles) that made this place famous, it was the wind.

Non-sports fans might argue that the thing this stadium is most well known for hosting the Beatles final concert on August 29, 1966. Of course nobody knew it at that time, but the Fab Four would never play a full concert together again.

Swirling, never predictable, often extremely cold wind is what most think of when they remember Candlestick Park. This wind was made famous when the stadium hosted the 1961 All Star game. Pitcher Stu Miller was brought in to quell the American League’s 9th inning rally, only to record the most famous ever “blown save”. Miller, a diminutive man, was about to deliver a pitch when a gust of wind rocked him out of his normal motion. A balk was called, which led to the tying run being scored. All anyone could talk about was that Miller had been blown off the mound. Forgotten was the fact that Roberto Clemente drove in Willie Mays in the 10th, making Miller the winning pitcher. For the Stick however a reputation was born.

Candlestick Park would end up hosting two All Star Games, the first in ’61, and later in 1984. The Giants would lose two World Series in this park. The first, in 1962, ended on a Willie McCovey line drive that was snagged by Bobby Richardson. It was a tough way to lose a game #7, but with the likes of Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Cepeda, & Gaylord Perry most thought they would be back soon. It took the Giants 10 years to return to the postseason, only to lose in the playoffs to Clemente’s Pirates.

In 1989 the “Hum Baby” Giants defeated the Chicago Cubs to advance to their second World Series appearance since moving West. Unfortunately they ran into a buzz saw called the Oakland A’s. Bay Area fans had hoped it would be a memorable Series, it was indeed that but for all the wrong reasons.

As we all prepared for game 3 of the World Series on October 17, 1989 a 6.8 earthquake shook the Bay Area at exactly 5:04 pm. I’m not sure any of us realized the enormity of the event at that time, the shocked Candlestick crowd cheered when the 15 second quake ended. The World Series was delayed by 10 days, and when baseball did return it seemed as if the Giants did not. The A’s swept the final two games at The Stick and won the Series.

You can win a bet with friends by explaining that the first pro football team to play at The Stick was the Oakland Raiders. Having trouble with an over-used & torn up field at Kezar stadium, the Raiders played their final three “home” games of the ’60 season, along with their entire ’61 season at Candlestick, before moving to Frank Youelll Field in ’62.

Guided by Dick Nolan & John Brodie the 49ers early years at Candlestick were filled with success. They won the NFC West in their first two years at The Stick (1971 & ’72), including an exciting home playoff win over Billy Kilmer’s redskins in ’71. Unfortunately for “The Faithful” a familiar nemesis always seemed to stand in their way, that team from Dallas.

Arguably the worst day in Bay Area sports history occurred on December 23, 1972. Earlier that day some guy named Franco Harris caught a deflected pass and raced, somewhat controversially, to the game winning touchdown. That game would forever be called the Immaculate Reception. About three hours later the 49ers, who were hosting those damn Cowboys, led 28-13 late in the game. Finally they seemed to be exercising their Dallas demon. But alas the gods of football had something else in mind, and within the final two minutes the Cowboys had scored 17 points, and for the 3rd consecutive year the 49ers had lost a playoff game to Dallas. Both Bay Area football teams had lost in gut wrenching fashion on what I call “Black Saturday”.

Candlestick Park would not see a postseason team for nine long years. Enter a white haired genius named Bill. We started to see glimpses of things to come late in the 1980 season when the 49ers, down 35-7 at the half, roared back to win 38-35 over New Orleans in the greatest regular season comeback in NFL history. One year later the upstart 49ers confounded the football experts by winning the NFC West, beating the NY Giants in an NFC Divisional playoff, setting the stage for the first home game NFC Championship ever held at Candlestick). Naturally their opponent was none other than that team from Dallas.

The story of “The Catch” by Dwight Clark is well known so I won’t spend much time rehashing it. I’m also quite certain that much will be said about the legendary ’81 NFC Championship Game in the local & national media. Unfortunately I missed the game, too busy launching my “successful career” working at Payless (that was a joke!). I did hear Don Klein describe it, but didn’t see it until many years later when I acquired the actual game broadcast. Former 49ers radio announcer Don Klein lives in Sonoma County and is still healthy & doing well.

Since that remarkable day Candlestick Park has played host to an amazing eight conference championships. The 49ers were 3-0 in home Championship Games at one time, defeating Dallas in ’81, Chicago in ’84, & the LA Rams in ’89. An interesting note about the ’84 game is that the Bears showed up a week early and practiced all week in Santa Rosa at the Raiders training camp facility. It didn’t help them, but I was able to get some nice pictures of Ditka, Payton, & the Bears. As of the moment the 49ers are 4-4 in Championship Games held at The Stick, the most recent being the gut wrenching loss two years ago to the NY Giants.

It hasn’t always been called Candlestick Park. As you might recall it had a few other names like 3Com Park at Candlestick Point (1995-2002), San Francisco Stadium at Candlestick Point (2002-2004), & Monster Park (2004-2008) Now it’s back to its original name, simply Candlestick Park.

When they broke ground on the stadium on August 12, 1958 times were a bit different. The cost to build the stadium was $15 million, as compared to the estimated $1 billion to build the new Levi Stadium in Santa Clara. Even if you estimate the cost of building Candlestick in today’s dollars it works out to be only $118 million. Quite the bargain for a facility that has been used for 53 years.

There have been many great Monday night football games at The Stick, conjuring up memories of games vs. the LA Rams and NY Giants, huge performances from guys like Rice, Montana, Taylor, Craig, & of course Ronnie Lott. Who will ever forget the collision between Lott and Giants TE Mark Bavaro? I discovered that the 1st Monday night game was played on December 6, 1971. The game featured two quarterbacks by the name of John Brodie & Len Dawson. Ted Kwalick & Vic Washington scored TD’s for the 49ers, but in the end they couldn’t cover KC’s big WR Otis Taylor who scored twice. Final score Kansas City 26 SF 17.

When the great moments of Candlestick are discussed this weekend, or forever, everyone will talk about Mays & McCovey, Montana & Ronnie Lott, Will Clark & Kevin Mitchell, Steve Young & Jerry Rice. I, however, will think of different men. Players lesser known who had to fight for every inch. Guys who weren’t born with superstar talent, yet they did whatever it took to win, guys like Bill Ring, Robbie Thompson,, Freddie Solomon, Ken Henderson, Paul Hofer, Chris Spier, Bruce Taylor, or Johnnie LeMaster.

It’s impossible to discuss them all, there are simply too many great moments that for each of us provides a special memory. Big comebacks, playoff wins, division crowns, dramatic finishes, and of course losses that made you hurt. In addition to all of those were the moments you didn’t expect, moments that occurred on a Tuesday afternoon, or week 3 of the regular season, moments that were made memorable by outstanding individual achievements. For you fans of the 49ers & Giants all I have to do is mention their names and you will know those achievements I’m talking about. Like these guys: Mike Ivie, Gene Washington, Ed Halicki, Charlie Young, John Montefusco, Jack Reynolds, Brian Johnson, & Fred Dean.

For those of you who know me you understand that my sports loyalties reside on the other side of the bay. However when you grow up a sports fan in northern California one naturally absorbs the history of those other teams that are most often being discussed.

When I was younger I fought it, thought that other team across the bay was our arch enemy, I disliked the attention they received, and might have even been a bit jealous of all those damn winning years. How could a guy be a Raiders fan in 1980, then don red & gold in ’81? At 19 years old it pissed me off. Now that I’m older I seemed to have mellowed about the issue. You might even say I’ve embraced it. I’ve gone so far as to read two terrific books about Bill Walsh, and enjoyed them immensely. It’s funny how guys that were once your enemy you now realize are fellow comrades. Thirty years ago I would have busted Jack Lambert’s chops, today I would shake his hand. Yes I even rooted for the SF Giants in 2010. A significant realization hit me, while I didn’t like it at the time, their history was also part of my sports history as well.

The man you used to fight for every yard becomes a man you respect as a worthy adversary. Over time he becomes what made you great. The bitter the feud, the greater the respect. And then one day you realize that you loved every part of it, the good guys, the bad guys, they were all part of what made everything so special.

So when that wrecking ball comes calling to 602 Jamestown Avenue, and there is nothing left of the place where I saw my very first baseball game, I, too, will be forced to deal with a loss of my own.

“It might be a dump,
but it’s our dump!” –Dwight Clark

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