Before the San Francisco 49ers open their new home in Santa Clara, California. I think it’s more than appropriate to praise Candlestick Park and not bury it. I will start with a quick intro and then get into depth with the people and events the stadium has given to us all. I’m usually a pure football writer but to do this right I have to include everything and everyone that made this stadium so very special to all of us that loved it so very much. On a sun drenched day, Candlestick Park was beautiful. Cut into the golden hills of the bay, I can attest that a 49ers game in late September or early October is something to die for. Although on a summers night when the Giants played there you would need a parker and a blanket. Urban legend has it that when the city slickers of New York were looking for a new home for their Giants in the early sixties, they were shown the site at Candlestick point but were only shown the place at early morning because the wind kicked up many an afternoon and evening, a wind so evil that it blew ball caps against the fence, it moved batting cages and of course, it blew a pitcher off the mound. The added fog was a San Francisco treat in my opinion. The weather was brutal at times but who cared ? During the baseball season this was the home of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepada and later Barry Bonds. Who cared if during football’s December and January Candlesticks playing field was like mud ? This is where Dwight Clark caught ‘ The catch ‘ from Joe Montana, where Ronnie Lott patrolled the secondary, Bill Walsh the sideline and where Jerry Rice broke all his records. This is where the 49ers won 5 superbowls in 14 years. All I have to say is Mays, Montana and Rice. Other than maybe Babe Ruth or Jim Brown, who is better than them ? Nobody I don’t think. Candlestick’s finest hour came during the earthquake of 1989. It held it’s ground and saved thousands of lives so that millions could be thrilled there for 54 years. So to candlestick we might just say. ” Bye bye baby” !!
When major league baseball’s Giants moved from New York to San Francisco this stadium needed to be built. They did it on the shore of San Francisco bay at Candlestick point. The Giants were the premier tenant in the 60s. The AFL’s Raiders played their first football games here in 60 and 61 then the 49ers moved in for good in the 70’s. It was part of a national trend that baseball and football teams would share the same stadium, thus Candlestick is one of the last places to see hall of famers in two sports call one place their home.
As the 49ers 43 year run comes to an end, It’s time to remember the great coaches, players and plays that made the place famous.
HALL OF FAME
Willie Mays – Willie McCovey – Orlando Cepada – Juan Marichal – Gaylord Perry.
Joe Montana – Steve Young – Jerry Rice – Ronnie Lott – Fred Dean – Bill Walsh ( coach ).
Let’s start with coach Walsh ! – When we talk about everything that is Candlestick Park, we can’t mention all the championships and history of the place without mentioning the great, iconic coach Bill Walsh. He was something else.
When you look at these old coaching tapes of him putting the plays in for the team it really makes the jaw drop. I’ve never seen anything like it. Just tremendous charisma and personality to start and un-measured knowledge of every position on the field. He could dissect how to beat a 3 deep zone or 2 deep zone, just great at looking through his progressions. Just a brilliant football mind and he really changed the way the game is played today. His book on offense is like a bible to anyone who coaches this sport. His book has some amazing things in it. I’ve read it. He explains 3 step drops, 5 step drops, 7 step drops, fundamentals, how to run your organization, how to hire your staff. You really need to get a copy of his book if you are coaching this game at any level.
For me the architect behind the 49ers success during the 80s and 90s. He was the owner from 1977 until 2000 and was responsible for 5 superbowl championships. 4 of those during a 9 year stretch. He was responsible for bringing in Bill Walsh and all the great players and drafts of that era.
Eddie DeBartolo is quite simply one of the most remembered and one of the best people in bay area sports history. How he’s not in the hall of fame is beyond me but I’m sure that will happen over the next few years. Candlestick Park was the place everyone wanted to be and he was a big reason why.
For me he was into winning and not making money and was apparently one of the most generous people you’ll ever meet. Not only did he bring in Bill Walsh but he also brought in the right front office people like John McVay and everything he did was first class. The way the team traveled from it’s facilities and the way he treated the players and coaches was just first class. I think a lot of these new free agency rules are in place because of him.
He was suspended from the league for a year when he was involved in a corruption case with then Louisiana governor Edward Edwards. That’s the reason he didn’t have the everyday hands on the organization anymore and in a few legal situations his sister ended up gaining control and then it was passed to Jed York. Jed is the son of Eddie’s sister so his nephew is now president of this great San Francisco 49ers organization and Eddie has been so important to Jed so as for the stewardship of the 49ers, a lot of it happens now with the guidance and goals that Eddie laid out.
The season was 1981. The Cowboys were at the height of their ”America’s team” popularity. The upstart Niners were driving for the win. Vince Scully called the game.. His words from the booth were.. ” MONTANA… LOOKING – LOOKING….. THROWING TO THE END ZONE…….CLARK CAUGHT IT !!!! ….. DWIGHT CLARK…..IT’S A MAD HOUSE AT CANDLESTICK !!!! ”.
Lisa Salters – Dwight, You have re-lived that play thousands of times in your head but, I’m curious. What specific part of the play sticks out for you the most ?
Dwight Clark – I think that it was kind of a double catch. That it wasn’t a clean catch, I kind of knocked it down and caught it on the way down. If I think about that too hard it makes my hands sweaty a little bit.
Lisa Salters – You said you get chills every time you watch it, Why ?
Dwight Clark – It was such a big moment for our team and the 49er franchise. We finally got past the Dallas Cowboys and we were sending our team to the superbowl.
Lisa Salters – Where is the ball right now ?
Dwight Clark – The ball was actually kept by the ball boy after I spiked it and I think he eventually sold it ( LAUGHS) !!
No stadium has hosted more Monday night football games than Candlestick Park and one of the most memorable one’s was the opener in 1994 when Jerry Rice came through with 3 touchdowns to break Jim Brown’s career touchdown record. I wonder if any of Jerry Rice’s records will ever be touched ?. He was always at his best on Monday night.
He had 13 pro bowls – 3 Superbowl wins – 13 Pro bowls – 1,549 Receptions – 22,895 receiving yards and 197 touchdowns.
All the above are career records from 1985 – 2004. – 3 All time records.
He was drafted 16th overall out of Mississippi Valley state in the 1985 NFL draft. At the university he acquired the nickname “World” because there wasn’t a ball in the world he couldn’t catch.
One NFL coach who had Jerry as a player under him at 2 teams was offensive guru John Gruden. Coach Gruden said of Rice. ” One of my greatest memories of Jerry, Not only coaching him with the Raiders but also with the 49ers was the way he practiced. The things he did on the practice field at game speed to get himself ready were mind blowing. Nobody did it like Jerry Rice. ”
Jerry Rice on his practice plan everyday
” Practice for me was everything because I wanted to make it seem like it was a game situation, so it was not a shock for me or anything like that when game day came about. Defensive backs were just not ready for me and my work ethic transition to the field on game day from practice. I also had 2 Hall of fame quarterbacks in Joe Montana and Steve Young. ”
I personally had the honor of meeting Jerry at the Saints vs Chargers international series pre-game function at London’s famous Wembley stadium during my time there with channel 5 in the United Kingdom. We had one very interesting thing in common. Both our fathers were brick layers and builders / masons. My father would have me catching and throwing bricks to him and my brother at a young age and ball handling became a massive skill set for us playing rugby here in Wales in the United kingdom. Rice also believes that his hands were developed when he and his brother were working with his dad. Rice and his brother would throw bricks up two stories to each other. I suppose if you get use to catching bricks then footballs are easy.
Steve Young has the most wins by a starting quarterback with 54 more than Joe Montana at Candlestick Park.
Willie McCovey had the most home runs during the Giants baseball days at Candlestick Park.
In terms of pitchers. Juan Marichal had 122 wins.
All of these athletes are hall of famers. No more multi use ball parks except in Oakland just across the bay so this will be the last we see parks with greats in both sports for a while at least.
THE GREAT FANS
Without a great fan base no team or individual in any sport can or would really want to compete. I’ve met so many great San Francisco 49ers fans over the years. Fellow sport city host Brian Hughes is a huge Niners fan and does an amazing job covering them here at sport city. A few of my close friends are great fans. Dean Sullivan and I traveled to Candlestick park and talk about the team on a weekly basis. Chris Rowlands is a die hard fan and we have exchanged books on the team and the sport. I met a great Niners fan during my time in San Francisco in Kennita Renee Choice. Her passion for the team is contagious and supports with her heart on her sleeve. Paris Stephens who has worked on the sidelines of Candlestick Park is an inspiration and great in the media. Her story from her time at the NFL network is truly inspirational. She has worked in the sports media on both sides of the bay area. When I was looking for a friend to focus on for my column I met someone who covered everything I needed in a true fan. All of the above have their own individual stories but Laura Espinoza’s passion for the Niners really inspired me.
Laura has been to Candlestick park many times and never misses a Niners game. Her first visit was to see a Niner home win against division rival St Louis Rams. Jerry Rice is her favorite player of all time and has even named her ‘build a bear’ Jerry jr. She told me she thinks Jerry is without question the greatest receiver to ever play the game and is without question her favorite player of all time even though current quarterback Colin Kaepernick is catching up quickly. She calls him ‘Lucky 7′ and says he looks like he could be a family member as he resembles her uncle so much. Laura’s birthday is in October just like Jerry Rice’s. She said ” His name just sticks out in my head and my dad has his jersey.”
It’s people like Laura that makes this franchise so special. Anyone in the front office or on the team will tell you that a team is nothing without the Niner empire and it’s special fans and there are none as special as Laura Espinoza. Above is Jerry jr in all his glory and currently awaiting the opening game in the new stadium at Santa Clara. I asked Laura for her thoughts about the new stadium. She said ” I like that we will have a bigger and better stadium with upgrades. I was told that it will be closer to me so that’s great. I’m all for the new stadium. leaving all the memories behind in Candlestick is sad but I will look forward to making new memories in the new stadium. I do hope the tickets are not super expensive though ”As you can see from her ink, Laura is a die hard Niner. She talked to me about how special she thought it was that the Beatles played their last gig at Candlestick Park. She has fond memories of her time at a Cardinals game and really enjoys the build up at the pre-game tailgating experience. Something Candlestick Park is well known for. She once won $40 off a Saints fan betting the outcome of a game so she knows her stuff also.
Above you see Laura as her favorite current player Colin Kaepernick. She told me. ” I think he’s doing a great job as our quarterback and really stepped up during the playoffs last year and in the Superbowl and playoffs the year prior. Even though he’s still learning he’s always improving and I’m sure he will lead us to a superbowl. If not this year then in the next few years for sure. I love his tattoo ‘ Against all odds ‘. He is so inspiring to me. He’s a christian and has many tattoo’s that are of biblical belief. His mother gave him up for adoption and the family that took him in were amazing to him. He was so skinny in his younger years.” Laura really is an amazing fan and what San Francisco 49ers football is all about.
CANDLESTICK PARK HISTORY AND EVENTS
April 12th 1960 – Richard Nixon was vice president when the stadium opened on this day. He threw the first pitch.
April 29th 1966 – The Beatles played their last full concert at Candlestick Park and it was a quick one. Just 35 minutes and then they were in an armored car off to SFO airport and back home here to Liverpool.
September 18th 1987 – The pontiff, pope John Paul the second visited the stadium and spoke in front of an 86,000 packed Candlestick Park.
A FEW PEOPLE THAT MADE CANDLESTICK GO
Bob Mallamo – Locker room manager – 34 years
John Foote – Groundskeeper – 22 years
Mike Gay – Stadium director – 35 years
THE EARTHQUAKE OF 1989
25 minutes before the start of Game 3 of the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s at Candlestick Park, there were a handful of players on the field, stretching, playing catch, mingling. There were 63,000 fans in the stands, waiting for the pregame introductions for the first World Series game at The Stick in 27 years. There is a buzz in the air, typical of baseball in October. The ABC television broadcast of the game had just begun. It was 5 p.m., Pacific Time. The press box was jammed with reporters from all over the world. Suddenly, seconds later, at 5:04, the world changed. The stadium held it’s foundations though so that millions could enjoy many more years there.
LEVI’S STADIUM IN SANTA CLARA
$1.2 Billion Levi’s stadium in Santa Clara. Big money from silicon Valley. Many of Jed York’s moves resemble those of Eddie DeBartolo jr to me. He’s hired the right coach, the right staff, the right general manager in Trent Baalke. He’s been active in free agency and they’ve drafted really well. I’m sure Jed Talks to uncle Eddie all the time.
Talk about learning on the way up for Jed York. All the way up it’s been in his blood and now Jed York makes so many of the decisions in the stewardship of this franchise. Eddie DeBartolo was 30 when he took over and Jed can’t be much older than that right now. I truly believe the Niners have everything in place to start another great era. Back to back championship games speak volumes to me and I expect them to go one better this season.
MY EXPERIENCE AT CANDLESTICK PARK
The first of my two visits to San Francisco came during a vacation to Las Vegas with some friends of mine. My good friend Dean Sullivan loves the 49ers so it would have been rude of us not to visit Candlestick Park for a game. A quick flight down to SFO and we were in the city. It was game day. As we left our hotel we flagged down a cab driven by a guy who was the image of actor Michael Rapaport and took highway 101 all the way down to Candlestick point and then exited to Candlestick Park or then known as ‘Monster Park’. We got to the outside of the parking lot and walked in.
Above is a picture I took of Dean at the pre-game Tailgate in the stadium parking lot. I know the Niner empire are famous for their tailgating so it was cool for us both to see it and especially for Dean at his first live NFL game for his beloved Niners. As you see, he’s rocking his Steve Young jersey with pride. A big fan of both Young and Montana, Dean fancies himself as a quarterback and we’d have a throw about now and then whilst playing rugby together here in Wales. He actually presented me with a football at his wedding reception so football runs as thick as blood with us. It was an amazing day. The Dallas Cowboys were in town for a re-match of the 1981 ‘catch game’ that took the 49ers past the self proclaimed ‘America’s team’ as the best team on the planet in my opinion. It was just a beautiful afternoon weather wise as the sun came blasting down on us and the historic stadium that we were visiting. I just remember it all so well. Dean and I talked game-plan as we took our lower sideline seats. For us it was great to see some of the all time greats. The Cowboys had a few of my all time favorites in coach Bill Parcells and in my mind arguably the greatest Offensive line man ever in guard Larry Allen so it was a great game to be at. Game of the week actually for that given Sunday. We loved every moment although Dean got a bit annoyed when I was hesitant to leave my seat to get him a beer in case I missed a moment. It was my round though so duty called. Unfortunately he was even more annoyed when I came back with a diet coke for him because I couldn’t get served alcohol because they didn’t think I was 21 ( Boyish good looks ). I know I’m bad company at an NFL game. I don’t want to talk to you and I need to be sober. That’s the only way I now how to enjoy it and take in the chess game that’s being played by these gladiators. A few have found this out now. I just remember fights breaking out in the stands and the game coming right down to the wire. Drew Bledsoe threw a game winning pass to Keyshawn Johnson with under 2 minutes left and the Cowboys just edged it 34 -31 but we enjoyed every minute and we were both so proud that we had a chance to visit the historic Candlestick Park.
Pre game we were fortunate to meet some 49er greats in superbowl winners Jesse Sapolu and Gary Plummer. Above is a picture taken by Dean of myself and Superbowl winner Gary Plummer. On this day I had ambitions of presenting or writing in the sports media so to be able to write this as the new stadium opens and to say goodbye to the stick in my own way is truly an honor for me. The future is looking so bright for this organization and I believe they have a top 5 NFL coach in Jim Harbaugh. Jed York has that Eddie DeBartolo influence and the team is filled with great talent thanks to hot shot general manager Trent Baalke. Yes, On the whole I’d say the future is looking very bright. Just as bright as the day we had at Candlestick Park.
By Rhodri Jones.
Inspired by the Niner empire.