The San Francisco 49ers play the Atlanta Falcons Monday night still trying to lock up a wild-card slot for the NFC playoffs. But for the team and its fans the game has extra meaning. Monday’s matchup will be the last regular-season game ever played at Candlestick Park, a stadium that maybe no one ever really loved until now.
Candlestick is full of history – and not just the sports kind. The Beatles played their last concert at the Stick in August 1966. Pope John Paul II said Mass at the ballpark in 1987 for a crowd of 70,000.But most of the memories at the chilly concrete bowl built on a remote part of the city’s Bayfront center on Major League Baseball and pro football.
The San Francisco Giants opened the park in 1960, and the weather — howling afternoon winds and frigid nights — became an instant legend.
In 40 seasons at Candlestick, the Giants made it to the World Series twice. They lost to the New York Yankees in 1962. The second appearance came in 1989 against their cross-bay rivals: the Oakland A’s. But Game 3 of that Oakland sweep is remembered mostly for the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake that occurred before the first pitch.
The earthquake didn’t hurt anyone at Candlestick, but it killed more than 60 people around the Bay Area and caused a 10-day delay in the World Series.
That Joe Montana pass to Dwight Clark sent the 49ers to the Super Bowl and on their way to the first of five NFL championships.
But that string of Candlestick memories is about to end. The 49ers are finishing work on a new stadium in Santa Clara, a Silicon Valley town 40 miles south of San Francisco.
The 49er Faithful – the fans that have given the team more than 300 sellouts in a row — are resigned to the team’s departure, but they’re not happy about it.
“I teach kids in the daytime, and I bartend at night just to make ends meet, and I can’t afford to go [to Santa Clara],” one fan said. “And it’s really hard. But for me, you know, I’ve been blessed enough to be able to be here for so many years, so I can’t be too mad.”
Some fans, including a season ticket holder named Selena, say they’ll follow the team south, though it doesn’t feel completely right.
“I wish they just redid the Stick and kept ‘em here. Why do San Francisco got to be in Santa Clara?” she said. “I think this is the best. San Francisco is the best place for them to be.”
Not all fans are sorry to see the change. Candlestick’s showing its age, and some fans say the new location will work better for them. Ahmad Grainger drives nearly 200 miles each way to the games from his home in the Central Valley.
“You know what, I don’t live in San Francisco, so it’s a closer trip for me,” he said. “I’m likin’ the new stadium, I’m likin’ it. It’s upgrading, it needs to be done, you know?”
The 49ers say their new home, called Levi’s Stadium, will be the greenest and the most modern in the NFL.
The city of San Francisco will sell the Candlestick seats — $800 a pair, if you’re interested. Then at some point next year the park will offer one final spectacle: a massive implosion to help clear the way for housing and shopping.
But the wind will still be there and so will the memories.