It was the kind of talk you’d hear from just about any middle-age guy talking about getting together to play a little football. Only legendary San Francisco 49er running back Roger Craig isn’t your average weekend warrior.
“Hopefully it doesn’t get too physical,” Craig said. “‘Cause sometimes, you know, competitive juices come out of you and you tend to forget that you’re 50 years old — you can’t make those moves any more so be careful.”
No, the “it” wasn’t the upcoming NFL preseason. But neither was it a mere neighborhood pickup game. Craig was getting ready to join fellow retired teammates including defensive back Tim McKyer in a game of flag football at Candlestick Park, the 49ers’ old stadium.
“Better than tackle,” laughed McKyer. “Oh, my. Flag football. I can’t even see the ball much less a little flag dangling on the side of their hips.”
With fellow 49ers like Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana and receiver Jerry Rice, Craig and McKyer gathered to play a charity game last week against an “All Star” squad led by Miami Dolphins star Dan Marino. The “Legends of Candlestick” game was billed as the stadium’s final football game. It was a chance for fans like Joe Quilici to say goodbye to a tired-looking Candlestick and celebrate its legacy.
“We’ve had seasons tickets ever since they moved to Candlestick from Kezar,” Quilici said. “My dad’s no longer with us, and he was diehard. He used to sit right over there in Section 37. I just had to see it one more time. For me it’s personal. Very personal.”
Like Quilici, fan Tim Griffin has been coming out to this cold, windy park most of his life.
“I think it’s time.” Griffin said. “They need to blow [Candlestick] up. And life goes on, but it’s nice to come out and see some of these former greats play one more time.”
And those former greats, a little older, a little grayer, maybe just a little slower, still have a big following. Once play started, the fans couldn’t help themselves. It didn’t matter that it was flag football played on an 80-yard field. The stadium was less than half full, but the fans were loving the show.
With time running out, and the Candlestick wind starting to howl, the Niners needed a touchdown. Joe Montana spotted a target in the end zone, and lobbed the ball into the arms of former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo.
“He lobbed it! To Eddie D.! To Eddie D.!” the announcer shouted.
And it was over. The final score: Niners 45, All Stars 40.
Candlestick Park still has two more acts before it finally shuts down: a soccer game later this month, and Sir Paul McCartney, who will play to a sold-out house in what is — for now — the last scheduled event at the Stick.
DeBartolo, however, knew that this was — probably– the last time the fans would see a football game on this field.
“I thank you for a lifetime, and I mean a lifetime, of happiness and thrills,” he said.
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