*Sunday will mark the fourth and final Seahawks game I attend against the 49ers at Candlestick Park. The stadium is set to be torn down at the conclusion of the 49ers 2013 season. As a part of our second 49ers “hate week” of the season, I commemorate Candlestick Park with a special tribute post about the stadium from a Seahawks fan’s perspective*
Over the past decade-plus there have been many instances when my friends and I talk about the Kingdome. Those talks include topics such as what our most memorable experiences in the Kingdome were, what we miss about it, and how sometimes we even wish the Kingdome was still around today. On March 26th, 2000 the Kingdome was imploded and the most iconic part and the most special era of my childhood came tumbling to the ground.
The same is about to happen to San Francisco 49ers fans.
San Francisco sports fans have already gone through this once when the San Francisco Giants moved downtown to AT&T Park in 2000. However once the 49ers move out of Candlestick Park at the conclusion of the 2013 season, the clock will have struck midnight on the legendary building most famously known for hosting the final concert of the Beatles and hosting game 3 of the 1989 World Series when a magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the San Francisco area minutes prior to the start of the game, shaking the stadium and postponing the series for one week. Following this season, Candlestick Park will be torn down to make way for a proposed shopping center at the site of the stadium. Next season the 49ers are moving into Levi’s Stadium, their new state-of-the-art facility in Santa Clara and thus will shift into an era of playing their home games in a modern day football stadium they can call their own. After the final game at the end of this month, a remarkable run including 42 years of memories will come to an end.
Let me get this out of the way now. Personally I hate Candlestick Park. It is an absolute dump of a stadium. The seats are uncomfortable, the bathrooms are claustrophobic, and the concourses are so narrow that it takes forever to get out of the stadium after the game. Not only that but the sole fact that it housed the team I despise the most for 42 seasons gives me reason to hate the building by itself. On the inside it reminds me of a more cramped Kingdome without a roof. A lot of people would say the Kingdome was the same but many Seahawks fans including myself loved that building. That feeling of “home” for 49ers fans at Candlestick Park is the same feeling I miss about going to the Kingdome and the “home” of the “Niner Empire” will be permanently relocated which could come as a traditional shock for many 49ers fans. For those Seahawks fans that have never had the opportunity to attend a game at Candlestick Park, let me attempt to paint you a colorful picture of a 49ers gameday at the Stick.
The Drive: For my first two games at Candlestick Park, we drove north on highway 101 to get to the stadium. The Stick sits along the San Francisco bay just east of the highway. You know you are getting close once the highway curves past South San Francisco and you can see Candlestick Park in the distance on your right-hand side. Once you can see the stadium you hit a straight stretch of the highway and the stadium becomes larger as you drive closer, much like seeing the skylines of large cities become closer as you drive closer. The view is even better on a clear sunny day. The highway exit wraps around “Candlestick Point” and leads cars into multiple directions into the handful of parking lot entrances, which can be a big pain if you arrive closer to game time.
The Parking Lot and the Tailgating: The Seahawks are at a disadvantage when it comes to tailgating in Seattle because CenturyLink Field is located in the downtown core. There are limited parking lots surrounding CenturyLink Field and because of that fact many fans choose to drink at the surrounding neighborhood bars before the game. Candlestick Park does traditional tailgating the right way. The stadium is surrounded by roughly 8,800 parking spaces, housing the grand majority of fans attending each game. It is always best to arrive shortly after the gates to the parking lot open to avoid the inevitable traffic congestion that is promised both before and after the game. Once you park (around Seahawks fans of course) the fun really starts. As soon as you crack your car doors open you can smell the sweet aroma of meat being prepared on the numerous charcoal barbeques. You can see the different beautiful layouts of each car’s food and the large coolers stuffed with different types of liquor and beer. You can hear the mixed sounds of NFL pregame shows on the radio and the latest hip-hop/rap tracks blasting from car speakers. You can see the sights of fans playing beer pong, flip cup, beanbag toss, and throwing around footballs while engaging in friendly football banter. It is always a very merry atmosphere; an atmosphere that would get even the most bandwagon of fans excited for the rest of the day’s events.
The Walk: If you a 49ers fan this part would not be nearly worth talking about but as a visiting fan, the walk into the stadium is a very intimidating, yet very cool thing to experience. Most fans walk down a designated stretch of blacktop that leads straight to the gates of the stadium. Tailgating fans line the sides of the walkway and it is custom for 49ers fans to boo the Seahawks fans making their way into the stadium. I personally feed off of their energy, often signaling them to boo me louder. I absolutely love it and it is even better when the Seahawks are a better team on the field than the 49ers are. The walk into Candlestick Park serves as a preview of what to expect inside the stadium as an opposing fan.
The Concourses: Since I have sat in the same area of the Stick in each of my visits, I am not familiar at all with the lower level concourses. Once you enter the stadium, in order to get to the upper level you hop on an escalator that takes you right up to the upper deck. The concourse wraps around the entire stadium and they are very narrow, thus they can get very crammed as you get closer to kickoff. Concession stands and beer stands are continuously within spitting distance. The best part of the upper level concourse is the incredible view of the South San Francisco Bay, the downtown skyline, and the Bay Bridge along with the massive parking lot flooded with cars and people. It is a beautiful, picture perfect sight.
The Upper Bowl: Inside the bowl of the stadium, the first thing you see is the large Candlestick Point hill that neighbors the stadium. It is directly behind the stadium and provides a pretty backdrop to everyone that sits on the opponent’s side of the stadium. The seats are a bright orange color that are big but are very uncomfortable. It is a workout to even push your seat down and the seat stays down if you decide to stand up. Although I have sat in the same area of the stadium there is no bad seat in the upper bowl. The only problem I have is that the sun is constantly beating down on the entire stadium during day games, which has resulted in two terrible sunburns to my pale pigmented redhead skin.
After the Game: Leaving the stadium is a nightmare regardless of whether the Seahawks win or lose. 60,000+ people leaving the stadium all at the same time with one main road to get back onto highway 101 is the recipe for a long wait to exit the premises. Many fans go back to tailgate at their parking spaces to kill time while others try to get in the multiple car lines to leave the parking lot. It is very similar to the set up at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, where they turn the neighboring golf course into a giant parking area. I waited in that parking lot for over two hours following the 2001 Rose Bowl. Most fans wait for upwards of one and a half hours to leave Candlestick Park which is a gigantic pain. In my experiences, I have left Candlestick postgame both in the light and in the dark and after a night game the stadium (like many other stadiums) looks cool with all the lights on, especially from a distance on the highway. As you leave the parking lot the reality sets in that your trip is over but in my past experiences, the anticipation of my next trip to Candlestick Park starts to set along with the sigh of relief that you survived the current trip, which is a very exciting feeling.
Sunday will be the fourth and final Seahawks/49ers game that I attend at Candlestick Park. I have been through both good and bad moments in the games I have attended there. From the Seahawks 23-3 thumping of the 49ers in 2007, to the sick feeling of witnessing Ted Ginn Jr. return a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in the 2011 season opener, I can say that I had the opportunity to watch NFL football in one of the more famous stadiums in America. People like talk about bucket list trips and stadium visits they would like to make before they die. Lambeau Field in Green Bay and Soldier Field in Chicago are a couple of NFL stadiums that instantly come to mind, but in my opinion Candlestick Park is the Lambeau Field of the west coast. This season, as part of a Candlestick Park celebration, the 49ers are counting down the top 10 moments in the stadium’s history which includes a halftime ceremony honoring each moment. In this week’s game against the Seahawks, the 49ers will honor the number two moment: “The Catch III” which occurred on January 14th, 2012 when quarterback Alex Smith connected with tight end Vernon Davis for the game-winning touchdown in a Divisional playoff win over New Orleans.
Although I may not like the stadium, I have tremendous respect for the moments that occurred over the past four decades as well as the legacy that Candlestick Park will leave in the bay area.