By Josh Hunsucker (@JPhunsucker)
Today is more likely than not the last 49ers game at Candlestick Park (although Seattle and New Orleans losses next week and a backdoor number one seed would be nice). For the past week, it seems as though everyone is providing their memories of the reinforced concrete, wind vortex, traffic deathtrap, bog of a stadium the 49ers (and Giants) played inside of before concussions “existed.” The 49ers did a nice job of listing the Top 10 Candlestick moments and countless other pundits have recapped The Catch, T.O.’s TD catch against Green Bay (I refuse to call it Catch II), and the Vernon Post.
In some ways what I am writing is no different, even though as you will see it is clearly not the same. I was barely alive for The Catch, I still lived in Texas/Oklahoma during Steve Young’s scramble against the Vikes, and I never witnessed anything at Candlestick Park live (football-wise) until after Y2K didn't happen. So if you were expecting some “classic” moments you probably won't get them here unless you love Kurt Manwaring and Jeff Garcia.
The first time I remember being at Candlestick was to watch the Giants final home game in 1993 with my buddy JB and the TJB Cat. For those who don’t remember they had a murders row that year: Bonds (his first year in the Bay), Matt Williams, Willie McGeee, and Will “The Thrill” Clark. The final home game at Candlestick that year came before a crucial four game series in L.A. that would determine the Giants' playoff lives. During the September pennant race the Giants were in a dead heat with the Atlanta Braves. The Giants PA announcer kept giving in-game updates on the Braves game and we were constantly watching the scoreboard to see if the Art Howe led Astros could upset 20-game winner Tommy Glavine. That day, Salomon Torres lasted 2 and 2/3s, gave up two bombs, and left the Giants fans biting their nails in vain as the Braves got the win. The Giants went on to lose 12-1 to the Dodgers on the last game of the season, sealing their fate as the best team of all-time to miss the playoffs (103 wins).
In 2000, I went to my first Niners game at Candlestick. Miramonte High School booster, Orinda legend, and namesake of the Stockholm Store, Jim Stockhom, took me and another player from the football team to the game. That day marked the first and only time I would ever be put in a position that would have violated NCAA regulations, which was awesome in its own right. The Niners, sitting at 2-8 and slogging through a dismal season, met the Chiefs and the most under-utilized Golden Bear in history, Tony Gonzales. It was a 1:05 kickoff, sunny skies, no wind. As we got to our seats at the end of warm-ups and the stadium was buzzing. My eyes immediately locked into Flash-80 and fixed on him as he seemingly floated across the field catching easy- ups. The game itself was ugly. I remember T.O. only having one catch for maybe five or six yards. Jerry didn’t do much either. But El Jefe found a way and Chalie Garner chipped in 100-yards for a Niners 21-7 win.
When you are dating someone, very rarely do you get put into the position where the signs are so clear that you couldn’t miss them. In the infancy of my wife and I’s dating circa 2003, she called me up over the winter break and asked if I wanted to go to the final Niners home game that season against Seattle. The only catch was that I had to double- back from Orinda to Stockton to pick her up. Maybe this is different from some people but in my experience I don’t usually get offered Niners tickets out of the blue from girls that I was kind of dating. Bold move on her part. Although the game wasn’t great, we lost 24-17 and failed to salvage an 8-8 season, I had checked off the "likes and knows football box" for my future game day viewing partner.
I’m going to combo my last two “bonus” moments. Full disclosure, I wasn’t at either of these two events. The 2011-12 season was my favorite season since the 1994-5 Super Bowl year. I loved that team. I had just moved back to California after being gone for almost seven years and the Niners had this upstart coach and low expectations. Somehow, they kept winning these close games that they had always managed to lose during the previous 10-years.
The fourth quarter of the Saints game was one of the most emotionally draining sporting events of my life. Two heavyweights landing haymaker after haymaker with the other refusing to go down. The Alex Smith bootleg run may have been the happiest I have ever been for a Niner only to be spoiled by Darren Sproles crazy catch and run. Any Faithful watching that game is lying if they said that the Niners should have gone for the win on their next drive. I kept yelling at the TV “all we need is a field goal.” Frank chips away a few yards, then Vernon gets loose for almost fifty. The next two plays Frank for six yards and a Smith spike reeked of the classic NFL conservative play calling. Then it happened. Alex Smith dropped back and fired a laser to VD. Great catch, great throw. The Stick is going absolutely nuts at this point, I’m throwing my 1 1/2 year-old son in the air probably doing some irreparable harm to his body. Pandemonium, bedlam, joy, tears, and the feeling like football is finally back.
The next week, after Kyle Williams fumbled the punt(s) and the Giants kicked the game winning field goal (the second punt in OT never bothered me, great play by the Giants, but the first punt hitting his leg was inexcusable) I wasn’t distraught like I usually would be after a huge loss like that. We were back, a new era of Niner football.
And that is where we are now. While Candlestick will always have fond memories it’s time to move on. Tonight at the Stick will be a great send off for the team and the Faithful. Besides, wouldn't it be better to raise banner number six on opening day at Levi’s Stadium? Here's to "The Stick", and all that it's given us over the years.