There’s been no place like quite like the Stick
SAN FRANCISCO — From great names to great games. From Joe Montana and Jerry Rice to Willie Mays and Barry Bonds. From swirling winds and dipping temps to no place better on earth on a sunny summer day.
Ah, Candlestick Park.
There were showdowns with the loathsome Dallas Cowboys and a Bay Bridge World Series rocked by an earthquake.
The Stick had music, too, including the Beatles final concert.
Most importantly, it will always have “The Catch.”
From the moment Dwight Clark leaped high and pulled down the Montana touchdown pass that helped send San Francisco to its first Super Bowl after the 1981 season, Candlestick Park would always be known for that instant classic.
In a stadium that also featured spectacular catches from Mays in center field, deep drives by Bonds, and the earthquake that interrupted the 1989 World Series, the birth of Bill Walsh’s football dynasty and Montana-to-Clark against the Cowboys tops ‘em all.
Clark says he’s reminded of the moment nearly every day.
“For Joe, under duress, to put it right in that exact spot, what it had to be was magical. It just showed the true magic of Joe Montana and his ability to get things done,” Clark said. “When I went out on the field at the beginning of that drive, I remember thinking, ‘How are we going to get this done against America’s team?’”
The end of an era for the park begins with the 49ers’ opener against Green Bay on Sept. 8. For many, the farewell season will be bittersweet. Once it’s over, that huge oval on picturesque Candlestick Point will be imploded to make way for a shopping center.
It was a baseball venue first, built for the Giants, but became best known for the 49ers and Walsh’s dynamic decade, when the Niners won three of their five Super Bowl championships.
“We didn’t lose too many games at Candlestick,” former running back Roger Craig said.
The top 10 football moments are being counted down during each home game, ending with — what else? — The Catch on Dec. 23. The game is against Atlanta in a rematch of last season’s NFC title game.
For those who don’t remember, the play went like this: Montana rolled right and had defenders closing in when he lofted the 6-yard pass to Clark in the north end zone for what would be the winning score with 51 seconds left in a 28-27 victory. The 49ers went on to beat the Bengals for their first championship.
Former owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. has two signed pictures of the moment.
“I don’t think there’s any question, as far as the San Francisco 49ers go and our Super Bowl runs and our history of success in the ’80s and the ’90s, it started with The Catch,” DeBartolo said.
Not to be forgotten are the baseball memories, like the myth of Stu Miller being blown off the mound during the 1961 All-Star game for one of baseball’s most famous balks.
“And the McCovey lineout in the World Series, the ‘62 Series, that’s an iconic moment,” 75-year-old Willie McCovey recalled with a chuckle of his liner to Bobby Richardson that still stings today. “Against the Yankees in the World Series. Seven games. Last of the ninth, two men on. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
The Giants’ next World Series — 27 years later — was rocked by an earthquake.
Shortly before Game 3 of the ‘89 Series against the Oakland Athletics, the quake shook sold-out, 62,038-seat Candlestick. The Series didn’t resume until 10 days later, and the A’s won the final two for a four-game sweep.
“The earthquake … I could see it coming, the light standards started going back and forth and you could actually see the wave come through the stands,” said former Giants first baseman Will Clark, who had just completed a sprint out to center field when the temblor hit. “I ran in and by that time the policemen were saying the Marina had fires and the Bay Bridge collapsed. We pretty much knew the game was going to be canceled at that point, so the first thing I wanted to do was make sure I got my family out of the stands.”
At Candlestick, the day-to-day elements proved a constant challenge.
When Phil Garner played there, he and his teammates experimented with ways to deal with the unpredictable weather.
“We put baby oil on — it closes your pores so you’re not as cold — and I think Joe Morgan was BS-ing us: We put panty hose on and then thought he might be lying to us, because it looked pretty silly,” Garner said. “We tried all that and none of it worked. We were still cold.”
There were fog delays, and wind gusts that would blow off hats so fast “they’d be pinned against the center-field fence within three seconds,” Will Clark said. “You’d be at home plate and trying to pick up the baseball in the middle of 50 hot dog wrappers blowing around in a little mini tornado.”
Hall of Fame broadcaster Lon Simmons called 49ers and Giants games. The Giants played there from 1960-1999 before opening their baseball-only waterfront ballpark in 2000, while the 49ers came in for the 1971 season after leaving Kezar Stadium.
“I felt that Candlestick and I were soul mates: We were both big and ugly, we were both windy,” the 90-year-old Simmons said, “and they could never figure out how to get rid of either one of us.”
Next year, the Niners will move into $1.2 billion Levi’s Stadium at the team’s Silicon Valley headquarters in Santa Clara. The stadium will host the 50th Super Bowl in February 2016.
Despite the intrigue of a state-of-the-art stadium, those who spent great years at Candlestick are sad to see it go.
“She’s a grand old lady,” former Giants pitcher Mike Krukow said. “We loved her.”
McCovey isn’t ready to ponder the end of a place so dear.
“I don’t even want to think of that, of them blowing it up,” McCovey said. “I hear guys saying things like that they’d like to be in line to push the button and all that. I don’t think that way about Candlestick. I only have fond memories of Candlestick.”
Rice, Dwight Clark and DeBartolo hope to witness Candlestick’s final moment.
“I really want to be there for that,” Rice said. “My heart was in that place.”
He’s not alone.
“You saw stuff at Candlestick,” Will Clark said, “you never saw anywhere else.”
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