One of the world’s oldest ice boxes is on the verge of having its plug pulled.
Candlestick Park, which opened just south of San Francisco in 1960 amid fanfare that it was among the country’s cutting-cut facilities, is headed to the trash heap. It likely will host it final game Monday night when the 49ers host Atlanta. A new football stadium will be on-line next season about 30 miles south in Santa Clara, ending the stadium’s 42-year NFL association.
The baseball Giants played there from 1960 to 1999 when their stadium, tucked on the waterfront about 10 miles north, was opened.
You might remember Mark Twain’ famous quote when he spent some time in the city in 1863 (a bit before The Stick was built). He said, “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” With that knowledge of The City’s chilly reputation, particular in the summer, the good folks in San Francisco still decided to put the facility in the most inappropriate spot. It was built of a spit of land in the direct path of one of a handful of natural slots for the cold ocean air and chilling fog to pour through over the coastal hills. It was cold for winter football games but even colder for summer baseball games.
My colleague Jim Street spent more time in The City and covered more games but I also had my memories during my four years (1981-85) as assistant sports editor of the San Francisco Examiner. I have four personal reflections from that time, a couple for the Giants and two for the 49ers.
The first memory that rushes back was a bolt of genius by then Giants marketing chief Pat Gallagher. In the early 1980s much was made by the media of The Stick’s frigid conditions, severely affecting attendance. So Gallagher decided to use that to the club’s advantage. The club offered a “Criox de Candlestick” pin to every fan who stuck around for the end of any extra-inning game, or past 10 p.m. The clever commercials compared some of great battles in history and put a diehard Giants fan as a comparable survivor. A little in poor taste but no one seemed too object.
The other baseball memory I had was our paper’s preparation for the 1984 All-Star Game. We did stories of the previous All-Star Game at The Stick in 1961 when it was infamously believed that a cold breeze was responsible for blowing Giants reliever Stu Miller off the mound in a crucial situation, ninth inning two on and the NL holding a 3-2 lead. The wind caused him to be called for a balk, the runners moved up and one would eventually score to tie the game. The NL still won the game, 4-3, on a Willie Mays’ 10th-inning RBI but Miller and The Stick’s winds stole the headlines.
In stories we ran in the Examiner before that game, Miller denied the ‘blown off mound” story.
Another Giants story from the ’84 game, also affected me more than anyone. I was in charge of our paper’s coverage and I put together a fan vote for the all-time All-Star team, since this was the 50th anniversary. But when we were putting together the Friday night bulldog – a mostly advertising Sunday section printed a day ahead – there was a major production problem involving the photos. We finally put them onto the paper and onto the presses about an hour later. They said that delay cost the Hearst Corp. about $10,000. Oh, well.
Another potential embarrassing incident happened in 1982 when I was invited to attend a 49ers game in the company’s ‘luxury suite.’ All the big wigs were there and it was a chance for me to make an impression. Now this suite was like a closet, barely enough room for eight people to fit in. No elbow room. Hardly enough room to pass each other.
I had two tickets but my wife couldn’t go. So, foolishly, as I was driving into the parking lot a particularly scruffy scalper asked if I had an extra. I did and showed it. How fortunate I was that he turned it down. I still have nightmares over what if I sold that ticket and had this quite unsuitable fellow breaking bread with our company suits. I imagined that I would have to pretend he was my long-lost brother.
The final memory is one so many people have. It was one of the greatest plays in NFL history and, in fact, you see it every Sunday when the NFL runs it “rights” promotion, Dwight Clark’s shadowy catch in the north end zone against Dallas in the 1981 NFC title game. It was a 6-yard touchdown toss from a scrambling Joe Montana. Clark went high over Cowboy DB Everson Walls to bring it down.
Our writer, Frank Cooney, first dubbed it Dwight’s Flight, also forever known as The Catch to San Franciscans. Some writers and other prominent people, including team owner Eddie DeBartolo, didn’t see it because they were stuck in an elevator on the way to the field.
There were a few anxious moments in that final minute until a Cowboys QB Danny White fumble allowed the 49ers to win 28-27 and advance to their first (of five) trips in the Super Bowl. It also allowed me to attend my first Super Bowl – in Detroit – where it was almost as cold as Candlestick.