Reliving the Best Moments at Candlestick Park Before Final Game on Monday Night
Candlestick Park has hosted so many events that have left attendees stunned, it’s truly difficult to put into words what all of those happenings have collectively meant over its 50-year lifespan. How do you describe not one, but a barrage of moments that left you speechless?
The ‘Stick is very mythical that way.
Sports, music and world history are all tied into this one venue that has been standing on an 82-acre site in San Francisco since 1960. It’s made it one of the more treasured stadiums in the U.S. Truth be told, there’s probably been more emotions felt than touchdowns scored at the park.
Its influence extends way beyond the teams it’s housed over the years.
Sure, Jerry Rice eclipsing Jim Brown’s touchdown record is a prolific moment, yet it could’ve happened on the road and it would’ve meant the same. The infamous goal-line stand versus the Philadelphia Eagles and the razzle dazzle scramble by quarterback Steve Young versus the Minnesota Vikings also rank up there.
But the arena itself has symbolized so much more.
All that being said, tonight it’s finally time to say goodbye. As it were, this evening’s game between the home team San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons marks the last game of any kind in the stadium’s history, pending a miracle finish by the Niners this season (which would only be fitting with what you’re about to read).
It is the last chapter to be written before the 49ers, who have won more games at the 'Stick than any team at its home stadium in NFL history (via 49ers.com's Taylor Price), head south to Santa Clara where Levi's Stadium is scheduled to be ready for their 2014 season.
So, we’re going to do our best to capture the moments that personified Candlestick Park, while ranking the all-time moments in its history.
10. Ronnie Lott Gives Dallas the Finger
In any NFL game, at least a handful of players tough it out and play through injuries—it's part of the game.
Jerry Rice, the legend, posting 149 yards and three touchdowns in Super Bowl XXIX with the flu and a separated shoulder, as well as current Pro Bowl tackle Joe Staley taking snaps in a game against the St. Louis Rams on a fractured leg are among the few unforgettable lessons in toughness by 49ers players.
However impressive, the championship belt in toughness belongs to Pro Football Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott. It’s indisputable. Even across all-timers in said category, Lott ranks way up there.
Outside of his opening hit in Super Bowl XXIII—even among all the interceptions and “woo licks”—his all-time moment took place at Candlestick Park.
December 22, 1985. On the menu: the rival Dallas Cowboys, four seasons removed from “The Catch.” Lott was a rookie in that game but had since grown into one of the NFL's best defenders, seeing the Cowboys for the first time since.
And the rivalry was hot.
But the feud was about to be kicked up another notch, as would the legends of Lott and Candlestick Park. Closing on an off-tackle run, Lott’s pinky finger was crushed by the helmet of Dallas halfback Timmy Newsome, instantly exploding the tip of his finger.
For how small an area of the body, that’s as gruesome as it gets.
Lott finished the game against Dallas with an interception and a win, and he also started in San Francisco's Wild Card Round loss to the New York Giants.
Even more unbelievable, instead of having bone taken from his wrist to graft the tip of his pinky, Lott elected to have it amputated in the offseason to avoid a lengthier process that would include a hand cast for eight or so weeks.
Something of that magnitude will likely never be repeated in the NFL. It was truly a watershed moment portraying the all-or-nothing days of American football, and it happened at the ‘Stick.
9. Blunders of the Bay Area
In its longstanding history since 1960, Candlestick Park has always been one of those stadiums with so much character. Not just because of its track record of hosting music shows or big-game performances, either, but because of the almost comical nature of its conditions.
Located at the tip of the bay, the geographical location and treatment led to inevitable water damage over the years. Even though it wasn’t below sea level, the fog rolling in from the bay, damp air and the salt in the water resulted in rust and rot, eating away at the stadium like a virus.
Fifty years later, the venue was decaying, as the locker room and tunnel walls, located at the lowest part of the foundation, needed to be repainted each season. It only seemed like a matter of time before it was to be replaced. The cost of maintenance did not make sense and it was aging in dog years because of its locale.
Originally, the stadium was built for baseball, too.
The ‘Stick actually wasn’t expanded and enclosed until the 1971-72 season to house the 49ers following their move from Kezar Stadium. For both sports, the seats were located too far from the field, which was almost nostalgic for the 49ers after the track-style field at Kezar.
But it was not ideal for fans.
In the early 1960s, the New York Mets were taking batting practice when the wind picked up the batting cage and dropped it 60 feet away from the pitcher’s mound. Nice treat for the out-of-towners. It’s clear to see that Candlestick has never been the ideal host, spooking and pranking its guests like a haunted house.
More recently, multiple power outages on Monday Night Football versus the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2011 caused an uproar.
8. Stu Miller 'Blown Off (the) Mound'
Winds have always been a factor at this venue, striking fear into the hearts of pitchers, placekickers and punters since its inception.
On July 11, 1961, Candlestick Park played mother to one of the most famous moments in the stadium’s history, forever leaving its mark on Major League Baseball.
Relieving Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax in the ninth inning of the All-Star game that year, then-Baltimore Orioles pitcher Stu Miller took the mound, looking to protect a one-run lead with runners on first and second and one out.
Miller had led the NL division in saves that year.
Looking back on it, even though Miller was a light-bodied pitcher (he was just 165 pounds), this is really one of those moments that could’ve happened to anybody. In what seemed like a normal day at the ballpark, Candlestick quietly awoke from her slumber two innings prior, as winds picked up in the seventh, coming in over the left-field corner.
Cognizant of the conditions, Miller noted the flags lining the stadium going from draping down to pointing straight out. But it couldn’t prepare him for what would happen next. “It wasn’t my home park. I didn’t know wind. I didn’t know about that particular wind,” Miller told Jeff Faraudo of the San Jose Mercury News.
“It was exceptionally strong.”
In the top of the ninth, high winds swirled around the park and came up from behind the right-hander with a strong force, overthrowing his stance and knocking him off balance. Two to three inches off his mark, in fact.
But something Miller felt was more of a minor flinch than anything. “I couldn’t help it,” he said, citing the tornado-like power of the wind.
He threw a pitch after, which was a strike, but by rule, the umpire motioned the runners, signaling them to advance and the play was penciled in as a balk (an illegal motion by the pitcher). Stunned, Miller approached the ref at home plate to tell him that it wasn’t a balk. He insisted the wind pushed him.
This initiated a chain reaction, enabling another error from the third baseman, allowing the tying run to score.
Nevertheless, the National League still came away with the victory, finishing the AL off 5-4 in the 10th inning on an RBI single from Roberto Clemente scoring Willie Mays. But that wasn’t the story the next day. As sure as sun rising, the media spun the All-Star game headline as, "Miller Blown Off Mound."
Years later, Miller refutes the fact he was blown off the mound, per The New York Times.
7. 'Mentor and Master'
Most don’t realize, but on top of everything else, Candlestick Park is a part of art history.
Documentarian Michael Zagaris (seen above) has been the 49ers' photojournalist for five decades, capturing the history of the team from an insider’s perspective and helping to give it a unique personality.
Zagaris is responsible for countless iconic 49ers images that will stand the test of time, but one in particular stands out above the rest.
During a timeout in the 1984 NFC Championship Game versus the Chicago Bears, en route to their second Super Bowl title, Joe Montana and Bill Walsh reconvened near the sideline to go over the play. Instead of diagramming it on an iPad like you see nowadays, the two kneeled down and proceeded to draw the next play in the grass.
The spirited Zagaris had taken notice and was able to creep near the action, army crawling over the fresh cut grass, entering that metaphysical bubble Montana and Walsh found themselves in.
With the lights, the overcast sky, combined with the angle and the boomerang shape of the stadium, Candlestick provided a magical backdrop for this photo.
From a low angle, Zagaris was able to snap off a few shots of the two, one of which became an image that will be loved and celebrated for a long time. The black and white, taken in Candlestick, with the legendary figures framed, the symbiotic energy frozen in time—it’s truly an incredible moment.
“To me, I see the comradeship that existed between Joe Montana and myself,” Walsh said, via NFL Network. “It captures a connection. We always spoke with our team that everyone is connected, almost visually. So we were in total sync when this was taken.”
This dramatic photo, called “Mentor and Master,” is technically a piece of a fine art and is one of the great sports images of all time.
6. World Series Quake
In October of 1989, Major League Baseball’s best teams were Candlestick-bound for Game 3 of the World Series. The Oakland A’s, holding a two-game lead, would travel to the park to face the San Francisco Giants in a series showdown coined the Battle of the Bay.
Power hitters headlined this one.
With a series featuring the Bash Brothers Jose Conseco and Mark McGwire from Oakland and Will Clark and Kevin Mitchell from the Giants, the earth was set to shake.
Roughly 21 minutes prior to when the first pitch was to be thrown, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck (6.9 on the Richter Scale, via National Geographic). Outside of the early 1900s quake, it was clearly the most substantial natural disaster in the city’s history.
And it was terrifying.
Fans leaving Candlestick entered a realm of apocalyptic conditions: Buildings and homes were set ablaze, burning for days on end. There were citywide power outages with rubble and debris scattered everywhere. Over 60 people were killed, while nearly 4,000 more were injured. Streets were abandoned. Bridges were falling. People were trapped.
The Golden Gate, a suspension bridge, was swinging near its eye, while its sister Bay Bridge had a collapsed section.
What felt like a relatively normal earthquake from inside Candlestick Park was in fact a historic tremor. Surprisingly, the venue only suffered minor structural damage, saving tens of thousands of lives in the process. The 14.5-acre monument represented a pillar of strength for the city of San Francisco in a very scary time.
Game 3 went down 10 days later and the A’s finished their rout, winning back-to-back games to sweep the series 4-0.
5. The Comeback
Everybody loves a comeback.
The 49ers had arguably their most epic one against the rival New York Giants, digging themselves out of a 24-point hole in the 2002 NFC Wild Card playoffs. This past week, the team’s CEO, Jed York, told 95.7 The Game that it was the best moment in the history of the park, or at least his personal favorite.
That statement carries some weight, too. Trailing 38-14 in the third quarter, it went down as the second-largest comeback in postseason history.
On the backbone of this resurgence, quarterback Jeff Garcia was wheeling and dealing in his fourth season, killing the Giants defense with his arm and his legs. At one point, he entered a zone where his forward progress would not be halted. Garcia was going to take whatever the defense gave him.
And then take a little more.
Joining him, Terrell Owens put forth a monster performance, totaling 177 yards and two touchdowns on nine grabs. It was a total takeover from T.O. at the wide receiver position, carrying an offense that only had supporting role players like Tai Streets and J.J. Stokes, and a floundering tight end in Eric Johnson.
Down to the wire, the 49ers took the lead in the final two minutes on a TD pass from Garcia to Streets. The Giants sealed their fate when a last-ditch field-goal attempt was ruined by a bad snap, propelling the 49ers forward in the postseason.
Of course, New York fans will recall the call (or lack thereof) that didn’t go their way when the holder tried to improvise and throw downfield, but the Giants actually had two illegal men downfield, which would’ve meant offset penalties. The game-ending incomplete pass was the right call.
It was one of the most heartbreaking losses in New York's history, as the 49ers finally got a little taste of revenge for all the games the Giants spoiled for them in the past.
4. The Catch II
To be perfectly honest, even though this club had reached dynasty status, this was a game where San Francisco was very much looking to prove it still had some fight left. The 49ers were getting Jerry Rice back from an ACL injury sustained in ’97 while transitioning from George Seifert to Steve Mariucci at head coach.
Sure, the 49ers had one five titles in two decades. But they had undergone change, and people wanted to know how much steam they had left.
The Niners had been sent home from the postseason three times since winning their fifth title in 1994, with all three losses coming against the Green Bay Packers. In the 1998 Wild Card Game, a settled-in 49ers team led by quarterback Steve Young would get another crack at it, hosting hotshot gunslinger Brett Favre and a surging Packers team on their home turf.
Heading into this one, the 12-4 49ers had won five of their last six, were red hot and looking to make a statement against the team that appeared to have their number.
When it began, it was every bit the dogfight the 49ers expected it to be. There was never more than a four-point difference. And for most of the game, the story was the erratic, butterfingered performance by No. 81, Terrell Owens. A few drops and a lost fumble—he didn’t look like himself.
For the most part, the 49ers were surviving on the leg of kicker Wade Richey, who finished with three made field goals.
Of course, this back-and-forth tussle came down to the fourth quarter. With less than two minutes remaining, the 49ers got the ball back, down 27-23 following a 15-yard swoop from Favre to wide receiver Antonio Freeman. Down four, San Francisco needed a drive and a big play, which were few and far between that day.
The 49ers pushed downfield, picking up some key first downs and positioning themselves in Packer territory.
Third down. Eight seconds left on the clock. It’s all or nothing.
On a play called “Three Jets All Go,” Owens, from the slot, ran a post against a prevent zone defense by Green Bay. He got behind the linebacker, kept the cornerback on his up-field shoulder, turned inside and Young put a perfect ball right into his chest, and Owens actually held on, even after getting crunched.
The 49ers scored and went up three points with three seconds left on the clock.
Most remember 49ers announcer Joe Starkey calling the play, shouting, “Owens! Owens! Owens! He caught it! He caught it!”
Madness ensued. The crowd members were so alive, trying to digest what they’d just seen. Young almost falling over in his drop back, the triangle collision on Owens and T.O.’s tears made this a three-part, heart-warming moment. Not to mention the day Owens had up until then, giving it the redemption factor.
With one last chance, everyone in the stadium thought the ball would surely be going in Jerry Rice’s direction, but it was fired to a cold-handed Owens. Many coined the moment, "Catch II."
The 49ers escaped the Packers, 30-27, but were eliminated by the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round the next week.
3. The Beatles’ Final Show
The city of San Francisco has a storied history when it comes to music, whether it was the Grateful Dead’s presence, the infamous Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Festival, the Summer of Love in the Haight-Ashbury section or the modern Outside Lands festival in Golden Gate Park.
It is and always has been a very artistic area, rich in history, and was fortunate enough to build on its legacy on August 29, 1966.
That day, Candlestick Park hosted what was the final Beatles concert in which all four founding members—Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison—played live together. The band, which changed music forever, gave the city the gift of that iconic moment.
The fact that the fans didn’t know it would be their final show only adds to the mystique.
It wasn’t planned around a farewell. At the time the park’s capacity was 42,000 but only 25,000 tickets were sold, per Beatles Bible. There were tons of unoccupied sections of the park, as the band rocked out from behind second base. Fans only had to pay between $4.50 and $6.50 per ticket.
The Beatles took the stage and played 11 songs (heard above):
- Rock and Roll Music
- She’s a Woman
- If I Needed Someone
- Day Tripper
- Baby’s in Black
- I Feel Fine
- I Wanna Be Your Man
- Nowhere Man
- Paperback Writer
- Long Tall Sally
The fact is, this goes beyond music, it goes beyond sports, and it goes beyond architecture, for that matter. This was a monumental event in history, and it will never be repeated. It can’t be. No band or living artist measures up to the time-altering symbol of The Beatles.
As musicians, they were a universally embraced revolution.
So, while you can be sure there will be plenty more moments that happen at Levi's Stadium under coach Jim Harbaugh, The Beatles will go down as the greatest rock n’ roll band ever. Period. And as suddenly as they exploded onto the scene, they used Candlestick Park as their vessel to quietly bow out. In the park's history, this is easily top three, and according to NFL Network, it topped poll voting as the best moment in stadium history.
2. Vernon Post
The word "unbelievable" is probably overused in sports, but this is exactly what this moment was, through and through.
January 14, 2012. The 49ers were in the playoffs for the first time since 2002, hosting a divisional round game for first time in 15 years. Under the new direction of first-year coach Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco was eerily good again, sneaking up on teams and playing a clean, opportunistic brand of football.
The most impressive truth in all of this is that Harbaugh was doing this with most of the same cast that had finished 6-10 the year before.
2005 first overall pick Alex Smith, “the bust,” was in the playoffs? Nobody wanted to believe, nor could they believe, that Smith was becoming a winning quarterback. But everyone was fine with it because he was sure to lose against quarterback Drew Brees and the high-flying New Orleans Saints.
Vegas listed the 49ers as three-point underdogs at their own house.
“Smith can’t win in a shootout, he’s a game manager,” pundits would shout. Well, in a game where 68 points were scored, Smith did keep pace.
Offensively, the Saints pushed Smith to his limits, making him do what the football world thought was impossible.
With the stadium painted red, the 49ers hit the Saints hard early on, running up a surprising 17-0 lead.
Defensive tackle Justin Smith and the defense were hitting Brees relentlessly. They were forcing turnovers, playing balanced football on offense and winning the field position game. But sure enough, the Saints came roaring back, trailing just 17-14 at half. The back-and-forth action in the second half resulted in one of the most entertaining finishes in NFL postseason history.
Darren Sproles' 44-yard catch and run score gave the Saints their first lead in the fourth quarter. But Alex Smith answered with an incredible 28-yard scramble for a score that gave the 49ers a 29-24 advantage. The Saints put themselves back on top, 32-29, with less than two minutes left in the game thanks to a 66-yard bomb from Brees to tight end Jimmy Graham.
After allowing scoring plays of 44 and 66 yards, the 49ers needed this offense to respond again.
It couldn’t possibly happen.
With dump-offs to running back Frank Gore and a big catch-and-run by San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis, who was having a coming-of-age game in his own right, the 49ers were able to march down the field and put themselves in scoring range.
They could’ve settled for a field goal but did they really want to give Brees the ball back?
No. San Francisco was going for the end zone and it had just the call.
Originally designed by 49ers quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst, the “Vernon Post” was a play designed to beat Cover 2, which was what New Orleans had been leaning on during that drive. Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams did not stop bringing heat and was comfortable with his two safeties.
The table was set for what offensive coordinator Greg Roman called a “bang-bang play,” via Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News.
Smith to his favorite target, Davis, against the best look they could’ve asked for. The two top picks from 2005 and 2006, paired to salvage this team right away, coming through years later? How serendipitous. You couldn’t write a better story.
As 49ers.com's Taylor Price noted, the 49ers went nuts after the go-ahead touchdown.
Looking at the big picture, this means more far more than the Catch II or the comeback because the 49ers had been stuck in a rut, suffering seven losing seasons in eight years. This closer resembled the birth of the dynasty in 1981, rather than any of those other moments.
The connection of Alex Smith, labeled a bust, to Vernon Davis, who hadn’t lived up to the hype outside of his 13-touchdown season in 2009, made this moment. It also officially dawned a new era in 49ers football.
1. The Catch
Beating the Dallas Cowboys, “America’s Team,” was really a tremendous test because up until that point, they had always beaten the 49ers. Dallas was a winning machine under coach Tom Landry, but when Bill Walsh came to San Francisco, everything changed.
That leveled the playing field.
In the 1981 season, which was Walsh’s third and Joe Montana’s first full campaign as the starting quarterback, the Niners hosted the Cowboys and beat them down 45-14 at the ‘Stick in the regular season. This was a monumental statement in its own right, even though it still didn’t quite demonstrate a turning point.
Moreover, the excuse used then was that the 49ers hadn’t seen the real Cowboys team, to which guard Randy Cross replied, “Well, maybe they hadn’t seen the real 49ers either.”
On January 10, 1982, the two would meet again in the NFC Championship Game with the 49ers having home-field advantage since they won during the regular season.
43 degrees. Sunshine. Very little wind. It was a perfect day for football and a great day to impact NFL history. From the opening kickoff, this one was going 100 miles per hour, and it was tight throughout. Dallas and its Doomsday Defense looked much better, so both teams were knocking each other’s teeth in.
It was physical. It was a chess match. And it went back and forth, looking like an instant classic.
With the Niners down 27-21 late in the fourth quarter, Joe Montana led a drive down the field and called a timeout. Coach Walsh drew up a play with Montana on the sidelines, which was the sprint right option (a Paul Brown play from the early 50s). On the play, Montana took the snap, was nearly driven out of bounds by Ed "Too Tall" Jones before lofting a high ball to the back of the end zone, which was snatched by Dwight Clark.
The rest is history. The play, known as "The Catch," resulted in one of the all-time moments, plays and images in sports lore.
Here is what Montana had to say about the play, via the team's official website:
I overthrew Freddie Solomon the play before that, who would have walked into the end zone. He was so open and I threw it three feet over his head and I thought we'd never get another chance. We'd never really thrown the ball to Dwight on that play because he's supposed to set a pick on Freddie, but Freddie falls down.
So, he's the second receiver and he didn't think the play was going to come to him, but he saw the play still going. He ended up finishing his route like he's supposed to—it just took his slow butt a long time, but he did make a nice catch
What’s often forgotten in that age-old footage is that the 49ers scored with 51 seconds remaining on the clock.
On the ensuing drive, Cowboys quarterback Danny White hit wideout Drew Pearson in stride over the middle, who looked like he would’ve gone the distance had then-rookie cornerback Eric Wright not made an astonishing fingertip tackle, yanking Pearson down to the ground.
So, you could argue that there were actually two signature endings to that game.
These plays carried the 49ers to a 28-27 win over the Cowboys and eventually a 26-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI and launched one of the most prolific dynasties in sports history.
As noted by the 49ers Twitter feed, Clark's catch is, without question, the No. 1 play in stadium history.
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