Top Ten Sports Moments at Candlestick Park

Peter PanacyFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 11, 2014

Top Ten Sports Moments at Candlestick Park

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    The 49ers closed out the final regular season game at Candlestick Park on December 23, 2013.
    The 49ers closed out the final regular season game at Candlestick Park on December 23, 2013.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Candlestick Park—home of the San Francisco 49ers from 1971 through 2013 and home of the San Francisco Giants from 1960 through 1999.

    For many, including this author, Candlestick is a love-hate relationship. 

    I will not miss the freezing cold stadium while the rest of the Bay Area endured a late-summer heat wave. Nor will I miss the parking lot fiasco that followed nearly every game.

    Those troughs in the men's restrooms? Goodbye and good riddance.

    Candlestick Park may have earned its "dump" moniker, but as famed 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark recently noted via Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, "It was our dump."

    Nobody can take that away from San Francisco 49ers and Giants fans, nor can they take away the plethora of memories, both big and small, that encompass this historic stadium.

    "Respect the Stick" is all that needs to be said.

    After attending the final regular-season matchup between the 49ers and Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football back on December 23, I decided to draw up my nominations for the best sports moments at the Stick. Perhaps it will alleviate my depression at knowing the stadium where I spent a childhood would be no more.

    Clearly, there are too many worthy events to be included on a ten-piece slideshow. My own first Candlestick memory was a Giants game back in 1985 when I was five years old. I cannot remember who the Giants were playing nor who won or lost, but I do remember eating way too many chocolate malts.

    I am sure every San Francisco fan can share similar tales.

    This list, as it is limited to sports, will not include the last Beatles concert back in 1966 or Pope John Paul II's visit in 1987. This list shall remain primarily focused on the 49ers with some Giants moments as well.

    What determines the criteria? That is simple—the magnitude of the moments in question.

    I am positive that there are hundreds of these moments.

    Here are the ten best.

Honorable Mentions

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    There are far too many memorable sports moments to list at Candlestick Park.  Here are a few that do not quite crack the ten best, but are at least worth remembering.

     

    1962 World Series

    It was a seven-game classic between the San Francisco Giants and New York Yankees. It was also the Giants' first trip to the World Series since moving to San Francisco from New York following the 1957 season.

    The Giants boasted a cast of players ranging from Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, the Alou brothers and Orlando Cepeda. New York had its own cast which made this World Series one of the best.

    It all came down to Game 7 with the Yankees ahead by a score of 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth. The Giants had runners at second and third with two outs.  Future Hall of Famer Willie McCovey lined out to Yankees' second baseman Bobby Richardson, ending the game and giving the Yankees the crown.

    San Francisco would not return to the World Series for another 27 years.

    Brian Johnson's Walk-off Homer to Beat LA in 1997

    1997 was another great year for the Giants as the team had finished in last place the year before.

    Again, the Giants found themselves trailing their rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, within the division late into the season before facing off with them in a two-game series.

    In Game 2 of that series, the Giants and Dodgers were tied heading into extra innings. 

    Finally, the Giants' Brian Johnson ended the game in the bottom of the 12th with a shot over the left field wall—giving the Giants a walk-off win and sending the raucous crowd at Candlestick Park home happy.

    The NL West was tied after that game, and San Francisco went on to make the playoffs as division champions.

    That memorable walk-off moment can be viewed here.

     

    1989 NFC Championship Game—Dominance over the Rams

    The 49ers of the late 1980s and early 1990s were the epitome of a football dynasty.

    Perhaps no other game showcased this more than the 1989 NFC Championship against the Los Angeles Rams on January 14, 1990.

    Simply stated, the Rams were no match for the 49ers as they trounced Los Angeles 30-3 en route to a Super Bowl XXIV crown.

    Quarterback Joe Montana threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns and running back Roger Craig gained 94 yards on the ground and one touchdown. The defense picked off Rams quarterback Jim Everett three times.

    Highlights from this memorable Candlestick game can be seen here.

"Pick at the Stick": Candlestick's Final Regular-Season Game

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    It is only fitting that the final scoring play in Candlestick Park's history would come off a game-saving interception from All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman.

    One of the last plays in Candlestick's history came on December 23, 2013 on Monday Night Football.

    The 49ers were facing off with the Atlanta Falcons, determined to thwart San Francisco's playoff hopes after the 49ers eliminated them in the NFC Championship game the previous year.

    After the 49ers got out to a lead, Atlanta roared back in the second half and was threatening to take the lead late in the fourth.

    That is when Falcons' quarterback Matt Ryan threw a pass which was deflected by cornerback Tramaine Brock and into the hands of Bowman.

    Bowman sealed the deal with the pick returned for a touchdown.

    The last scoring play has now earned the accolade, "Pick at the Stick."

    This author was there and witnessed it, adding to his own memories.

    What a way to close out this historic stadium!

The Loma Prieta Earthquake and the 1989 World Series

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    It was Game 3 of the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics.

    The game, which was held at Candlestick Park on October 17, saw the Giants trailing the A's 2-0 in the series.

    At 5:04 p.m. PT, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck the Bay Area, putting an indefinite halt to the series and forever impacting the legacy of Candlestick.

    Famed broadcasters Al Michaels and Tim McCarver were interrupted by the sudden quake, with the moment captured in the above video.

    While this terrible event caused horrendous destruction all across Northern California, Candlestick Park has to receive some credit—the structure remained intact, minus some insignificant damage, preserving the safety of everyone in attendance.

    The A's wound up sweeping the Giants in four games after the series resumed. Yet the 1989 World Series is best known for the disastrous Loma Prieta earthquake and subsequent recovery.

     

Comeback Miracle Against the New York Giants in the 2003 Playoffs

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    This was not how it was supposed to happen.

    But it did.

    During the 2003 NFC Wild Card Game versus the New York Giants, the 49ers found themselves trailing by 24 points with four minutes left in the third quarter.

    For San Francisco, the game seemed all but lost. 

    But then the 49ers started to turn things around in a hurry. Two quick touchdown passes and another touchdown scramble from quarterback Jeff Garcia, combined with twice converting on two-point attempts, gave the 49ers 25 unanswered points and the lead late in the fourth quarter.

    The Giants then botched a snap on a field-goal attempt as time expired, which gave San Francisco this improbable and unbelievable victory.

    After the game, Garcia noted via ESPN:

    It's one of those things where you're in the park playing with your buddies. You try to emulate what the great ones do, what Joe Montana and Steve Young did. Now I'm that guy.  Maybe some kid wants to be Jeff Garcia. That's an awesome feeling.

    Any game with a similar trajectory should garner that awesome feeling Garcia and the rest of the 49ers had during this spectacular Candlestick playoff moment.

    The 49ers' comeback marked the second-biggest comeback in NFL playoff history at the time, cementing a moment in Candlestick Park's storied legacy.

Steve Young Gets Away Again

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    Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young has plenty of accolades and moments that could be put on this list.

    Yet one of the best came on October 30, 1988 when Young was still playing in the shadow of fellow great Joe Montana—who was out with an injury.

    The improbable run showcased Young's mobility, and the play itself is best reviewed by Andrew Pentis of 49ers.com.

    Young's 49-yard scramble is one of the most incredible moments at Candlestick, and the call is forever immortalized by the great announcer Lon Simmons in the listed video.

    Out of all the great moments at Candlestick, it is impossible to leave this spectacular play off the list.

"Superman Has Done It Again": Will Clark and the 1989 NLCS

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    If I were to ask you about the 1989 NCLS and ask which player comes to mind, your answer better be Giants first baseman Will Clark.

    In 1989, the Giants returned to the World Series—a series that was eventually marked by the Loma Prieta earthquake and a sweep by the Oakland A's—but it was the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs that forever stands out in the memories of San Francisco fans.

    Clark, who owned the Cubs during the series, sealed the deciding game and the series with a clutch two-out, two-RBI base hit off lefty Mitch Williams that gave the Giants a 3-1 lead in the game.

    Hank Greenwald—the Giants play-by-play commentator on KNBR 680—exclaimed after the call, "Superman has done it again," referring to Clark's clutch abilities per Bruce Jenkins of SFGate.com.

    No wonder Clark received the NLCS MVP Award for his performance.

    There is no bigger Clark fan than this author, and he is impossible to leave off this list.

1980 Comeback Against the New Orleans Saints

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    At the end of the 1980 season, there were  signs that the San Francisco 49ers were going to have something promising on the horizon.

    Quarterback Joe Montana—who had started only seven games in his second season behind incumbent Steve DeBerg—would be a critical element in what would become the greatest comeback in NFL history up to that point.

    The 49ers, who finished the 1980 season with a 6-10 record, had few things to cheer about, but this moment marked one of the greatest memories in San Francisco lore.

    San Francisco was trailing the New Orleans Saints 35-7 going into halftime before rolling off 28 unanswered points in the second half and sending the game into overtime.

    The 49ers then sealed the game with a field goal that capped off this incredible moment.

    Montana passed for 285 yards and two touchdowns—each to Freddie Solomon and Dwight Clark—against zero interceptions. 

    Montana recalled how Hall of Fame head coach Bill Walsh was instrumental in getting the 49ers back on track during the half. He stated via Andrew Pentis of 49ers.com:

    Bill got to the point where things were just not going our way offensively or defensively and called us up and said, ‘Look guys, it’s not our day today. We’re going to start over from right now and let’s try to build something going forward to the end of the game and let’s get going something positive to get us into next week.' He didn’t do anything crazy, he didn’t just (say), 'Throw it down the field and try to hope for plays.' We went back into our base-offense. And we found out that our offense, the base-side of our offense, was pretty good and allowed us actually to come back and win that game.

    Pentis elaborates that "pretty good" is quite the understatement.

    The game not only culminated in what was the greatest comeback in NFL history up to that date but revealed many things that would be special about this franchise for years to come.

Jerry Rice Passes Jim Brown as the All-Time Touchdown Leader

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    There are many ways to describe the greatness of Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice.

    There are too many special moments Rice supplied to be on one list.

    Yet the best came on Monday Night Football on September 5, 1994 as the 49ers hosted a prime-time matchup against the Los Angeles Raiders to kick off this memorable season.

    Rice's touchdown reception from quarterback Steve Young gave him 127 overall—one ahead of Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown.

    Rice would finish his storied career with 208 touchdowns—No. 1 all time, and a record that we may never see broken.

    Carl Steward of the San Jose Mercury News broke down the play by writing:

    The 49ers went for broke on the first play. Young hung in against a stiff rush and lofted the ball down the middle of the field just short of the end zone. Rice soared up between defenders, made the catch and fell into the end zone. He then stood up with arms extended to celebrate the feat.

    It was the most memorable moment of the 49ers' eventual 44-14 blowout.

    Rice recalled the accolade via Steward:

    On the snap of the ball, everybody knew where the ball was going. I'm running down the field, and everything that Bill Walsh had taught me, coached me, came into the equation—catching the ball at the highest peak. Not waiting for the football. Attacking the ball. Then fighting for the ball to bring it down.

    Those words help explain why Rice is the greatest wide receiver to have played the game.

The Catch III

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    At the end of the 2011 season, the San Francisco 49ers found themselves facing a tough opponent in the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Divisional Game on January 14, 2012.

    Much like the Wild Card Game against the Green Bay Packers 12 years earlier, this particular playoff matchup was back and forth, with 49ers quarterback Alex Smith and Saints quarterback Drew Brees exchanging shots over the course of the entire game.

    The 49ers won the game 36-32—any 49ers fan knows that.

    Those fans will also know what happened in the fourth quarter. There was Smith's bootleg run from 28 yards out for a touchdown. There was an improbable Brees touchdown to tight end Jimmy Graham that put the Saints ahead late.

    Then there was the catch.

    The catch—from Smith to tight end Vernon Davis on a post route on the winning drive—has earned the accolade "The Catch III," right in line with two other famous catches in 49er lore.

    This play and this game put an end to San Francisco's struggles over the previous decade and cemented a new era in 49ers' greatness.

"Owens! Owens! Owens!": 1999 NFC Wild Card Game

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    For 49ers fans, the Brett Favre era in Green Bay Packers' history is probably one to forget.

    Favre and the Packers seemed to have San Francisco's number, and many probably felt that the NFC Wild Card Game would be no different.

    The game itself—played on January 3, 1999—is a classic and was highlighted by one of the most incredible plays in 49ers history.

    With the Packers leading 27-23 late in the fourth quarter, San Francisco found itself on Green Bay's 25-yard line with eight seconds remaining.

    Quarterback Steve Young delivered a perfect pass to wide receiver Terrell Owens who had difficulty hauling in passes over the course of the game to that point.

    The 49ers took the lead on a play that has been forever immortalized as "The Catch II."

    Joe Starkey, longtime 49ers radio broadcaster, made the memorable call heard in the above video.

    "Owens! Owens! Owens!" Starkey exclaimed. "He caught it! He caught it! He caught it!"

    Forget this being a top Candlestick Park memory—it was one of the greatest plays in the history of the NFL.

The Catch

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    "Montana. Looking, looking... Clark caught it!" echoed the words of famed broadcaster Vin Scully during the 1982 NFC Championship game on January 10 between the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys.

    This is, without doubt, the No. 1 moment in Candlestick Park's history.

    Not only did the play give San Francisco a victory en route to its first Super Bowl championship, but it kicked off the legacy of Joe Montana and the 49ers' dominance during the decade.

    Any 49ers fan knows the play, regardless of whether or not he or she was alive to see it.

    On a crucial 3rd-and-goal, trailing 27-21, Montana found wide receiver Dwight Clark in the end zone, who leaped to make one of the most signature catches in NFL history.

    This play spans the realm of lore within all of football.

    It happened at the Stick, in the north end zone, and shall forever seal the legacy of Candlestick Park.


    It is going to be hard to see the 49ers play at Levi's Stadium in 2014. While this author and many others are looking forward to the 49ers' new venue, letting go of a stadium that belonged to San Francisco and its fans will be tough.

    While the stadium itself will eventually be no more, the memories will never fade. Fans shall hold onto those memories for decades to come.

    And those alone shall be Candlestick Park's lasting legacy.

     

    Supplementary statistical information courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.

     

    Feel as if I missed a moment? Want to share your own special memories? Chime in on the comments section!

     

    Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.