Former 49er Greats Recall Candlestick Park Memories, Look Ahead to Levi's Era

Andre JohnsonContributor IIIJuly 25, 2014

NFL Films File Photo

Dwight Clark played nine NFL seasons for the San Francisco 49ers before calling it a career following the 1987 campaign.

No doubt, the one memorable play he made six years prior will undoubtedly follow him to his grave.

“Can you believe that catch was 32 years ago?” Clark told Bleacher Report during a recent telephone interview from Santa Cruz, California. Clark, 57, is referring to the play labeled “The Catch” in the waning moments of San Francisco’s 28-27 win over the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship on January 10, 1982. 

For Clark, it was an awe-inspiring moment that jump-started the 49ers’ dynasty in the 1980s, a play he knows fans will forever cherish despite the recent closing of Candlestick Park.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week, the 49ers officially opened Levi’s Stadium, a $1.3 billion facility in Santa Clara roughly an hour's drive from its old venue. The 49ers opened training camp Wednesday in Santa Clara.

The 49erswho spent 42 seasons at Candlestickwill be aiming to produce an assortment of new memories in their new stadium when they host their first regular-season game, a prime-time, nationally televised contest against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 14. However, the San Francisco faithful would be hard-pressed to think anything will top Clark’s game-winning play more than three decades ago.

Clark leaped and hauled in a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Montana, capping what was a remarkable performance by the tight end, who helped propel San Francisco to its first Super Bowl appearance after fielding eight catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns.

“It’s still hot,” Clark said of the historic catch. “I just think for the old 49er fans, to finally get over the hump, it did a lot for the 49er faithful. That was a slaying of the dragon. The great part about it is it has bonded me with the fans for eternity. The 49ers will always remember that play that got us to the Super Bowl.”

While Clark’s majestic play 32 years ago gave way to the former NFL GM exhibiting mixed feelings about the closing of Candlestick Park, former 49er offensive lineman Randy Cross contends the team’s move to a new facility was long overdue.

“I’m more amazed Candlestick didn’t fall down before they left it,” said the 60-year-old Cross, who played for the 49ers from 1976-88. “It’s terrible. It’s an armpit. It was old and rusty and nasty when I was there. The newest thing about that stadium in the years I was there was the paint they put on it.”

Built in 1958 for $24.6 million, Candlestick Park became home for the 49ers in 1971. Consequently, the franchise would bring put five Super Bowl trophies on display in the historic venue despite the rust and deterioration over the years.

Candlestick officially closed after the 49ers’ regular-season finale against Atlanta last December.

That's when fans on hand witnessed an unforgettable moment—once again.

Linebacker NaVorro Bowman scored the last touchdown ever at the stadium, intercepting a Matt Ryan pass and returning it 89 yards for a touchdown with just over a minute left, a play that immediately was dubbed “The Pick At The Stick.”

“It might’ve been a dump, but it was our dump.” Clark said. “We could talk about it, but we didn’t want anybody else talking about it.”

After ground was broken at Levi’s Stadium in April 2012, Clark and Cross both have found their way to the new venue during construction. Both were astounded after walking into the state-of-the-art, 68,500-seat arena that is expandable to approximately 75,000 for major events.

Levi’s Stadium will host WrestleMania 31 next year and Super Bowl 50 in 2016.

“I saw the new stadium last month for the first time,” Cross said. “The new NFL is about being able to compete dollar for dollar. It’s a huge improvement. Location-wise, it’s a great improvement.”

Clark recently toured Levi’s Stadium with his wife, Kelly, and immediately was brought to smiles after witnessing what has been deemed a “sports and entertainment cathedral” by stadium officials.

“I was there about three weeks ago, and it is gorgeous,” Clark said. “It is fantastic. It is going to be a great place to watch your team, the San Francisco 49ers.”

Even after arguably the most illustrious play in team history.


Andre Johnson is a regular contributor for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.