As the San Francisco 49ers' training camp opens and the 2009 season looms on the horizon, a number of issues pertaining to the roster and lineup are left to be resolved.
But more important than the quarterback battle between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith, or Michael Crabtree's hold out, or even the debut of Jimmy Raye's offense, is the question of just where the team will play a decade from now.
A rivalry of sorts is brewing between the two Bay Area cities that fancy themselves the best location for the five-time Super Bowl champs, and each has a decent case.
San Francisco is the natural choice, being the only home the franchise has ever known, and holding the history behind the team's name—the "Forty-Niner" moniker comes from the days of the mid-1800s San Francisco Gold Rush.
Just down south is the city that already hosts the 49ers headquarters and practice facilities, and Santa Clara is making a strong case for hosting the team on Sundays as well.
At issue is whether the city of San Francisco can realisitcally support a plan to build a stadium to replace the dilapidated, nearly 40-year-old Candlestick Park, and get it's citizens to pitch in on the project.
After a few years of tossing around the idea of keeping Candlestick Point as the 49ers' playing site and building a new stadium adjacent to the current one, owners John, Denise and Jed York have turned their attention to the South Bay, seemingly convinced that San Francisco can't support a new stadium. Or, if you believe San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, they simply won't give the city a chance.
Newsom isn't going to let the team go quietly, consistently suggesting publicly that the Yorks haven't given San Francisco an equal shot at building a new stadium. He recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that the team keeps "raising the bar of concerns" and "finding ways to say 'no'..."
While no mayor of a major city wants to see it's most beloved franchise leave on his watch, it's a telling sign that Newsom has also resorted to a "reaching out" of sorts to Santa Clara residents, albeit in a negative fashion, advising voters in the city to save their tax money for other needs, such as schools.
Nice try Gavin, but that suggestion impacts San Francisco as much as you'd like it to Santa Clara, and is just one reason a new 49ers stadium doesn't appear to be feasible up north.
San Franciscans have repeatedly shown at the voting polls that they lack the desire to commit their tax dollars to a stadium project, and new visions of revitalizing the Hunter's Point neighborhood with a stadium won't change that.
Comparing the Hunter's Point idea to the neighborhood revival that AT&T Park has created since it's 2000 opening isn't realistic; the 49ers are at most going to play 12 games a year at home, only if they somehow pull off two playoff games. And the football fans showing up for those games will mostly be pounding their beers in the parking lot, rather than filling up the bars and restaraunts the way baseball fans do.
And lets be honest about the make up of San Francisco and the number of citizens who want to invest in football; the City by the Bay is made up of such a diverse amount of people, with diverse interests, that it's no longer the sports town it used to be.
A 2005-'07 U.S. Census Buerau survey found that more than 35 percent of San Francisco residents are foreign born. More than 25 percent were born in a different state.
Basically, one-third of the city most likely wasn't raised on football, and one-fourth of the city roots for another team—assuming they follow football at all.
So what maintains the unmistakable popularity of the San Francisco Giants and 49ers?
The greater Bay Area, which brings us to Santa Clara.
Admittedly, I am a South Bay guy. A stadium 15 minutes from my doorstep would be most convenient.
But football games are an all-day event, and if the team had a better option an hour and a half away from me in Napa I'd be open to it.
The bottom line is their best option is down south near team headquarters.
Unlike San Francisco, Santa Clara does not have nightmarish parking and traffic problems. In fact, it's a commuter city, one that can provide easy freeway access to a stadium, not to mention the space to build it next to it's only tourist attraction, the Great America amusement park.
Santa Clara's citizens still need to vote on whether or not to thow in the additional $114 million of public funds needed, and issues need to be resolved with Cedar Fair, the owners of Great America, who have voiced concern over whether the stadium and amusement park could co-exist so close together.
But much like with the rest of the Bay Area, there is a massive amount of 49er fanhood in Santa Clara and all signs point to a stadium approval.
The earliest the Santa Clara park could be ready for play is 2014, and the team is tied to Candlestick Park through at least 2013. Five more years is a long time for this franchise to go without an NFL-suitable stadium.
Long enough for Los Angeles to make itself available to the NFL, which isn't looking for more expansion teams but would love to once again have a franchise in that market.
As blasphemous as a 49er move to Southern California may seem, Bay Area 49er fans should be mindful of the fact that the Yorks are connected and loyal only to the 49ers, not necessarily the city of San Francisco and the surrounding communities.
And while it may seem like a longshot now, all fans in the Bay Area can agree that if an hour-long commute is in store for a 49er game, we'd rather have it be by car than by plane.