Thousands of 49ers fans from across the state flooded Candlestick Park on Sunday for the season’s home opener against the Seattle Seahawks, which San Francisco won 23-10.
But hours before the throngs of football fans actually entered the stadium, many posted up in the parking lot decked in red, white and gold jerseys for tailgate parties complete with homemade portable bars, smoky barbecues and, in some cases, fancy dinner tables with candles and silverware.
Trucks, sport utility vehicles and sedans lined up while fans shared hot dogs and burgers, Bud Lights and Coronas, played music and reminisced about their famed idols, like former quarterback Joe Montana.
Since 1971, San Francisco has been playing at Candlestick Park, which is nestled just south of the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in the Bayview district. Fans have witnessed five Super Bowl teams play on the field.
And even though they haven’t been to a Super Bowl since 1995, it’s no impediment for the faithful.
A group of women from San Francisco came to the parking lot before sunrise to warm up their hibachi and set up a red tent covering their “fan zone” propped on a 20-by-10 patch of synthetic grass.
The women, who won the Tailgater of the Year award from the 49ers in 2008, set up a buffet line and drink menu with “Bloody Hawks” instead of Bloody Marys. Meanwhile, two men manned the smoldering grill full of tri-tip and wore their Tailgater of the Year aprons.
“We bring it on every week,” said Charlene Hemmingway, one of the groups’ organizers, explaining how they just acquired a deep fryer and 37-inch, flat-screen TV for their famous tailgate parties.
The reality looms around tailgates that fans might have to start new traditions in Santa Clara if the 49ers move when the team’s lease at Candlestick Park runs out at the end of the season in 2012.
But overall, most fans agreed it doesn’t matter where they go as long as it means they play in a better stadium.
“I’ve been coming to this stadium all my life,” said Mead Whippo, who arrived at the park around 9:30 a.m. to set up his homemade bar. “But the fact is, they just deserve more.’’
-By Kamala Kelkar
During his 22 years as the owner of the 49ers, Eddie DeBartolo Jr. presided over one of the most successful teams in NFL history, with San Francisco winning five Super Bowls. Once at the pinnacle of the league, DeBartolo’s squads went 5-0 in those Super Bowls, with the last victory coming in 1995.
That record was recognized at the team’s home opener at Candlestick Park on Sunday with DeBartolo’s inauguration into the 49ers Hall of Fame.
While at the helm of the franchise, DeBartolo, 62, helped orchestrate the arrival of some of the NFL’s most celebrated superstars, including Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott. He also hired Bill Walsh, a coaching mastermind who helped pioneer the West Coast Offense, a scheme still used by teams around the league.
On Sunday, one of those stars, renowned wide receiver Rice, introduced DeBartolo during a halftime ceremony that came with a blaze of red and gold fireworks.
Among other players joining Rice at halftime were Hall of Famers Montana and Lott, and former 49ers stars Dwight Clark, Roger Craig and
DeBartolo thanked coaches and players, but saved his best for the fans.
“You are not 49er faithful, you are my 49er family. From the bottom of my heart, to everybody who has been with us, fought with us and struggled with us during my ownership, I thank you,” he said.
The fans responded in kind.
“I served two tours in Afghanistan. I’ve seen some crazy stuff, but this brought tears to my eyes,” said Chris Clever of San Francisco.
Luke Hammann, also of San Francisco, was at the game with his father.
“My dad’s been a season-ticket holder all my life and I’ve never seen him cry — not at weddings or anything. And I looked over and saw him crying and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” he said.
During his time with the 49ers, DeBartolo’s front-office hires were just as shrewd as his on-field picks, notably his decision to bring in Carmen Policy in 1983 as the team’s vice president. During the next decade and a half, Policy helped consistently lure some of the league’s most prized players.
But despite his achievements, DeBartolo left the 49ers in ignominious fashion. In 1997, he admitted to secretly giving former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards $400,000 in an ill-fated scheme to acquire a riverboat gambling license.
In the wake of the scandal, the NFL suspended DeBartolo for a year and in 1998 he sold the franchise to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York. Since his departure, the team has yet to make it back to the Super Bowl.
-By Kamala Kelkar and Will Reisman
The Associated Press contributed to this report.