Candlestick Park was built for baseball and the Giants, but its greatest success has been with the 49ers after the park was expanded to a capacity of 68,000 in 1971.
On Monday night, the 49ers host the Atlanta Falcons in the final game scheduled to be played at the place simply known to locals as the Stick. The 49ers could still host a playoff game, though it seems unlikely as they appear destined to be a wild-card team.
“It’s the last game at Candlestick and we don’t want to be the guys that screw up the last game in Candlestick,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “These players will come back 20, 25 years from now and they want to have a good memory of winning at Candlestick. I think that’ll be very important, not only for them, but for all the guys that played for the 49ers and have that legacy of playing with the team and playing at Candlestick that want to go out with a win.”
Before moving to Candlestick, the 49ers played in Kezar Stadium, a funky little stadium originally built for high school games. It had no parking for spectators and bench seating that allowed only 17 inches per person. There was much drinking and beer was served in cans. One time, 49ers quarterback John Brodie and Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas were walking off the field and Unitas started to take off his helmet.
“Not until we’re through the tunnel,” cautioned Brodie, who had been pelted by beer cans from fans before.
Club president Lou Spadia commissioned a study to see if chair seats could be installed and was told that would reduce capacity from 59,000 to an unacceptable 37,000.
“I had a spot on the Peninsula that would be perfect for a new stadium,” Spadia said at the time, “but I had promised the ladies [the widows of team founders Tony and Vic Morabito] that I wouldn’t move the team from San Francisco.”
So, the 49ers moved to Candlestick in 1971. The park had always been problematic for baseball because of the wind and cold nights, but remodeled into a football stadium, it worked well, with many of the games played in the best weather. Wind was not usually a factor, though Steve Young remembers a day when the wind was howling and coach Bill Walsh sent him in to replace Joe Montana.
“There was no way I could pass into that wind,” Young said to me, “so I just ran around for awhile. It didn’t work out very well.”
One thing was obvious: The fans were much better behaved. They were sitting in comfortable chair seats and beer was served in cups, so they had no cans for ammunition. Randy Cross thought they were too civilized, calling them the “white wine and quiche bunch.”
The wind had been a real problem for baseball. Willie Mays told me that after taking batting practice for the first time, he realized he had to change his batting style.
“I couldn’t pull a ball into that wind,” he said. “So, I changed my swing to an inside-out style, aiming for center field and figuring the wind would blow it to right-center.”
Using that style, Mays followed with a season in which he hit 52 home runs, the highest mark of his career.
The Giants had Lefty O’Doul work with Willie McCovey to make him a pull hitter so he could take advantage of the wind blowing to right.
“But I think Willie lost a lot of home runs because they were blown foul,” Mays said.
The weather was a big story for the first two big events at Candlestick, the 1961 All-Star Game and the 1962 World Series.
In the All-Star Game, Stu Miller was hit with a gust of wind and stopped in the middle of his windup, which was ruled a balk.
Rain was the big story in the 1962 Series, with five days of torrential rain in San Francisco before the sixth game. In the seventh game, Matty Alou was on second base with two outs when Mays singled to right. Because the ground was so wet, the ball slowed down and New York Yankees right fielder Roger Maris made a quick and accurate throw to the plate to hold Alou at third. McCovey then lined out to Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson to end the game.
The next time the Giants were in a World Series at Candlestick, the Loma Prieta earthquake hit.
It’s fitting that the Giants had a series of disappointments at Candlestick, not winning a World Series until they got to AT&T Park and went on to win two, because Candlestick was hardly ideal for baseball.
Football was entirely different, and fans forgot about the baseball struggles when the 49ers won five Super Bowls in 14 seasons from 1981-94. There were plenty of memorable moments in that span, including “The Catch” by Dwight Clark in the NFC Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 10, 1982, which spurred the Niners to their first Super Bowl.
Jerry Rice was still in school for the first two Super Bowl wins, but he was drafted after the 1984 season and began a career that would make him statistically the best receiver of all time.
That was no accident. In training camp one year, Rice told Ira Miller and me that he always felt he was in competition. “During the season, I keep up with other receivers,” he said. “If Michael Irvin goes out and catches eight to 10 balls, yeah, it’s going to tick me off because I’m a competitor.”
Many of Rice’s best games were at Candlestick. When the 1994 season began, he was only two behind Jim Brown’s NFL record of 124 touchdowns. He wanted the record in the first game, a Monday night game at Candlestick. On the 49ers’ first series, Young and Rice combined on a 69-yard touchdown. Rice scored on a 23-yard reverse early in the fourth quarter. With 4:05 left in the game and holding a 37-14 lead, it seemed time for coach George Seifert to take out the starters when the 49ers got the ball on the Raiders 38, but Seifert left them in. On the first play, Young lofted a ball to the end zone and Rice leaped high to get it. The record was his.
Even for football, Candlestick has had problems, the latest being the power outages at the Monday night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 19, 2011, the first just before kickoff and the second in the second quarter.
But generally, it’s been a stadium players have enjoyed. It certainly beats playing in Chicago, or in Buffalo or Cleveland, with the icy wind coming off Lake Erie. The new stadium in Santa Clara will have a lot of extras that Candlestick hasn’t had, but overall, the Stick has been good for football. Baseball? Not so much.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports events at Candlestick Park since 1963.
The stadium by the Bay opened April 12, 1960, in the southeast corner of San Francisco. Candlestick is owned by San Francisco and operated by the Recreation and Park Department. The moniker was chosen after a public naming contest in 1959, and the facility sits at Candlestick Point.
Candlestick Park (1960-95, 2008-present)
Monster Park (2004-08)
San Francisco Stadium at Candlestick Point (2002-04)
3Com Park at Candlestick Point (1995-2002)
Cave of the Winds
Bluegrass (1960-69, 1979-present)
San Francisco Giants (1960-99)
San Francisco 49ers (1971-present)
Oakland Raiders (1961)
Baseball: 43,765 (1960), 58,000 (1993-99)
Football: 61,185 (1971-82), 69,733 (2000-present)
2 MLB All-Star Games (1961, 1984)
1 NL Division Series (1997)
3 NL Championship Series (1971, 1987, 1989)
2 World Series (1962, 1989)
8 NFC Championship Games
36 “Monday Night Football” games (more than any other NFL stadium)
Candlestick has always had a reputation as a cold, cavernous and windy stadium — considered the most frigid in baseball until the Giants stopped playing there in 1999. Perhaps the most famous weather incident involved a gust of wind that blew Giants pitcher Stu Miller off balance while he was pitching in the 1961 All-Star Game. He was charged with a balk, as runners were on base. Meanwhile, fans who braved extra-inning baseball games were given a Croix de Candlestick pin.
January 1982: Dwight Clark snags the game-winning touchdown pass from Joe Montana to put the 49ers in their first Super Bowl, which they would win by defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 26-21.
January 1999: Steve Young throws a 25-yard, game-winning TD pass to Terrell Owens to defeat the Green Bay Packers 30-27 in an NFC wild-card playoff game.
January 2012: “The Catch III” involved Alex Smith and Vernon Davis. Smith’s 14-yard TD pass to Davis was the difference in a 36-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints that put the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
Appearing in such films as
Experiment in Terror (1962)
Freebie and the Bean (1973)
The Fan (1996)
Odds and ends
On Oct. 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck right before the start of Game 3 of the World Series between the Giants and A’s. No injuries were reported and the stadium suffered minor damage. The World Series was suspended for 10 days.
Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, on Aug. 29, 1966, the Beatles played their final full concert and it happened to be at Candlestick Park. The set list included “I Feel Fine,” “Yesterday,” “Nowhere Man,” “Paperback Writer” and “Long Tall Sally.”
More than 70,000 people flocked to Candlestick Park to see Pope John Paul II celebrate an open-air Mass in 1987.
Candlestick was the first modern baseball stadium, having been built entirely out of reinforced concrete. It’s also the only stadium in the NFL that was originally built as a baseball-only facility.
Then-Vice President Richard Nixon threw out the first pitch on Opening Day on April 12, 1960.
The stadium was originally open in the outfield, but was enclosed before the 49ers moved in.
The first and only college football game played at Candlestick was Sept. 3, 2011, when Cal hosted Fresno State. The Golden Bears’ Memorial Stadium in Berkeley was being renovated at the time.