From the clock tower of the Ferry Building came the bells, on cue. The sky was an exquisite blue, the temperature two degrees warmer than Honolulu. A crowd was gathering at the foot of Market Street to hear Steve Young explain, for those still wondering, what Super Bowl 50 will mean to the Bay Area if the grand plan is executed the way he engineered an offense.
“Regardless of whether you love or are not passionate about football, the Super Bowl is the view of the world into San Francisco and the Bay Area,” said Young, sounding more like the congressman he never became than the post-Montana championship quarterback of the 49ers. “It’s vital that we help make sure The City and the Bay Area are looked at as positively as possible. That’s our chore, to make sure the experience people have through the lens of the Super Bowl is wonderful.”
By now, you know that the 2015 Niners are dysfunctional, attrition-gutted, cop-weary and sod-challenged. By now, you know that the Raiders might be playing their final season in Oakland. But so the hell what, right? Because on Feb. 7, a night not far away, 120 million people will watch a game that shapes not only the global perception of the participating teams and the companies advertising on the telecast — at $5 million per 30-second spot, staggeringly — but the urban municipality hosting the event. That would be San Francisco, with help from satellite burgs Santa Clara and San Jose, and if the new NFL season sounds disheartening on both sides of the Bay, it’s time to embrace a bigger view that comes with living in one of the world’s social megacenters.
Never before has a market had a Super Bowl, a World Series champion and an NBA champion in its midst in little more than a year’s span. And while such attainments are fleeting, with no clumsier example than the 49ers, the Bay Area kind of feels like the new American sports paradise. Add that gaudy distinction to the ongoing tech revolution, Mayor Ed Lee’s reelection ambitions and heavy doses of liberalism, gentrification and homelessness, and what we have is a city either ready to explode with possibilities or implode beneath the clashes.
Wednesday brought a convergence of power and money to Market Street. First there was another Apple event inside Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, introducing yet another iPhone (and inevitable planned obsolescence of the previous iPhone) and a larger iPad with an Apple Pencil.
“The biggest news in iPad since the iPad,” company boss Tim Cook said.
And then, several blocks away by The Embarcadero, the local Super Bowl 50 host committee kicked off the masterpiece event of the corrupt, embattled yet eminently popular, $15-billion-a-year enterprise known as the National Football League. The committee CEO, Keith Bruce, reiterated that he wants to use this experience as a springboard to land a regular spot in the league’s Super Bowl rotation, with a return engagment by 2022. San Francisco expects to spend $50 million as host of a spectacle that should command a financial impact, depending on the source, of $200 million to $500 million on the local and regional economies. The league has spread around the Super Bowl to cities that build new stadiums, which have been many, but the 32 franchise owners generally like warm-weather climates: Miami, Tampa, Phoenix, New Orleans. Los Angeles will be on the list when its new stadium is built. Does the Bay have a chance to be a permanent host?
El Nino could have a major say. Does anyone want to be in a place even wetter and colder than usual in late January and early February? If the host committee can’t control weather, it can control traffic. And anyone who has driven to Levi’s Stadium for a sold-out 49ers game or Taylor Swift concert knows the experience can ruin memories. Then there’s the turf, which the NFL, thankfully, will oversee via installation of its own field. Still, if Jed York has had trouble growing grass, is anyone certain that Roger Goodell’s field won’t have the same possum-sized divots?
Above all, here is the Bay’s opportunity to show the world we have more to offer than Mark Zuckerberg, Google buses, cable cars and crooked streets. This is a beautiful slice of the planet — not captured in any Huey Lewis song I’ve heard, though Tony Bennett and Steve Perry do nail the mood — and if the optics were spectacular during NBA playoff telecasts, imagine what happens starting tonight, when a concert in Justin Herman Plaza is featured on the NBC telecast of the Patriots-Steelers season opener. You may say San Francisco doesn’t need bragging rights, that its charms and eye appeal are established.
Every city needs to show off, even this one.
Part of that ego trip will be a clean Embarcadero, where the public events are planned, not far from a communications center where thousands of media people will file reports about The City. That means the homeless encampments have to go, says Lee, who is caught between compassion for the mentally ill and drug-addicted — and the reality that wealthy Super Bowl goers don’t want to step in human poop on sidewalks, including power-brokers who will decide if more Big Games are coming here. “We’ll give you an alternative,” the mayor has told The City’s 6,700 homeless. “We are always going to be supportive, but you are going to have to leave the street. Not just because it is illegal, but because it is dangerous.”
I can picture disturbances involving the homeless and police that week.
I can picture Goodell, on a lengthy losing streak as the Charlie Brown of sports commissioners, stepping in said human feces.
You almost want to fast-forward to late January, skipping over the inevitable lowlights of the local seasons ahead. I have the 49ers at 5-11, after a 1-9 start, and the Raiders at 6-10, after a 3-1 start.
Jim Tomsula, the 49ers’ new coach, means well after one of the most tumultuous organizational offseasons in recent sports history. “I wake up every day with the same feeling in terms of how to attack today and sense of responsibility,” he said this week. “I really, honestly don’t believe this is the Jim show. This isn’t about Jim Tomsula. It’s about the Niners. It’s about the locker room. It’s about everybody who puts the pieces together to make this happen organizationally. So, I take the piece I have very seriously, and I feel a sense of responsibility to do it in the absolute best way that I can do it to make sure that everything else can move forward.”
Jack Del Rio, the Raiders’ new coach, brings legitimacy to a franchise that has endured 12 straight non-winning seasons — eight coaches and 18 starting quarterbacks in that period. “We are changing the mindset, the culture,” he said, “because as a football team, in order to do the things that we have on our plan, you have to operate a certain way. And we’re operating that way, learning what it looks like. I believe in that.”
Yet these are merely individual seasons in time. Super Bowl 50, in gold, is demanding a legacy from San Francisco and the Bay Area. Collectively, the world is a tough critic. Screwing up — and crapping out — is not an option.49ersSan FranciscoSuper Bowl 50