The City

If you build it, they might win

I’ve been covering high school football on San Francisco side of the Bay for about three weeks now, and now I’m worried about the 49ers. I’ll get to why a little later.

I’m used to covering games in the East Bay, on lush field turf surfaces in places like Danville and Pleasanton. I’ve worked the sidelines at two different high schools in The City, and it’s a different world. Washington and Lincoln both play on fields with beautiful vistas (especially Washington, where the home fans have an unobstructed view of the Golden Gate Bridge), but the facilities hardly match the views. The bleachers are half-empty and hardly inviting, and the fields are chewed up and poorly marked. Trying to figure out how many yards were just gained on a pass is like driving in Oregon during a nighttime rainstorm — you just kind of have to guess.

Fan apathy becomes a chicken or the egg question: are games poorly attended because the facilities are inferior, or are the facilities ignored because students, parents and neighborhood residents don’t care? Meanwhile, Jefferson High in Daly City just opened up a sparkling new field paid for by a citywide bond measure. As a result, it’s hard not to think it’s a coincidence that a team that went 0-10 last year won their home opener on Friday after losing their first road game of the season, 56-0. Jefferson’s head coach George DeBono seemed to think the new stadium had a little something to do with it, saying, “It makes our kids feel good to see the community’s behind them.”

Now what does all this have to do with the 49ers? Well, the run-down fields in San Francisco show that football is hardly a high priority. Sure, we can shut the financial district down for a week when Larry Ellison wants to throw a big nerd-party (which led to SGL and I getting dropped off in the middle of the Tenderloin yesterday evening from a bus that normally goes downtown…this caused us to have to walk ten blocks through crackyville on our way to watch “Batman” on IMAX…yes, we were the last two people to watch “Dark Knight”), but decent fields for any football team? No way. I might not be totally alone in worrying about this, but nobody else really seems to think the worst-case scenario could actually happen. No, I’m not talking about the possibility of waking up tomorrow and reading “General Manager Jed York,” I’m worried about the Niners fleeing the Bay for L.A.

The Yorks aren’t giving up the team. Give up on thinking it’s even an option. The Niners, because of Candlestick Park, are in the bottom five (along with the Raiders) in terms of how much NFL teams are worth — bad news for the Yorks. Of course, the 49ers are in 29th place with a value of $734 million. So if Denise and Dr. John get a new stadium somewhere, they have a billion dollar investment to brag about. That worries me. I’m worried about the idea of putting a new stadium in an already cramped area in Santa Clara. I’m worried about Gavin Newsome worrying more about running for Governor of California than getting his hands dirty in San Francisco. And I’m worried when Al Michaels tells Bob Costas that doesn’t think L.A. will get a team within a decade; he thinks they’ll get two.

So if you watch the Niners take on the Detroit Lions today in and you think THAT field looks outdated, go check out the fields at our local high schools, which make the Stick look like Qwest Field in Seattle. I know this town has to spend money on things like preventing Halloween parties, but I don’t think doing a full-scale upgrade on every football facility in The City would do anything but help morale. You never know, if the 49ers felt like the community was behind them, maybe they’d play better.

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