Today could be the last time The Stick matters. You’d have to assume with Jim Harbaugh around that the 49ers will be in the mix for years and years and years … but nothing in life is guaranteed. Players get hurt. Sometimes things just don’t work out for whatever reason.
It seemed to come so easy, this 13-3 season. The wins kept piling up, the rest of the NFC West kept shrinking in the rearview. Even the 49ers’ losses weren’t bad — a grand total of 15 points behind the Cowboys, Ravens and Cardinals.
Could anyone have imagined before this season that the 49ers would host the NFC Championship Game on January 22? Candlestick Park is going to be on television, and 40 million people will watch. Probably more.
I’ll be there, with my wife, my dad and Karen, my stepmom. Sitting in some great, wildly expensive seats at Candlestick Park. Seats in a location that will probably cost three times more if/when the 49ers take permanent residence in Santa Clara, Calif. And that’s just for regular season tickets.
I love Candlestick Park. I love the hills surrounding the place. The eucalyptus trees. The Gordon Biersch stand in front of the end zone seats (first base side, back when the Giants played there).
I just love the fact that regardless of how many bad things people say about the place, whenever I’m there it seems like a big game. Even when the Giants played the Expos on Tuesday nights, it was a big game. Maybe it was because I didn’t know any better. I grew up in a small town 300 miles away. Every time I left Eureka and entered San Francisco, it felt like I was getting called up to the show. It didn’t matter that newer, nicer and fancier ballparks existed. I couldn’t even imagine Pac Bell Park as a kid. To me, when it came to professional sports Candlestick was the epicenter (no pun intended).
I never would’ve figured this back in the ’90s when Eddie Debartolo and Carmen Policy were pushing their stadium/mall plan … but The Stick’s still here, it still gets incredibly loud, and it still looks beautiful — on the inside anyway, as long as it’s full.
It’ll definitely be full today for the NFC Championship Game. Sure, it makes more sense to focus on the people who’ll be on the field and patrolling the sidelines than an antiquated multipurpose facility. After all, nobody pays to sit in an empty Candlestick Park.
But I’m done analyzing this game, these two teams … all I can do is drive to this 51-year-old stadium, park in some mud (where there will inevitably be too few porta-potties), party a bit and walk toward the overflowing gates. Once we walk in, I’ll feel like I’m 7-years-old again. And then the 49ers will head out to the field, and we’ll scream. We’ll yell, not just to show the Giants, New York and the entire east coast that we mean business, but to give the Niners the boost they’re expecting at this point. After all, that Saints game was LOUD. Can’t disappoint the defense now.
As much as people complain about Candlestick, who really hates it (besides sports columnists)? It’s as good a place as any to make the opposing team feel extremely uncomfortable, and it’s a great place to win a conference title.
— 1982 NFC Championship Game vs. the Dallas Cowboys (Niners win 28-27)
— 1984 NFC Championship Game vs. the Chicago Bears (Niners win 23-0)
— 1988 NFC Championship Game vs. the Los Angeles Rams (Niners win 30-3)
— 1994 NFC Championship Game vs. the Dallas Cowboys (Niners win 38-28)
It’s still hard to believe that Candlestick Park is the biggest stage … again. But let’s not take it for granted. Our voices will always echo in that building in our memories, long after the old girl is torn down and replaced with horrible condominiums that nobody who knows anything about San Francisco neighborhoods would ever want to buy.
As I leave my apartment and head over there one more time, my goal is for my voice to join the voices of all those around me and echo in the heads of the New York Giants. So that by the end of the evening, nobody’s talking about how Candlestick should be replaced, but how the fortress created by the fans ushered the 49ers to their sixth Super Bowl.