49ers fans are a spoiled bunch. It was just a few years ago that I was sitting in a cabin in Tahoe, watching a live shot from the 49ers locker room while Jed York announced to the team that Mike Singletary would become the team’s permanent coach. Don’t lie, you were all as excited about it as I was.
It was only one year later that I was sitting in a restaurant with my uncle, watching the screen over the bar and toasting to ESPN, which was breaking the news of Coach Sing’s firing.
These were the odd and mostly pathetic happenings we called victories for years. Even when the 49ers were bad, there was something to feel great about, something to hope for. Remember when Shaun Hill was at the helm and the 49ers beat the Brett Favre-manned Jets at Candlestick Park? That was our Super Bowl, I tell ya!
My lord, how things have changed. Enter Jim Harbaugh and it was evident by Week 5’s win over the Lions that this team had instantly taken a turn to contention. After all, that’s why we watch football in the first place: the parity is second to none, and no season will ever be as fun as 2011 was. The lack of expectations made taking the league by storm an innocent and yet exhilarating ride.
Maybe that’s why this season hasn’t been all that fun: the bar is set so high. The 49ers are 11-4, and if you ignored the record and based their performance solely off of the team’s talking points over the last couple months, you’d think they’re 7-8. Seattle’s ridiculous mixture of talent and good fortune is keeping San Francisco from claiming a third-straight division crown (for now, anyway), but if you take a step back and examine the whole picture, this was another stellar year for the 49ers. They’ve overcome injuries, a sophomore slump from their quarterback and even a couple questionable calls to ensure another playoff appearance in 2014.
Will that appearance happen in Candlestick Park? The odds are certainly against it, but at this point I wouldn’t count anything out. That building has housed a lot of really magical moments — moments we’ve had shoved down our throat repeatedly over the last 24 hours without complaint — and maybe it still has a little magic left. It certainly did last night.
In the midst of finals and holiday shopping that would have most Black Friday shoppers looking at me crooked, I haven’t had a chance to wax poetic about The Stick and how much I’ll miss it. Those of you who’ve read me for a while know I’m a Candlestick Kid of the 90s — too young to remember Joe Montana but lucky enough to have grown up in the vomitories of the Bay Area’s smelliest sports venue, witness to some spectacular moments:
- I remember watching a car chase go bad when my dad took his usual shortcut down Third Street. It was a red Camaro, and it burned out on a side street and crashed into a parked car with a couple black and whites in toe.
- I used my dad’s season tickets to take my first date to a 49ers game at The Stick. She had no idea what was going on the whole time. It didn’t last.
- My brother got to take his friend to the 1997 NFC Championship Game against the Packers and the 49ers lost. I was absolutely crushed because my friend and I thought we were the 49ers lucky charms, and we were sure they would have won if we were in attendance.
- The aforementioned friend and I went to the 1998 Wild Card Game against the Packers and sat 22 rows back in the south endzone. With about 10 minutes left, two weirdos got up from their front row seats and left, which we quickly swindled. Steve Young hit Terrell OWENS OWENS OWENS, and we nearly broke the ugly orange seats we were jumping up and down on. I told you we were the good luck charms.
- I got punched in the face by a grown man after an offensive lineman threw his glove to us at the end of the game. I walked away with the glove and a swollen cheek.
- I was at the game against the Seahawks when Frank Gore cracked off runs of 80 and 79 yards for touchdowns.
- I was also at the game when Vernon Davis got sent to the locker room and Singletary apparently pulled his pants down during halftime.
- I was at the previously mentioned game in which Shaun Hill topped Brett Favre.
- I was at every game except for two during the 2011 season. I saw Ted Ginn’s back-to-back return touchdowns. I watched the lights go out on the 49ers and Steelers. I saw Alex Smith lead the 49ers down the field twice against the Saints and usher them back into greatness with the Vernon Post. And I saw Kyle Williams muff the punt that eliminated the 49ers from a Super Bowl berth.
- Finally, I was witness to Colin Kaepernick’s destruction of the Packers defense in the playoffs last year, including a bird’s eye view of his long read-option touchdown run.
Add the comeback against the Saints (which I wasn’t alive for), The Catch (ditto), and the comeback over the Giants (my brother had the tickets to that game), and you have a comprehensive list of magical moments at Candlestick Park … until last night.
There’s simply no way that stadium would have had its coup de grace as a blowout victory, or worse, a loss. Something special needed to happen, and NaVorro Bowman delivered it. Sports is about perseverance, redemption and beating the odds. We love underdogs, and that’s not what 49ers were last night, but after Bowman let that onside kick squib past his outreached arm and Jason Snelling recovered it, the odds weren’t within a country mile of the 49ers’ favor.
Bowman’s blitz-abort-coverage-support-pick-6 was not only redemption, but also an incredible football play and a crowd-detonating moment all wrapped into one package with a bow on it. The Stick needed one more reason to explode before it actually does, and not just over a simple touchdown pass or a half-yard trip to the endzone for Frank Gore. It needed a magical, unexpected, narrative-writing play from one of the fans’ most beloved players to properly breathe its last breath.
I’m sure the marketing department worked hard on the postgame ceremony (unfortunately for those of us without the financial means to be there, nobody aired it), but the 49ers wouldn’t have needed it to say goodbye. They could have simply shut off the lights, lit the fireworks and thanked the fans, because without them it’s just a poorly constructed concrete bowl.
But just like when I fell madly in love with football watching Young hit Owens on that windy day in 1999, Candlestick did it’s job one last time for at least one kid in attendance, watching Bowman take the 49ers 89 yards to the playoffs. At least one more 49ers fans was born last night, and take it from this Candlestick Kid — that’s a Christmas gift they’ll never forget.