Colin Kaepernick

“It was awesome. A lot better than Candlestick.” – the 49ers like Levi’s Stadium, despite turf troubles

Levi's Stadium first kickoff

The 49ers did a quick scoreboard tribute to Robin Williams before the national anthem. If his character in “Good Will Hunting” spoke to Levi’s Stadium after the new facility’s football debut, he might have said, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”

It wasn’t Levi’s Stadium’s fault that the 49ers have played so poorly this preseason. It’s not the building’s fault that the team’s mixture of unimaginative (by design) playcalling, mixed with subpar quarterbacking, resulted in the team getting shut out by the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon.

Levi’s gets thumbs up from the players

I got to see the 49ers locker room for the first time in its finished state, and wow. It’s pretty remarkable to see all 90 players not just get their own lockers, and not just get lockers with their names displayed above, but get lockers with their names backlit. The young players, the guys without any ties to the team’s old home besides hey, that’s where we played last year, are stoked.

“It was awesome. A lot better than Candlestick, I’ll say. To say the least,” said Eric Reid, who probably experienced quite the shock going from LSU’s Tiger Stadium to the 49ers’ old home.

Levi's Stadium Press Box view 49ers

It was impossible to tell from inside the press box if Levi’s Stadium plays loudly. The glass surrounding the eighth floor of the suite tower is incredibly thick, plus it was just a preseason game. So I’ll defer to someone with a vested interest in the decibel level.

“It’s a great atmosphere. I think we’ll have a lot more noise here than at Candlestick, from what it sounded like today,” said Colin Kaepernick, the only 49ers quarterback who didn’t commit a turnover.

Frank Gore played at Candlestick Park for nine seasons, but he didn’t seem all that upset to move on.

“It’s good. It’s nice, the locker room. I’ve been in old school Candlestick, but (this is) nice. Hopefully we’ll bring a trophy here.”

Jury still out on the turf

One area where Candlestick went from awful to above average over the last decade was grass quality (and that’s not a reference to what fans were smoking in the stands). Candlestick’s field used to be marsh-like, usually turning into a soggy mess during playoff games — especially after a week of rain or when the tide was high. But in recent years, the old stadium’s field was fast, with good footing.

“I thought the (Levi’s Stadium) turf was good,” said Jim Harbaugh. “There might have been a spot here or there, but overall very good.”

Make no mistake, this is the biggest problem in 49er-land. Forget the fans’ complaints about traffic and food prices — the 49ers have time to fix those problems, and no amount of social media moaning could equal the volume of one complaint from a coach or player. The 49ers know not to make any noise publicly, especially after a preseason game. But a brand new stadium should have a near-perfect playing surface, and that isn’t the case — yet.

“It comes up a little bit. We have a few more weeks for it to set in. I think it’ll be fine in (Week 2 against) Chicago,” Reid said.

“Felt fast,” said Gore. “It felt great to me, but you know I’ve got great feet, so …”

Phil Dawson, who missed on field goal attempts of 55 and 44 yards, was the one person who might have the most to complain about. Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that he wasn’t in the locker room after the game.

Phil Dawson missed 44-yd field goal Levi's Stadium

Traffic and weather

By most accounts, getting in and out of Levi’s was easier for this game than the Quakes/Sounders game two weeks ago. However, there were some problems today. The Blue Lots seemed to see the most trouble, at least based on the responses I saw on Twitter. In particular, I heard from several fans that driving west on Lawrence Expressway was very slow for fans trying to turn left on Tasman. Some fans reported waiting an hour to leave their parking lot after the game, which isn’t a good sign since so many people left this stinker of a game early.

The heat got a lot of attention as well, although I found that a little overblown. Easy for me to say from an air conditioned press box, sure. But it was in the mid-70s in Santa Clara, and with no shade covering the seats on the east side of the stadium, it’s going to get hot. The temps should get milder as the season goes on, but fans should take precautions — most of the seats are on the side facing the sun, so bring a hat with a bill, sunglasses and lots of sunscreen.

Here’s what it looked like on the field at the end of the game:

Levi's Stadium scoreboard

As a whole, even though things weren’t completely perfect and the 49ers played terribly, this was a nice debut for the stadium. Now the biggest questions (other than whether the turf will improve) are how loud it’ll get when the Bears show up on Sept. 14 for Sunday Night Football, and if the 49ers can score a touchdown by then.


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