I attended the Levi’s Stadium Groundbreaking on April 19, 2012. Things were different then. The 49ers were coming off a painful NFC Championship loss to the New York Giants, but considering where the 49ers had been and where they appeared to be going, the heartbreak had largely been replaced with giddy optimism. And Jim Harbaugh, coming off one of the best rookie seasons in NFL head coaching history after turning Stanford’s program into a perennial power, could’ve been voted governor of Northern California if such a position existed.
He even wore a gubernatorial suit for the occasion.
Even when he took a gold shovel, one that existed clearly for decorative purposes only, and slammed it into the earth once, twice, three times and bent the blade, then turned the shovel over and attempted to push it back to its normal state, everyone laughed.
“That’s our Harbs! Don’t ever change.”
After 819 days and countless hours of construction work (none of which done with gold shovels, I’m assuming), a lot has changed. Harbaugh’s personality remains the same, but the team has a new quarterback. And now they finally have their first home built for them, and only for them.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answered questions for almost 10 minutes, including the ridiculous flight path that sends planes loudly over the west side of the stadium every 10 minutes. It sounds like those flights will be moved elsewhere during games, but Goodell had no information on that particular subject.
He did say something about the Raiders’ stadium situation, and his words excited the masses on one of the slowest sports days of the year.
Goodell on Raiders (1/2): “They have to make that determination, whether they’re in a new stadium in Oakland or whether they feel that …
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) July 17, 2014
Goodell on Raiders (2/2): “.., it’s best to join this stadium. We’re working on that, and that’s one of the decisions they’ll have to make.”
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) July 17, 2014
This isn’t anything new, but the quote on its own was enough to ruffle feathers (and get my “name” into an ESPN article on the subject). 49ers fans (and the 49ers themselves) would rather not share their new sustainable, modern, techy, sustainable — did we mention sustainable? — home with those ne’er-do-wells in Oakland.
The Raiders aren’t too keen on the idea either (the place is awfully red on the inside, which houses a 49ers museum). Plus, the 49ers built this place with a lot of PSL dough, so if this does become a Meadowlands, New Jersey situation, it would probably only be for a year or two … and that’s only if the Raiders somehow got their own home in Oakland.
This was a day to cut ribbons, and listen to several people speak — twice in many instances for those wearing a media pass. Jed York, Goodell, Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh (and his gold 49ers jean jacket) …
… and Santa Clara mayor Jamie Matthews (and his earring — no photo, sorry) all saw podium double-duty.
Harbaugh was present, but he did not speak. During the groundbreaking he spoke on stage for over two minutes, giving a speech that included this in closing:
“As we look out here this evening, I see a team who’s competing to be the best by building and fighting at the same time. With a shovel in one hand and a sword in the other, to build a great football cathedral. Go Niners.”
The head coach was there yesterday, in his customary black crewneck 49ers sweatshirt and cap, with the baggy khakis he was supposedly going to ditch for snappier trousers in a recent Levi’s commercial. He didn’t have a seat at the beginning of the ceremony either, and from what I was told he ended up sharing a chair with Joe Staley for a few minutes. Talk about a tight squeeze.
Construction workers were introduced and probably garnered more applause than any of the dignitaries in attendance. Then multiple ribbons were snipped. On center stage, York and Matthews shared the honors. Off to the side on the corner staircase, Goodell and several 49ers power players gathered together. Once the oversized scissors were put to use, confetti rained down.
Harbaugh stuck around for a couple minutes, then after shaking hands with his supposed adversary (Trent Baalke), he vanished. For some reason, Goodell’s facial expression in this photo just kills me. It was like Harbaugh’s smile brightened his whole day.
Staley was also present at the groundbreaking, as was Patrick Willis. After yesterday’s gathering, Staley signed a two-year extension through the 2019 season. Baalke said, “With this extension, Joe will likely be a 49er for life.”
“It was definitely a great experience coming from where the franchise was when I first got here and the losing seasons we had and the memories that we created at Candlestick, and then being part of the groundbreaking ceremony two years ago,” Staley said.
“And then having a contract extension, potentially playing my whole entire career hopefully with the 49ers and setting me up to be a 49er for life. And then having the ribbon-cutting ceremony today, it was really a special honor and something I wanted to be a part of. I’m very excited for all that and also excited for everything to be done with and just move on and really, really focused on this offseason getting stronger … and win the Super Bowl.”
Staley also threw some support toward the man who subbed in for him at left tackle during the 49ers’ 2013 home contest against the Rams.
“They’re very, very talented players and I’m speaking of Alex Boone. He’s someone that I have the utmost respect for and really, really hope that we can play our whole entire career together because he’s someone I have a ton of respect for and want to see him here. But, like I said before, it’s his situation and whatever he wants to get done, I have confidence that the Niners and him will work it out,” said Staley, who didn’t mention Vernon Davis by name.
Davis spoke two years ago at the groundbreaking, sharing the stage with Willis. Both players could end up spending their entire careers with the 49ers (for Willis, that fate sounds rather likely), but Davis’ absence throughout the offseason was another reminder why Levi’s Stadium was celebrated to the extent it was, and how. No giant photos of players were affixed to the outside of the building. Instead, generic players wearing uniforms that said “INAUGURAL – 20” and “SEASON – 14” on the back.
The cathedral will outlast every player and coach.
That’s not to say Staley doesn’t care if Davis returns, or thinks the tight end isn’t as valuable or doesn’t deserve a new deal. The linemen are truly a band of brothers. They hang out together, they have their own corner of the locker room, and before games they spend the entire time alternately colliding with each other in drills and encouraging one another with praise, hand-slaps, ass-slaps, shoulderpad-pounds, nods, smiles and laughs.
Mike Iupati sat in the audience, and afterward he took advantage of the refreshments served in the club section that makes up the first story of the suite tower. No limp, from what I could tell. No word on whether his attendance furthered his chances of earning an extension of his own from the 49ers.
Sorry if this story isn’t quite what you expected to read. I’ll be posting a few photos of the “living roof” shortly, but mostly I guess I’m tired of rehashing the same old stuff about how many toilets are at the new stadium and what kind of water they’ll flush; how technologically-oriented the place will be and how one can order boutique food and drink items with their phones; the corporate sponsors and how they’ll “support” the 49ers in making this stadium the ultimate representation of Bay Area Silicon Valley blah blah blah.
It’s a football stadium, not a corporate office building, even though the suite tower might fool you from some angles.
Those luxury items are nice, and I’ll admit that I’m looking forward to working in a press box that not only serves food of higher quality than one would find in an elementary school cafeteria, but also contains enough elbow and table space to eat that food without spilling crumbs all over my keyboard. But my remaining fascination with this place lies in three things — 1) gameday traffic, 2) the level of crowd noise we’ll hear with a more intimate seating layout, one which will hold fans asked to pay much more than before, and 3) what will become of the team, a squad that still has Harbaugh and several core players, after falling just short of a championship twice more since the franchise broke ground where their shiny new cathedral now sits.