There was no chance I would attend the preseason game at Candlestick Park between the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders, because if I wasn’t attending my grandmother’s 90th birthday party, I would have been spending a second night on the Russian River at my buddy Sean’s bachelor party. Now I’m glad I didn’t go to the game, because after hearing the reports of parking lot shootings, bathroom violence along with countless fights and vomiting episodes in the stands, it sounded less like a meaningless football game and more like anarchy.
Lots of blame to go around, and while it sounds reactionary at first, it makes sense for the NFL to cancel the yearly preseason game between the clubs. If you’re staging a contest where the vast majority either leave early or don’t pay close attention to the happenings on the field, you’re asking for trouble. And while rivalries are great for sports, preseason rivalries bring out fake fans and prove absolutely nothing on the field or in the stands. But if you’re looking for the reasons why Saturday night’s game was a complete disaster, those focusing on things like start times, the violent reputation of Raiders fans and alcohol policies within the stadium are over-thinking.
This catastrophe was created by two “L’s”: losing and location.
I grew up in Eureka, a small town like many in California. Eureka’s economy used to be built on fishing and logging; now its best attempt at staving off full scale poverty is a focus on tourism. As such, Eureka is home to many hotels. Some of them are very nice, and priced accordingly. Others are cheap. The cheap ones lie in seedy locations. They’re filthy and falling apart on the outside, and on the inside they house people who engage in drug abuse (meth, mostly), prostitution or both. These hotels are like one-story, rural versions of the single room occupancy hotels that help contribute to the frightening environment in the Tenderloin that we all know and (try to) avoid.
Candlestick Park has gone from antiquated and windy to the NFL’s version of a meth motel. One could point to the surrounding neighborhood (the extremely gritty Hunters Point/Bayview area of San Francisco), but this type of mayhem wasn’t commonplace years ago, when the 49ers were a winning organization and Candlestick wasn’t a complete dump.
The Stick holds a soft spot in my sporting heart due to sentimental reasons, since nearly all of my childhood memories surrounding live baseball and football games also include memories of orange seats, incredibly long escalators and stiff breezes through those corridors between the concourse and the stands. But the old girl has received almost no maintenance in years. The Yorks are hoping for a new stadium, and unlike the Giants (who made several improvements to the stadium in the 1990s after Peter Magowan’s group purchased the team from Bob Lurie), have refused to invest in improving — or even maintaining — the current fan experience.
Granted, the Giants were drawing at less than 50% capacity on a nightly basis in the mid-nineties. Changes like new bleachers and an outfield wall along with improved concessions weren’t done with civic pride in mind, but in hopes of drawing more fans. The 49ers “sell out” every game, and there are only 10 home contests per season. The Yorks want out, and they’re not going to spend any money on their dilapidated old rental property. That’s their choice, but that choice played a part in what happened on Saturday.
The maintenance required doesn’t necessarily mean replacing the old seats with ones of a color that isn’t so garish. It doesn’t mean Chipotle restaurants on every level, a better scoreboard or a VIP-style club section. This is about professional security guards, and more of them. It’s about more lights in the parking lot, something Jed York regrettably said (on KNBR this morning with Murph and Mac) there wouldn’t be enough time to install between now and Saturday’s game. It’s also about a better team that might lead more “real” fans to want to check them out during the preseason — not, as Jed suggested, a need for fewer preseason games and an 18-game regular season schedule.
I’ve only been to one Niners/Raiders preseason game, back in 2001. While “$#%& the Raiders” and “#%$& the Niners” chants were heard throughout the game and afterward, I didn’t see one fight either within the stadium or in the parking lot. In a related story, the stadium was in better condition back then, and the Jeff Garcia/Steve Mariucci Niners went 12-4 that season, 8-0 at Candlestick Park.
Yes, the game taking place on a Saturday evening might have led to increased consequence-free drinking for some. But an incredible amount of intoxicants were imbibed in the parking lot at Thursday and Monday night games against the Bears and Cardinals we attended in 2009, and fights were nonexistent. My girlfriend (now my wife) and I didn’t feel the least bit unsafe.
Is this just a Raiders problem, just a gang problem, or both? I don’t think so, even though it’s hard to imagine next week’s Niners/Texans preseason game will be marred with shootings. Sure, the Niners and Raiders on the same field tends to attract a crowd of people who pretend to support either team but aren’t really fans at all, just thugs looking for a fight. But if you put together all these elements: a Saturday evening kickoff time that lends to increased tailgating; a meaningless game between two rival teams in the same region who haven’t had a winning season in almost a decade; a stadium that due to lack of care has become a place that breeds a sense of lawlessness — you’re going to see a situation like what happened this past weekend.
If so inclined, you can smoke meth, crack or whatever in any hotel. But one rarely finds people indulging in these activities anywhere but in the worst, grossest motels, places where there is a perceived lack of authority. The Stick, sadly, has morphed into a place just like this. If you’re looking to indulge in a little gang violence, the Niners/Raiders game at a half-empty Candlestick Park is as good a place as any these days. Until the 49ers start taking pride in their home and in the protection of the people who visit, and stop acting as if it’s someone else’s problem or responsibility, these incidents will continue — and I’ll make it a point to find other things to do other than attend Niners games.
Update: After PATH’s comment I had to add this video, where SEVERAL women are fighting. Check out the girl in the gold “FORTY NINERS” jacket…