Levi’s Stadium and Candlestick Park: The Pressure of Inheriting a Storied Legacy
The New England Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys. These are the only three NFL franchises who can compete with the San Francisco 49ers in terms of legacy.
As far as iconic moments go however, none of their stadiums come close to Candlestick Park.
Settling in by the Bayview
When the 49ers moved out of Kezar Stadium in favor of the newly built Candlestick Park in the 1970s, it didn’t seem like the new stadium would rekindle with the spark of the San Francisco Faithful.
Known as a losing franchise in a city of constant change and disruptive social movements, the 49ers did little to accommodate the ambitions of their rabid fanbase. The seats quickly discolored under the sun and accessing the stadium inconveniently required navigating the narrow streets of Bayview.
Yet, Candlestick Park was a decade away from becoming the theater of some of the best football ever played in history.
Leaving a Legacy Behind
Over the years, the fans were treated to unforgettable moments of pure football genius, from the Catch I, Catch II, to the Catch III, to Steve Young’s rounding lap of honor after defeating his nemesis in 1994, Jeff Garcia and T.O.’s gutty comeback over the Giants and Navorro Bowman capping 46 years of greatness with the legendary Pick at the ‘Stick.
Despite its flaws, Candlestick Park was iconic.
Moving to Levi’s Stadium left a sour taste in the mouth of the Faithful. On one hand, the 49ers would finally play football in a state-of-the-art facility with 5-star amenities to showcase the full power of the Silicon Valley at its peak, including free Wi-Fi, the ability to have food and drinks delivered at your seat, an accessible app with information on bathroom waiting line times, and more.
The stage was set.
On the other hand, the 49ers had left their home city of nearly 70 years and ventured 45 miles down south to Santa Clara, while the Giants – and later the Golden State Warriors – were able to secure locations for a new stadium within the San Francisco city limits.
In the eyes of many fans, the team was leaving the grit of the city in favor of the tech-hub corporate crowd of the South Bay.
And it didn’t start well.
The 49ers lost their home opener against the Jay Cutler-led Bears, in a season that saw the team descend from Super Bowl aspirations down to the abyss of mediocrity.
Common feedback from the fans attending games at the stadium included a problematic lack of shade for about 70 percent of the stands, a nightmare parking situation with cluttered circulation, spread-out lots, high prices and a notable lack of atmosphere.
These issues were exacerbated over the following years with the sight of empty stands after halftime, constant complaints from the fans on social media and a product so poor on the field that for the first time in decades, local TV ratings saw a decrease compared to the roaring surge of the dynastic Warriors.
Next to the Cowboys’ and Vikings’ newer billion-dollar stadiums, Levi’s Stadium suffered from a poor reputation.
The Rise of Levi’s Stadium
The 49ers organization didn’t wait for John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan to come help revive a glorious Super Bowl run before they acted to solve this situation.
Levi’s Stadium now benefits from an optimal traffic-flow organization in Santa Clara on gameday with barely any stops. The ample staircases make it easy to access seats without any lines or interruption. The concession stands hardly have any waiting lines (except maybe at halftime), the long bathroom lines from Candlestick have disappeared, and each seat has ample leg room without feet getting crushed from other fans walking through.
Accessing the assigned seats are a breeze with a fast check-in process. Every timeout during the game are filled with non-stop entertainment. Attendants are present at almost every corner of the stands to provide assistance and answer questions.
As a venue, Levi’s Stadium has vastly improved. The entire organization, and specifically the Stadium Operations team, has worked hard to keep climbing the ranks year after year and have benefited from the experience of hosting non-49ers events to bring new improvements and make the venue more flexible and adaptable.
Establishing a New Era
The 2019 season helped cement Levi’s Stadium as an atmosphere-packed football venue, where the echo of the Faithful’s loud celebrations was reminiscent of the golden eras.
The 49ers’ return to their home stadium in Week 3 of the 2021 season against the Packers helped rekindle the spark that had be gone the previous year because of the pandemic. Levi’s Stadium is back to being electric.
Leaving Candlestick Park was always going to be difficult because of its emotional connection with the fans. But the fanbase has proved that the legacy it carries outweighs the venue and its location.
The spirit of the Faithful never died. The memories of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice still live in the very soul of the fanbase. The Nos. 16, 8, 42, 80, 21, 52, and 7 scarlet red jerseys continue to live on as a testament of the glory days.
The ruins of Candlestick have paved the way to a new generation of 49ers football that understands the importance of embracing the past and building for the future.
Levi’s Stadium represents its storied legacy well, and it is now ready to Keep Loud and Carry On.
What is your favorite memory at Levi’s Stadium so far?
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