STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Tonight in San Francisco, the last Monday Night Football game of the NFL season is a significant moment for Bay Area sports fans. The San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons are playing the final regular season game at Candlestick Park. The 49ers are moving out, moving south to a plush new home in Santa Clara, California. Candlestick is set to be demolished, leaving behind more than half a century of memories, which is prompting goodbyes, and for some good riddance, to the weather-beaten stadium known as the Stick. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The story, as told in "Candlestick Park" by Ted Atlas, goes like this: It was 1957, and Horace Stoneham, owner of baseball's New York Giants, was in San Francisco looking for a new home for his team. Some local boosters took him to the spot on the shore of San Francisco Bay, where Candlestick Park ultimately was built. They took him in the morning. The winds were calm. Stoneham liked it. He signed the deal, and building began. But on a return visit, Stoneham went later in the day. It's said he asked a worker: Does the wind often blow like this? The response: Yeah, every day, but only in the afternoon and early evening. So began, in 1960, Candlestick's Jekyll and Hyde legacy, one of crowning sports moments.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: 0 and two, Waggoner delivers. Mays hits it into left field. There goes number 3,000.
GOLDMAN: Like the day in 1970, when Willie Mays got his milestone 3,000th hit at Candlestick. But there was always the park's shivery history, too. It touched John, George, Ringo and Paul, who played the Stick in the summer of 1966.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.
JOHN LENNON: And it's a bit chilly.
GOLDMAN: It numbed San Francisco Giants first baseman J.T. Snow.
J.T. SNOW: You know, there was just nowhere to hide from it. You just had to accept it.
GOLDMAN: Snow played home games at Candlestick for the final three seasons the Giants were there - 1997, '98 and '99 - and he heard the complaints from opponents as soon as they got on base.
SNOW: All the time, like, how do you do it? How can you play here? You must hate it. It's miserable.
GOLDMAN: During baseball season, the cold wind was only half of it. Candlestick groundskeeper Roger Revel remembers talking to a Giants marketer in the early 1990s about a promotion the team called fun in the sun, featuring more day games.
ROGER REVEL: We were standing down in the right-field corner, and she said, do you think this is going to be a good idea? And I said, geez, I don't know. And she goes what do you mean? I said look.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
REVEL: It was a beautiful day, and the fog was just howling in all of the sudden, just in time for the game to start. And that was pretty much the way it was the entire season. It was the season from hell.
GOLDMAN: The fog and the wind, ironically, were most treacherous during what should've been the languid spring and summer months of the baseball season. The wind and fog didn't just blow. They swirled in the park and kept swirling, even after the stadium walls were built up in 1971 when the NFL's 49ers joined the Giants as tenants. But through it all, Bay Area fans endured, earning a hallowed Croix de Candlestick button for baseball bravery if they stayed for an extra-inning game. And the shows, more than five decades worth, went on.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF I NEEDED SOMEONE")
THE BEATLES: (Singing) If I needed someone to love, you're the one that I'd be thinking of. If I needed someone.
GOLDMAN: That August 1966 Beatles concert, where you could get a Candlestick bleacher seat for four-and-a-half bucks, it turned out to be the group's last big commercial show. In May 1977, between games of a Giants doubleheader, tightrope legend Karl Wallenda made a memorable appearance. On a day when the wind - thankfully - was almost nonexistent, he inched across the field on a wire that stretched from the upper deck in left field to the upper deck in right. He did it in 20 minutes. It took far less time to turn Candlestick into hallowed football ground - seven seconds, to be exact.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The football is on the six-yard line.
GOLDMAN: Under a minute left in the 1982 NFC championship game, the Dallas Cowboys led the 49ers 27-21. San Francisco was six yards away from a possible winning touchdown and a first-ever Super Bowl berth. Then the play that immortalized 49ers quarterback Joe Montana and receiver Dwight Clark and ushered in an era of 9ers dominance.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Montana, looking, looking, throwing in the end zone. Clark caught it. Dwight Clark.
MIKE GAY: Well, right now, we're in the north end zone, and this is where it all happened. We're looking at where the catch was.
GOLDMAN: It was a bright, sunny day at Candlestick last week - of course. It's December. As chief engineer Mike Gay led reporters on a farewell tour of the park where he's worked the last 35 years. There were the predictable stops: that spot where Montana and Clark connected on the catch. There were private memories. Giants executive Mario Aliotto reminisced about playing catch with Willie Mays before a game when Aliotto was a 12-year-old Giants batboy. Were you nervous? Were you nervous about dropping the ball?
MARIO ALIOTTO: Oh, I was really nervous, because for some reason, when a Major League Baseball player throws a ball, it seems to rise, at least for a little kid like me, everyone was - it felt like it was going to go over my head. But I made every effort to catch every one.
GOLDMAN: As the tour went on, Mike Gay couldn't deliver on one of the most requested stops: telltale signs of earthquake damage. October 17th, 1989, ABC TV announcers Al Michaels and Tim McCarver were on live TV at Candlestick dissecting some videotape before that day's game three of the World Series between the Giants Oakland A's.
AL MICHAELS: And he fails to get Dave Parker at second base, so the Oakland A's take...
TIM MCCARVER: I'll tell you what, we're having a...
(SOUNDBITE OF STATIC)
GOLDMAN: The powerful earthquake that jolted northern California that day killed more than 60 people and left piles of destruction, but not at the Stick, says Mike Gay, proudly.
GAY: Some of the lights kind of broke from the jarring and stuff, and there's some other repairs - the concrete repair, the expansion joints, some handrails and stuff like that. But all in all, the place was pretty sound.
GOLDMAN: It is a testament, he says, to the way Candlestick was built: the first baseball stadium made completely of reinforced concrete. But even Gay acknowledges everything, including stadiums, comes to an end. There's a rundown feel to Candlestick: rusting seats with peeling paint, chipped concrete throughout, narrow concourses. It certainly didn't help the Stick's reputation when old wiring was blamed, in part, for two blackouts in a 2011 Monday Night Football game.
But now, it's moot. Years of battling over Candlestick between the 49ers and the city of San Francisco are replaced - at least from the team's perspective - by the optimism of moving south to its Silicon Valley stadium, where the team reportedly promises smartphone apps that'll allow fans to order food and check on lines at the bathrooms. In the years since the move was announced, there's been grumbling that playing 40 miles away means the 49ers will lose their San Francisco identity. In a small, yet pungent gesture, the team guarantees Candlestick's legendary garlic fries will be on the menu at the new stadium - warm garlic fries. Tom Goldman, NPR News.