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Start of a season, end of 2nd era in San Francisco

by Mark Daniels

(Somehow, this didn't load early Sunday morning and I wanted to give you a little historical perspective of San Franisco professional football.) And so it begins.  The 2013 journey kicks off this afternoon for the Green Bay Packers against the San Francisco 49ers.  Pending a return trip for a second straight playoff game here, which could happen if the Niners win and grab any tiebreaking edge over the Pack, this will be the final time the teams meet at Candlestick Park.  The 49ers will move into their third home, Levi's Stadium in 2014.  Their first home field, was Kezar Stadium, located at the east end of Golden Gate Park.  The 49ers joined the National Football League for the 1946 season after forming four years earlier as a member of the old All American Football League that included the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts.  Kezar was a grand place in it's day, built in 1922, thanks to a $100,000.00 donation to the San Francisco Park Commission by Mary Kezar.   At the dedication ceremony in 1925, a two mile foot race was held between a pair of legendary runners, Ville Ritola and Olympic great Paavo Nurmi.  After hosting college games in the early days, the 49ers became the primary tenant in that 1946 season.

When the NIners joined the league, and the Cleveland Rams shifted their franchise to Los Angeles, the NFL schedule makers gave the Packers a break.  Every year between 1950 and 1963, the Packers finished the season with a two game road trip to California, playing at the Niners and the Rams to close out the year.  Kezar wasn't very kind to Green Bay early on, losing 8 of the first 9 meetings, often by big scores.  The only victory in the bleak decade of the 50's for the Packers, came in 1955.  Once Vince Lombardi arrived, the tide turned out here. Green Bay won four of the next five games, they tied at 24 in 1965 and San Francisco handed Vince one of his only two losses in 1966, 41-20 in a stunning upset by a team that finished .500.  

Kezar also had a role in a huge movie in 1971.  Clint Eastwood debuted his Dirty Harry character and hunted down Scorpio, the serial killer, who worked as a caretaker at the stadium. A lot of the film was shot in and around the place.

The large stands were eventually dismantled and sold off to fans after the Niners moved to Candlestick Park for the 1971 season.  Here's how Kezar, complete with the rebuilt memorial arch and track, looks today. It's still used by citizens out for a jog, high school football and soccer games.

The Packers all time record at Kezar was just 5-13-1.

Today mark's the 11th all time meeting at the Stick, built in 1960 for the San Francisco Giants who arrived from New York in the mid-50's, along with the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn for Los Angeles, the first major league expansion west of the Mississippi River.  The Packers have fared better at this place, going 6-4, splitting four memorable playoff games.  Their first win was engineered by Don Majkowski in the magical 1989 season, 21-17.  In the '95 playoffs, the Pack took an important step toward the Super Bowl by winning 27-17.  They captured a second straight NFC Championship with a 23-10 victory two years laterthe following year.  Then came the heartbreak of Terrell Owens' catch from Steve Young in the final seconds in what turned out to be Mike Holmgren's last game as head coach, 30-27.  After three straight regular season wins here, the Packers last visit before today was the 45-31 NFC Divisional playoff loss last January.

With the Giants now at beautiful AT&T Park downtown, the Stick has outlived its usefulness and will meet the demolition ball.  City officials want to refurbish the neighborhood around the stadium which has been in a horrible economic decline over the years.

In 2014, the 49ers will call Santa Clara home.   The city already hosts the team's headquarters and training facilitiies and right next door, the 1.2 billion, that's right, billion dollar Levi's Stadium is rising up.

This will be a state of the art, environmentally efficient structure, seating 68,500, slightly less than Candlestick.   There will of course be luxury suites galore and plenty of glass as you check out this view on the west side of the structure.

The 49er faithful can't wait, understandably so, but not everyone is thrilled.   Local businesses are concerned the city of Santa Clara has bent way beyond backwards to accomodate the team. The Parking lot you see is actually used by a Great America theme park next door.  The transportation infrastructure is nowhere near ready to handle the traffic.   On Friday evening, I stopped by David's Restaurant at the Santa Clara Golf Club right across Tasman Street from the stadium.  Owner David Ebreheemi is excited to have the new neighbor, but he's also worried the city may not keep his business in mind as the 49ers have grand plans to develop their own shopping, eating and entertainment district right down the street.   I sat down and visited with David about having an NFL team as a neighbor next fall.

Audio: David Ebreheemi.

The National Football League is one of the most powerful enterprises in the country.  They can do what they want, go where they want.   The New York Jets and Giants are, in actuality, the East Rutherford, New Jersey Jets and Giants, the Dallas Cowboys?  They should be the Arlington Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers...they'll become the Santa Clara 49ers next year as they douse the Candlestick and slip on a pair of very expensive jeans.  That's progress.