- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Kezar itself may have been as much at fault for this aberrant behavior as were the generally frustrating events on the field. Few stadiums are as esthetically favored as this old bowl at the eastern extremity of Golden Gate Park. Approached from the north and west, the arriving fan strolls to it through acres of lush green lawn with forests of eucalyptus, pine and palm. There are ponds and flower beds, and children laughing and dogs playing. In such bucolic splendor it could be assumed that even the most churlish of louts would find room in his heart for charity. Not so. Kezar invariably brought out the worst in everyone.
For one thing, there was virtually no parking in the vicinity of the stadium. So visitors usually arrived early to spend their pregame hours in Stanyan Street saloons preparing themselves for the outrages soon to be visited on them by their favorite team. There were other ways of beating the parking dilemma, though. I, for example, spent $1,200, a huge sum to me in those days, to buy an Isetta for precisely that purpose. The Isetta was a two-cylinder vehicle built by BMW and no bigger than a golf cart. It weighed about 700 pounds and could seat one person comfortably, two in a pinch. On Niner game days its capacity would be stretched to four. We would tool right up to the stadium and physically lift the little machine into a parking space no full-grown car could hope to fit into.
A police officer friend of mine had an even more ingenious method for licking the parking problem. He would drive directly to the no-parking zone nearest the stadium, leave his car there and ceremoniously write himself a citation, which he would place beneath a windshield wiper. At game's end he would return to the illegally parked vehicle and tear the ticket to shreds.
The worst trouble with Kezar was inside. Seats in modern stadiums are generally at least 20 inches wide. And a minimum of 30 inches between rows is considered proper. Kezar's splintery benches allowed only 16 inches of posterior space and the rows were a knee-cracking 20 inches apart. Bill Shoemaker would consider such accommodations confining. In Kezar's center sections, where the season ticket holders congregated, close friendships resulted from such intimacy. In the outer reaches, where strangers collided, familiarity bred contempt. And at Kezar only 19,000 of the 60,000 seats were between the goal lines.
The stadium was built in 1925 for high school football and expanded in patchwork fashion, with the result that it took on a lopsided shape, made all the more ludicrous by the outsized press box that stood like some crazily misplaced middle-income house above the 24 rows of seats on the south side. Rarely, if ever, were there enough newsmen to occupy all of the 250 press-box seats, so the vacancies were filled by visiting celebrities, politicians, priests, small children, guests of management and other freeloaders. Working newsmen were in the minority, and the atmosphere was far more social than professional. During one Niner game a sportswriter was busy hammering out his play-by-play account when the woman seated in front of him suddenly wheeled upon him. "Must you continue that infernal typing through this entire game?" she angrily inquired. "I'm trying to concentrate."
There is no need here to touch upon the deficiency of restrooms in so primitive a facility. Suffice to say that that, too, had a debilitating effect on the collective dispositions of the spectators.
With the move to Candlestick, everything seemed to change but the final scores of crucial games. After Tony's death, Vic ran the team until he, too, died of a heart attack in 1964. The Morabitos' widows, Josephine and Jane, kept things going, with the loyal Spadia as president, until they finally sold the club to Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. in 1977. Eddie was only 31 then and he looked like the young Eddie Fisher. When, in his first press conference, he denied that the team was a toy to him, he seemed to be protesting too much, because Eddie looked like a baby and Papa had a bundle. Hiring Joe Thomas was another blunder. Thomas tried to rebuild by tearing down, and he alienated an entire community in the process. His most grievous error was trying fruitlessly to erase the past, tearing down old photos in the office, cutting the alumni off from free passes. That was dumb. The 49ers are family. Almost all of the old star players still live in the Bay Area, and the fans still love them. In San Francisco, the past is always present.
But Eddie shaped up. He sacked Thomas and hired Bill Walsh, which makes him for this career fan quite simply the smartest owner in the game. It is significant that an old hand like Spadia is impressed by Walsh first of all because he looks like the team's original coach, Buck Shaw. Walsh has tradition built in with that Shavian silver hair.
I tell you, it's been a heady season for those of us who were there from the beginning. The 49ers didn't blow that game to the Giants and they didn't even lose to the Cowboys this time. What's going on around here? I watched the final moments of that Dallas game on television in a Cincinnati hotel room, where I was on assignment. "It's all over," I said to myself when the Cowboys, behind by one point, got the ball with plenty-of time left to score. I knew that all my fellow Niner sufferers from years back were saying the same thing. And it was all over. This time for Dallas. On my television set, my hometown crowd was going wild. And I was sitting there alone, like a damn fool, bawling like a baby. By heaven, they finally did it.