(By: Daisy Barringer)
Tonight, the (10-4) San Francisco 49ers host the (4-10) Atlanta Falcons in the very last game that will ever be played at Candlestick Park. For many, this is a good thing. They call Candlestick “a dump.” Complain about the wind. Remind you that Candlestick wasn’t even built as a football stadium, but rather for the Giants who fled for the much swankier AT&T Park over a decade ago.
For me, it’s bittersweet. Listen, I get that Candlestick is a relic. It’s dirty. It’s crowded. There’s a stall in the ladies’ room that’s been without a lock for at least the last seven years. The food is gross. The fans are violent. There’s no Wi-Fi. The sound is horrendous. And yes, on occasion, especially a night like tonight, it can be the coldest place on earth.
But still. It’s Candlestick. And I know they’re building a fancy new stadium, one that will have gourmet food, apps for the shortest beer lines, and locks on all of the bathroom doors—and I know I’ll enjoy those things—but it will never be Candlestick. And it won’t be in San Francisco. And it definitely won’t be the same. Ever again. Tonight, an era ends. It’s time, I know. But for this girl at least, if they’d just added cup holders to the seats, I would have been happy in that dirty and dilapidated dinosaur of a stadium for another decade at least.
Tonight, as we walk into Candlestick Park for one final game, we’ll be flooded by memories. The 1989 World Series. (I wasn’t at the earthquake game, but I was there. It was my first Giants game ever. I ate ice cream out of a miniature plastic baseball cap and I missed catching a fly ball by *this* much to the chagrin of my mother’s boyfriend.) The Beatles last concert ever. The Catch. Bill Walsh’s memorial. Jerry Rice. Joe Montana. We all have memories. Some good (Veron’s TD catch against the Saints!), some bad (getting assaulted by a Niners fan ), but they remind us of who we are, where we’ve been. And tonight, well, it’s last call. Grab your partner for one last dance. Hold ‘em tight. ‘Cause it’s never going to be the same again.
And while these things matter—to the fans, to the hall of famers, to the reporters—what really matters, if we’re honest, is that tonight—tonight: we have a huge game to win.
And, fine. One can’t completely rule out the possibility that tonight’s game won’t actually be the last game at Candlestick. It would take a small miracle—San Francisco beating Arizona on the road next week and Seattle losing two games in a row at home (BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, THEY LOST TO THE CARDINALS AT HOME YESTERDAY!)—but mathematically, there’s a chance. I think we all know though, in our hearts, that tonight is it. The end of an era.
If we beat Atlanta, which shouldn’t be too difficult to do, then we earn our spot in the playoffs. When the 49ers left Kezar Stadium in 1970, they did so with a 24-20 win against Atlanta. I’d like this win to be a little more decisive. And hopefully, considering the Niners are 13 point favorites, it will be.
The Falcons have only pride to play for. And maybe revenge for the NFC Championship game? This is their first losing season since 2007. Of course, they also have a draft spot to (not) play for. I don't believe teams really do this, but winning does them no favors. Losing, however
The 49ers are on a hot streak (right, I might add, as the Seahawks seem to be falling apart). Everything’s coming together. The defense finally has a solid offense to help them out. Special teams looks great. I’ve even come around a bit on Greg Roman’s play calling. I mean, we’re winning, after all. (STILL MAD ABOUT THE SUPER BOWL, GREG. NEVER FORGIVING YOU FOR THAT ONE EVER.)
Kaepernick is playing with confidence. We’ve seen a very different Colin Kaepernick the past few games. I like this guy. He’s completing passes when out of the pocket. He’s running the ball. And he isn’t relying on his first option. I’ve been on him a lot about clock management, but as long as we don’t lose because of a “wasted” time out or a delay of game, then I am fine with this crazy “Give him 4 million plays in the huddle” system they’ve got going on.
Crabtree, Boldin, and Davis. Enough said.
Falcons QB Matt Ryan sucks on the road. 59.9 completion percentage and 12 interceptions. Look for the Niners defense to take serious advantage of that tonight.
Speaking of defense Matt Ryan has been sacked 34 times this season and hit 81. I can think of a few guys (Aldon, Ahmad, Justin) who are salivating at those numbers. C’mon boys. Give us some great sacks. You know I love ‘em!
The Niners run game. Falcons suck at the run defense. The Niners love to run the ball. If we can just run the ball and control the clock and not turn the ball over We should be sitting pretty.
Bruce Miller is on IR. Losing the fullback is tough. Not only was Bruce one of Kaepernick’s few targets this year, his blocking was key for Frank Gore and the run game. Luckily, Anthony Dixon is excited to step up and have a bigger role in the game. It will be fun/interesting to watch him tonight.
The Falcons are going to try to force fumbles. It’s an interesting strategy, but one we’ve hopefully prepared for. Of course, there’s not much you can do to prepare for having the ball stripped except practice holding on to it, but still If they do manage to get the Niners to turnover the ball, it will make the game more interesting, for sure. Luckily, I think we’re good in enough in every area that even a turnover or two isn’t going to give them the edge. (If they even get that many.)
Steven Jackson. He hasn’t had a phenomenal year, but I do expect to see a lot of him tonight. The Falcons are going to try to run the ball on us. We’ve got to stop them.
The Rest of It
May I please just take one more moment to gloat about the Arizona victory in Seattle yesterday? Sure, I get that if Arizona had lost, we’d already have our playoff spot clinched. But I don’t care because I believe in my boys and it was just too glorious of a thing to watch. Seattle’s first loss at home in two years. Russell Wilson’s first loss at home ever. And the Arizona players eating Skittles on the sidelines. I love all of it.
Joe’s a No-Show. Thinking you were going to get to watch Joe Montana and Dwight Clark reenact The Catch one more time? Think again. Joe Montana isn’t going to make it to Candlestick for tonight’s game.
But Jerry, Ronnie, Dwight, Roger they’ll all be there. And the honorary team captain? Eddie DeBartolo. Gotta love it. And I think we all know who will watching over the game from above. Love you, Bill.
It’s going to be an emotional night. A lot of memories. A lot of history. And a lot of football.
It’s time for me to start getting ready. I’ve got a lot to do today as I start in the parking lot and make my way in for one last game. But wherever you are, whomever you’re watching with, whatever your feelings about the move to Santa Clara. Pour one out for ‘The Stick. And root as loud as you can for one of the best teams in the history of the NFL. GO NINERS!
Watch San Francisco vs. Atlanta tonight at 5:40 p.m. on ESPN.