History of Tailgating in San Francisco
Harry S. Truman was president of the US. Tupperware was introduced. The average cost of a home was $5,600. The year was 1946 – a year that also saw the birth of the All-American Football Conference as well as a football team called the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers played their first home game on September 1, 1946, at Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park. Taking the field against the Chicago Rockets, the 49ers won the exhibition game 34-14. Witnessing the game were about “45,000 fans made up of longshoremen, draymen, mechanics and waterfront workers,” according to the 49ers.
Over the years, Kezar was known for its rowdy fans and flocks of seagulls, according to the New York Times. Not a lot of tailgating actually happened in the parking spaces around the stadium. “On game days, the bulk of the on-site parking was reserved for players and team officials, leaving fans to negotiate city streets or pay nearby residents for the privilege of parking in their driveways,” the Times reported.
The first regular-season league game at Kezar happened September 8, 1946, against the New York Yankees (the football team, not the baseball team). The 49ers lost the game 21-7, which the team says “began in sunshine and ended in the famous Kezar fog.”
The 49ers completed their first season with a 9-5 record. The team went 8-4-2 in 1947, 12-2 in 1948 and 10-4 during its final season in the All-America Football Conference. In 1949, the conference shut down. San Francisco, Cleveland and Baltimore were awarded NFL franchises and started competing in the league in 1950.
One of the most significant events in the 49ers’ history at Kezar occurred on October 27, 1957. The Niners were hosting the Chicago Bears. Team founder Tony Morabito was sitting next to his wife, Josephine, and brother, Victor, in a stadium box when he collapsed and died of a heart attack. The players didn’t hear about his death until the third quarter, according to the 49ers. The team rallied from behind to beat the Bears 21-17 “in an emotional last win for their owner,” the Niners say.
“What the hell, if I’m going to die, I might as well die at a football game,” Morabito had once said.
Three years after Morabito’s death, the 49ers shared Kezar with the Oakland Raiders during the Raiders’ inaugural season.
According to the New York Times, the most famous play at Kezar took place in 1964, when Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Jim Marshall “scooped up a fumble by Billy Kilmer and raced 66 yards in the wrong direction, into his own end zone for a safety.”
The 49ers remained at Kezar until 1971, when they moved to Candlestick Park in the Bayview Heights neighborhood. (On January 3, 1971, the Niners lost to the Dallas Cowboys 17-10 in their final game at Kezar.) The San Francisco Giants first occupied Candlestick in 1960. The stadium was enlarged to accommodate the 49ers. At that time, the team says, the natural grass was removed and replaced by artificial turf. Natural grass was reinstalled in 1979.
On October 20, 1971, the 49ers hosted the Los Angeles Rams in their first regular-season home game at Candlestick. In the 41 years since then, the Niners have won five Super Bowls (1981, 1984, 1988, 1989 and 1994).
Probably the most riveting moment ever at Candlestick came on January 10, 1982. The 49ers were squaring off against the Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game. With 51 seconds left, San Francisco wide receiver Dwight Clark grabbed a pass from quarterback Joe Montana and scored the winning touchdown; the Niners squeaked by the Cowboys 28-27. The play has gone down in NFL lore as “The Catch.”
By the way, if you want to catch the 49ers at Candlestick before they relocate to their new stadium in Santa Clara, you’ve got until the 2014 season. That’s when a new era of stadium and tailgating memories will kick off.
Check out Tailgate Fan to keep the party going at tailgatefan.cbslocal.com.
John Egan is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. His work can be found on Examiner.com.