Memories of The ‘Stick

With the last 49er game to be played at Candlestick Park tonight, I have been inspired to recall my favorite memories of the cavernous, cold, windy, broken down old girl.

Though I grew up in the Bay Area, I was never a 49er fan, much to my family and friend’s chagrin.  I always cheered for the Giants, but they were a distant second to my first love, all geographical permutations of the Angels.  Still, being that my favorite teams were no where close by, and virtually all my friend and family were Giants and Niner fans, I spent a fair amount of time taking in games at Candlestick Park.  A lot of good memories.  Here’s the Top 7, in no particular order.

1.  Since my dad and I were mostly fans of American League teams, Twins and Angels respectively, I had been to several Oakland A’s games as a kid.  Besides our team allegiances, back in those days, pre-Mt. Davis, the Oakland Colesium was actually pretty nice place to watch a ballgame and was much more convenient to get to than Candlestick.  So, I was already a veteran ballgame attender when my uncle Jeff took me to my first Giants game.  They played the Cincinatti Reds.  Thanks to Baseball-reference.com, I was able to pinpoint the exact date, September 19, 1987.  We had probably the best seats I’ve ever had, five rows directly behind home plate.  At not quite 10 years old, I was too young to really appreciate them.  So that’s not the memorable part.  In the bottom of the sixth inning, I had to go.  My uncle asked if I could hold it.  I said no.  With the Giants still batting we got up to go to the big trough.  As we were about to enter the restroom, the crowd let loose the kind of roar that can only be inspired by a home run.  Specifically, a two-run home run by lightweight shortstop Jose Uribe.  Anytime you miss a home run at a baseball game its a bummer, but when you miss a rarefied feat like a Jose Uribe home run, who hit only 19 in his 10 year big league career, it’s almost a tragedy.  To this day I remember the look my uncle gave me when we heard that crowd erupt.  It’s about the dirtiest look you could give a 10 year old and not have them burst into tears.  He got over it I guess, agreeing to be my best man at my wedding 15 years later.  The funny thing is, according to baseball reference, Will Clark also hit a home run in that game and neither my uncle or I have any memory of it.

2.  I’ve only been to two 49er games.  The first was in November 1998.  It was a Monday night game against the New York Giants.  It was raining.  True Niner fans can probably remember what was significant about that game.  Defensive tackle Bryant Young, an emerging star, broke his leg.  My buddy Jon the Green Beret had procured the tickets from a co-worker.  The seats weren’t great, field level end-zone a few rows under the overhang, but given the precipitation that night they were more than acceptable.  Young’s injury is the only thing I remember about the actual game.  The adventure was getting there.

Jon and I left early enough to stop in San Francisco for dinner.  Jon parked his baby blue VW bug in a surprisingly convenient parking spot near the restaurant and we went inside.  We should’ve known our fortuitous parking was too good to be true.  When we returned to the car, it was gone.  We hand’t noticed the “Loading Zone Only” sign.  There was a phone number for the tow yard on the sign, but these were the days when only high-powered executives and drug dealers carried cell phones.  We hiked around in the rain looking for a pay phone, when we came upon a tow truck and its driver ruining someone else’s day.  The driver directed us to the tow yard and we trekked the 15 blocks.  Being the only one of us with a credit card, I paid the $150 fee and they released Jon’s bug from car jail.  Amazingly, we got to Candlestick in record time and were just sitting down in our seats the same instant as kick off.

3.  Earlier that same year, 1998, Jon, myself, and Jeff his wife Jody all purchased a small season ticket package for the Giants.  It was called the Six Pack.  You got six games, plus a seventh game against the Dodgers for free.  The seats were in right field, in what they called the Family Pavilion.  Theoretically, a family friendly area of what could occasionally be a pretty unruly stadium.  This is where we, along with my buddy Josh the Rev, were sitting for one of the most entertaining and memorable baseball games I’ve ever attended, for both on and off the field reasons.

First the on field stuff.  Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, JT Snow, Russ Davis, and Glenallen Hill all homered.  Rodriguez injured Jeff Kent’s knee sliding into second base.  Fans in left field were mercilessly taunting Hill, possibly the worst left fielder in the history of the sport.  He misplayed two fly balls my five year old daughter could’ve handled.  A fan jumped out of the center field bleachers and ran around the outfield.  He circled Griffey a couple times, slid into second base, then laid down on the outfield grass.  Security initially sent out their apparently oldest and slowest security guard, to nab the fit 20-something.  It was like watching your grandfather trying to catch Barry Sanders.  Finally they sent reinforcements and they were able to take the kid down. The Giants ended up with a 7-6 win, despite all the long balls surrendered.

Now the off field stuff.  It pretty much all started with Griffey’s home run.  He hit it over the center field bleachers, into this sort of no-man’s-land between the bleachers and the right center field stands where we were sitting.  This no-man’s-land was off limits to fans, filled with scaffolds and beams supporting the bleachers.  A few kids ran down from the stands into the area to try to grab Griffehy’s home run ball.  I’d be lying if the thought hand’t crossed my mind too.  A rather girthy security guard waddle-ran into the area to shag the kids out of there and tripped.  He went down like a giant sequoia.  Without bracing himself at all, he landed throat first on a scaffold pipe.  As other security guards and medics gathered to help him, two idiot fans at the top row of the bleachers kept pointing down at him and laughing.  The guard, now on his back, even in his injured state, pointed right back at them and yelled a few choice words of his own.  After a few minutes, two SFPD officers grabbed the two idiots and started to lead them down the back stairs of the bleachers.  One of the idiots tried to pull away from one of the cops and ended up getting a face full of bleacher and a new set of steel bracelets.  As we were sitting behind the bleachers on the other side of no-man’s-land we literally had a front row seat to all of this.

An inning or two later, we saw a whole squadron, maybe eight to ten, SFPD officers on dirt bikes ride up behind the bleachers.  They saw on their bikes for a few minutes, then dismounted and all walked up into the bleachers.  They stood in the back row, just watching the game.  Then they left.  It was very odd.

A little bit after that there was some sort of commotion near the right field foul pole in our section.  About 50 cops emerged out of nowhere, all swarming to that location.  We found out later a drunken fan being lead away by police had tried to grab the cops gun.  Bad idea.

And all of his took place in or near the Family Pavilion.

4.  At one of the games during that 1998 season we witnessed history.  The Giants were facing the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Arizona had a 8-5 lead going into the bottom of the ninth.  The Giants cut the lead to two and had the bases loaded with two outs.  Barry Bonds, who didn’t start that night, came up to pinch hit.  Now, keep in mind, this is 1998 Barry Bonds, as in pre-BALCO, expanding cranium, inhuman muscle bound freak Barry Bonds.  Even before his embrace of the Cream and the Clear, Bonds was likely the best in the game at the time, and already a sure fire Hall of Famer.  But, he hadn’t yet sold his soul to chemistry so his days of being routinely intentionally walked regardless of the situation were still to come.  Which is what makes Arizona manager Buck Showalter’s strategy all the more amazing.  Up by two runs, with two outs and the bases loaded, Showalter intentionally walked Bonds, sending a run to the plate and putting the tying run only 90 feet away.  I had never even heard of anything like that, much less witnessed it in person.  At the time, there was only one other known instance of that happening (it has since occured once more; Josh Hamilton was IBB’d with the bases loaded in 2008).

Ah, but did it work?  Well, since the next batter was Brent Mayne, yes it did.  Despite our best efforts to distract the right fielder, he made the play on Mayne’s low line drive to end the game.

5.  The second 49er game I went to, I have virtually no memory of.  All I remember is where our seats were (end zone, upper deck), who the opponent was (KC Chiefs), and who I went with (my wife).  The only reason this one is memorable is because my wife’s cousin, who was living in Colorado at the time, saw us on TV.

6.  Candlestick was well known for its inhospitable weather.  Cold, foggy, windy nights were the norm during baseball season.  Though, on the rarest of occasions, Candlestick could be quite pleasant for a night game.  I remember one particular night, it was a game against the Dodgers.  I was about 11 or 12.  We brought sweatshirts and blankets, preparing ourselves for along cold evening.  Not only was it a balmy 70ish degrees for the entire nine innings, but the Giants and Dodger fans were very cordial to each other.  Friendly ribbings back and forth, pats on the back, smiles.  It was a….weird night.  Pleasant, but weird.

7.  Jon the Green Beret, my buddy Mike, and I decided at the last minute to take in a double-header.  The Giants were playing the Pirates.  It was 1997.  We got to Candlestick after the first game had already started.  We brought a 12-pack of Mountain Dew with us, only to be told we weren’t allowed to bring it inside.  Being poor college students who couldn’t afford to waste perfectly good soda, we started chugging them right there at the gate.  We gave a couple away to a man and his young son, but we each drank at least three in a three minute span.  I don’t know who we didn’t die.  The Giants won the first game in 13 innings, 6-5.  I don’t remember how.

The nightcap was a pretty dull contest.  Until the ninth.  The Pirates exploded for six runs, hitting two home runs in the process.  The Giants were down 10-1 coming into the bottom of the ninth.  The stadium had just about cleared out and the sea gulls were arriving en masse.  We were in the uppermost of the upper decks.  A combination of desperation, being pretty much the only ones left in the upper deck, baseball superstition, too much Mountain Dew and other baseball stadium junk food had us doing some pretty strange things to try to spark a rally.  After JT Snow hit a two-run homer while I happened to be mimicking George Washington crossing the Delaware, my foot resting on the seat in front of me (no, really), we went berserk.  Three batters later when Rich Aurilia hit a three-run homer after we all did some ridiculous dance, we just about lost it.  When the next batter, Rick Wilkins, went deep after we did both the George Washington and the dance, we thought we’d found the formula for momentous comeback.  Sadly, it was not to be.  The Giants lost 7-10.  But it was just about the best ninth inning I’ve ever witnessed:  12 runs scored and five home runs hit between the two teams.

Are You Ready For Some Football?!

Today I’m leaving work two hours early to get home in time to watch the Packers’ first game of the season.  They open against NFC North Division rival, and my dad’s favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings.  The last time I saw the Packers play was in a hospital a few days after my daughter was born, and if it hadn’t been for her wonderful arrival, I probably would’ve taken the game’s result much harder than I did (or should’ve).  It was the NFC championship game against the NY Giants and, quite shockingly, they lost, the final blow being Brett Favre’s last pass as a Packer being intercepted.  A poetic, if not upsetting, end to Brett’s illustrious Packer career.

Brett is a Jet now, of course, and yesterday I got home from church just in time to watch him take a knee and run out the clock in their victory over the Miami Dolphins.  Yes, he was still wearing green, but it was the wrong shade.  It was just weird to see him in green and white instead of green and gold.  Such is life in the world of modern professional sports and I wish him all the best in New York (well, technically its New Jersey).

Tonight begins the Aaron Rodgers Era in Green Bay.  I don’t know if a new quarterback has ever faced a more difficult situation.  Brian Griese, perhaps, after John Elway retired, or whoever it was that took over for Dan Marino, but as loved as those two legends were (Elway and Marino, not Griese and what’s-his-name) the bond between Brett Favre and Green Bay, Wisconsin is something different.  And those replacements had the luxury of their forebears staying retired.  Rodgers not only has to live up to the Favre mystique, but also the comparison to Favre himself.  Even if he does reasonably well, and I think he will, if Favre and the Jets do even a little better, there will be grumbling.  Its not fair, really, but, hey, its not fair that I’m losing my hair either.

I’m anxious to see Rodgers play and to succeed.  I think he will, but when and will it be quick enough remain to be seen.  Good luck, kid.

YouTube Friday: Farewell Brett

I was talking to the ex-Storekeeper, Pastor Josh, the day Brett Favre retired and he said something I hadn’t thought of.  Brett was the last of the great players of the 90’s.  All the great Cowboys, 49ers, and Packers from the era that Josh and I were in our sports watching prime are now gone.  That link to our youth is now severed.  It truly is the end of an era.  Here’s Brett’s emotional retirement press conference from yesterday and a couple of highlight reels to remember better times.

Favre No More

0930favre.jpgThe news blindsided me from out of the blue, if I can mix my metaphors.  I was in my truck on my way to work when out of nowhere Brian Murphy from the Murph & Mac morning show on KNBR just blurted it out:  Brett Favre retired today.

“WHAT?” I shouted out loud.  I couldn’t believe it.

It seems a little silly to care so much about the comings and goings of a sports star at the age of thirty, but I’ll be honest and say that I’m pretty bummed out.  Brett has made toying with retirement a postseason ritual for the last few years, but this is the one time when it seemed apparent that he would return for another season.  The Packers were 13-3 last year, a surprise to everyone including Brett, and missed the Super Bowl by a field goal.  Individually, Brett had not only his best season in years, but one of the top three or four in his 17 year career.  With a career resurgence and a young talented team, it seemed natural that Brett would come back for at least one more run.  I guess that’s why the news came as such a shock.

I became a Brett Favre fan, as did most everyone I suppose, back in the mid-90’s.  I grew up in the Bay Area so I had plenty of exposure to great quarterback play in the person of Joe Montana, but Brett’s game was more exciting to me.  Some would say that was because he took unnecessary risks, which he often did, but more often than not those risks paid off.  Sure, he ends his career with more interceptions than any other QB in history, but also more TD’s, wins, completions, and an unbelievable streak of 272 consecutive starts.  Watching Brett work was pure entertainment.  I mean the man’s first completed pass was to himself!  What a perfect way to begin a brilliant and exciting career.  The great thing about watching him is that you could always tell he was enjoying himself.  I can’t say how many times after he’d throw a touchdown pass I saw him run over to the receiver, pick him up over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and run around the field, while pumping his other fist in the air.  Or who can forget the time he ran for a touchdown and then attempted (emphasis on “attempted”) to dunk the ball over the goalpost crossbar.  Who else in the history of the NFL would ever do something like that.  The stoic Tom Brady or calm, cool, collected Montana?  I don’t think so.  He played the game like we all think we would play it if we had his immense talent.  You could tell he was actually enjoying himself. 

Now that he’s finally hung them up, the debate, which has already been simmering, on his place among the all-time great quarterbacks will begin in earnest.  There’s going to be a lot of people saying that Montana or Marino or, someday, Manning and Brady were or will be better, and maybe they’re right, but for my money I’ll take Brett every time.

Super Super Bowl

super-bowl-xlii_001139_mainpicture.jpgI wasn’t real enthused about watching this years Super Bowl, not least because my team, the Green Bay Packers, should have been playing in it and weren’t.  After their loss to the charmed New York Football Giants, on the Frozen Tundra no less, I was done with football.  I didn’t watch a single minute of the 336 hours of hype leading up to it.  Didn’t want to hear about the Giants amazing run of nine straight road wins, or the New England Patriots’ quest for perfection.  But being a good, red-blooded American boy, I couldn’t very well not watch the game and so I took my place on the couch with a record 97 million of my football loving friends around the world.  And I’m glad I did.

 Like probably the majority of non-Eastern seaboard sports fans, I’m pretty darn sick of Boston and New York always being in the spotlight, so all I really wanted was a competitive game.  If I have to watch it, they may as well do me that small favor.  Fortunately I was not disappointed.  The score was only 7-3 New England at half-time, but it had to be the most exciting 7-3 game I’ve ever seen.  There were big hits and some big plays and the specter of a Giants upset was becoming much more of a serious possibility.  I’m as tired of the ’72 Dolphins’ smack talk as the next football fan, but the Patriots have become the equivalent of a WWF villain in the past couple seasons.  Or as Bill Simmons calls them (his favorite team, by the way) the Cobra Kai Yankees.  The team everyone loves to hate.  Especially this year, with the Spygate scandal, to running up the score on everybody early in the season, to coach Belichick’s bellicose personality, to the pretty-boy QB Tom Brady.  It wasn’t their confidence that was infuriating, it was the smugness. 

Now, again, not a Giants fan…usually.  But Sunday was different.  Not only would they keep the Pats from being perfect, but a Giants win would maybe make the Packers look a little better–they would have then lost to the champs–plus their’s was a pretty good story.  Its not often a New York based sports team is in the role of underdog, but they certainly were and the rise of Eli Manning during this post season was something special.  So on Sunday, I was all in for the G-men.  So in in fact, that it might have been a good thing the Pack wasn’t in this game.  My heart was pounding as it was, and I don’t even like the Giants.  If the game had gone similarly but with Favre and company, I may be writing this post from my local cardiology ICU.

After halftime, and a pretty decent show from Tom Petty, the intensity kicked into high gear.  Neither team could get much going in the third quarter, but the fourth proved action packed.  Manning lead his team on a dramatic march to score a go-ahead touchdown, but the Patriots finally began to look like themselves as Brady brought them down the field with a barrage of pinpoint passes and before anyone knew it Randy Moss was scoring a touchdown with less than three minutes left.  This is what the Patriots do.  You hang with them for three quarters and think you’ve got a shot, and then just like that you’re down a score and times almost up.  But the Giants didn’t panic.  On an improbable drive, that will no doubt become legendary, Eli took his team down the field, showing no fear, even as they faced two third and longs (more than 10 yards) and a do-or-die fourth and one.  But one play in particular will be remembered as the key to the victory.  It’s one of the best football plays I’ve ever seen.  Watch:

I have no idea how Eli didn’t get dragged to the ground when three, yes three!, three hundred pound defensive linemen had a hold of his jersey.  And the catch!  David Tyree pins the ball to his helmet!  Just awesome.  That is why I watch sports.  Of course the Giants went on to score with only about thirty seconds remaining and held on to win the game.  In the confusion at the very end, most everyone thought the game was over and poured onto the filed.  However, there was actually one second remaining on the clock.  Apparently Belichick didn’t feel it necessary to stay on the field to play out the last second of his loss, and he ran off to the locker room.  Another classy act, for a real classy guy.  Yahoo! football columnist Michael Silver was right when he wrote that Belichick is a terrible winner and an even worse loser.  He’s really earned a place amongst the greatest villains of all time, joining the likes of Darth Vader, Henry F. Potter, and Johnny Fairplay.

That’s the great thing about sports.  You’ve got heroes and villains, drama and suspense, inspiration and heartbreak, all in the small space of one afternoon.

Of course, you can’t talk about the Super Bowl without mentioning the commercials.  There were a few decent ones this year.  Here are a few of my faves:  a spoof of a famous Godfather scene, a talking baby, and a horse in training.

For an extra little trivia tidbit, the actor in that Audi commercial was actually in The Godfather, in the role of Moe Green.  So there you go.

Ando’s Wide World of Sports

vlad.jpgI’m in something equating sports heaven right now.  With the notable exception of the SF Giants (and my fantasy baseball team which finished in the cellar), all my favorite sports teams are doing remarkably well this year.  In the NFL my Green Bay Packers have shocked everyone by starting the season 4-0 (that’s fours wins and no losses, Kludge).  And it’s not like they’ve been playing patsies either.  They’ve beaten the perennial Super Bowl contender Philadelphia Eagles, the enigmatic NY Giants, the San Diego Chargers who were 14-2 last season (that’s fourteen wins and two losses, Kludge), in a game in which they held LaDanian Tomlinson, arguably the leagues most dominant player last season, to under 100 yards rushing.  Then last week they defeated longtime rival, and my dad’s faves, the Minnesota Vikings, at the Metrodome, in a game that saw QB Brett Favre break Dan Marino’s all-time passing touchdown record.  Favre is probably my favorite athlete of all time.  Watching him play in his prime was awesome.  The way he played the game made him extremely fun to watch.  He played hard, you knew he was having fun, and he wasn’t afraid to take chances.  You gotta love a guy like that.  In recent years, his penchant for risk-taking has hurt him, and the team, leading many a sportwriter to say that the Pack and Brett’s legacy would be better served if he rode off into the sunset.  But so far this season he has them eating some savory crow.  He’s thrown eight TD’s to only one interception in leading his very young Packer team, youngest average age in the league actually, to a very hot start.

On the gridiron in the collegiate world, California Berkley is off to its best start, maybe ever.  For the first time in over 50 years Cal is ranked in the top five, coming in at number three.  Their high-powered offense is fun to watch, especially wide receiver DeSean Jackson.  This guy is incredible.  Even his moves have moves and he’s obscenely fast.  I didn’t go to Cal, but my grandpa grew up in Berkley so we’ve all been Cal fans in the family.  He would be so excited at the season they are having.  They’ve got a long way to go yet, and some very tough Pac-10 games up ahead, but its been fun so far and should continue to be so.  This could be the year they finally get back to the Rose Bowl.

As great as my football allegiances have been to me this young season, nothing gets me as excited in the sports world as postseason baseball, with my Angels as participants.  The Halo’s had a great regular season, overcoming a ton of injuries to key players and a late season scare from the Seattle Mariners, to clinch their third American League Western Division title in four years.  Guys brought in off the bench or from the minors stepped up when they needed to and manager Mike Soscia turned in another brilliant season of lineup juggling.  And of course Vladimir Guerrero was awesome as usual.  I love watching him play for the same reasons I love to watch Brett Favre.  He looks like he’s actually enjoying himself out there.  He plays hard and with reckless abandon, which, like Favre, can sometimes get him into trouble.  But more often than not, it leads to something amazing happening (like last year when he scored from second base on a sacrifice bunt!).  The Angels begin their playoff run today against the Boston Red Sox.  They’ve met the Red Sox in the playoffs twice before, in 1986 and 2004, both with disasterous results.  Hopefully this is the year we slay the red stockinged giant.

In the world of sports fandom, things can go from very good to very bad in a heartbeat. 

The Packers don’t have a running game at all, which will allow defenses to key on Favre, forcing him to make those ill-advised throws that have been so lamented.  As Favre goes, so go the Packers.

As I said before, Cal has some very tough Pac-10 oppenents up ahead, including USC.  In college football, all it takes is one loss to drop you from any dream of contention.  Not to mention QB Nate Longshore took a bad hit late in the game last Saturday which could leave him hobbled and less effective.

For the Angels, they couldn’t have drawn a worse card for the first round of the playoffs.  Not only have they struggled against Boston in years past, but this year as well.  Especially at Fenway park.  They are not a picture of perfect health either.  Starting center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. will not be playing in the first round due to a bad knee and ankle.  Other important guys like Chone Figgins and Vlady will play, but are dinged up.

So, you can see that the sports fan has got to appreciate what he’s got when he’s got it.  Which is probably why we do get so crazy when our teams are doing well.  Their’s no guarantees for next year.  When the Angels lost to the Red Sox back in ’86, they didn’t reach the playoffs again until 2002.  In sports you have to live for the moment.