Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Atlanta Falcons 24 at San Francisco 49ers 34 - December 23, 2013

When I first planned the trip, I had it in my mind that San Francisco had a home game in Week 17 as well. They don’t (San Diego does, which is probably where the confusion arose). Generally I plan these trips one month at a time in terms of booking hotels and looking for tickets, and of course, when I got around to looking for a ticket to this game, I realized it would be the last regular season tilt at Candlestick. Oops. Costly mistake.

A good way to judge how much to pay a scalper is the StubHub prices. Before the game, upper deck seats were $350+ and lower deck were $500 and up. This made it the most expensive game of the NFL season, at least on the secondary market. With that in mind, I jumped on one of the last 77X buses ($2 for a return trip!) and made my way to Candlestick Park.

Before looking for a ticket, I made a circuit around to take some pictures. Well, just two really.

As you can tell, Candlestick is not a photogenic venue. As I moseyed through the parking lot, I noticed few scalpers and lots of cops. I believe most sellers stand outside the stadium grounds as scalping is illegal here, but having taken the bus in, I didn't feel like walking all the way back. I was contacted by one fellow who was using Craigslist to sell his ticket. His ad said $275 for an upper deck seats, but on the phone it suddenly became $375. No thanks.

Another thing I wanted to avoid is scams, so paper tickets were not an option. As well, the 49ers had issued a commemorative ticket for each home game this year and I really wanted one of those. Prices were coming down slowly but I wanted to get in and experience the pregame as well, so when a scalper showed me the ticket below, a lower bowl seat for the price of an upper, I said sure.

Upon entering the stadium, I was amazed at the energy. Fans were everywhere, mainly because Candlestick is not big enough to handle an NFL crowd. I saw a model of Levi's Stadium (below) which promises to be a massive improvement. I'll be back in 2014 to continue my membership in Club 122 (more on that in the new year).

All fans received a souvenir pennant upon entering as well.

On my way up the escalator to the lower level, I turned around and saw a Super Bowl trophy peeking through a crack in the 49ers Museum. I had completely missed it in my excitement to get inside the seating bowl, so I walked back down the stairs and paid a quick visit.

The museum is a temporary structure (with the red roof above), so to be fair to myself, it is easy to miss at first glance. In fact, it was rather empty; I'm guessing most fans have seen it before. It contains all the memorabilia that you would expect from a franchise with the history that the 49ers enjoy, including all 5 Lombardi Trophies they have won (that is their first from 1982 below). I ended up seeing 26 of the 48 Super Bowl Trophies on the trip. I assume the new stadium will house this in a more permanent Hall of Fame.

With the crowds so huge and the concourses like a Tokyo subway train, I didn't have time to tour the stadium as I usually do, briefly sneaking into the upper bowl to snap a photo before heading down to my seat, which was in the opposite end zone and took about 15 minutes to reach.

Turned out that my seat was in the lower north end zone, which is where “The Catch” happened back in 1982.

This also gave me a good view of the halftime ceremony where they marked the spot where Dwight Clark caught the ball with gold paint. Clark was in attendance and made a nice speech thanking the fans for their support over the years.

No need to list the many faults of Candlestick, it was built at a different time and is simply outdated. The new stadium looks great but it will be 45 miles south of the city in Santa Clara, leaving the Giants as San Francisco’s only major league team. Such is progress in sports. Candlestick enjoyed a great run for 42 seasons and I’m glad I made it to the final game, one of the highlights of the trip.

The Game

Both teams struggled to move the ball in the first half, with the 49ers managing an early field goal for the only score of the first quarter. In the second, Atlanta's Matt Ryan connected with Drew Davis (below) for a 59-yard pass that set them up for an easy Steven Jackson (eyes and hair visible below) TD run and the Falcons had a 7-3 lead. They added a field goal at the end of the half to make it 10-3, leading to some puzzled looks from fans at the break.

The 49ers got the ball to start the second half and went 3-and-out. Except there was an offside penalty against Osi Umenyiora that gave San Francisco another shot on 3rd down, which they converted with a 47-yard pass to Michael Crabtree (below). Three plays later Colin Kaepernick connected with Anquan Boldin for a 10-yard TD pass and the game was tied.

The 49ers marched another 68 yards on their next possession, but settled for a field goal to take the lead 13-10 as we entered the final quarter, which is when the fireworks began. First Kaepernick scrambled for a 5-yard touchdown to extend the lead. Incidentally, this was the first scoring play in the south end zone. Atlanta was not fazed though, and Matt Ryan came out throwing, connecting with Roddy White (#84 below) on a beautiful 39-yard TD pass that happened right in front of me. One of the best plays on the trip in terms of watching it unfold before my eyes. Still, San Francisco led 20-17.

On their next drive, San Francisco ran the ball five times, including a 4-yard rumble from Kendall Hunter that set up a Frank Gore one-yard plunge and the 10-point lead was restored. Atlanta again replied, this time with an 11-play 80-yard march ending with Tony Gonzalez catching a 2-yard lob from Ryan. 27-24 49ers with just 2:09 to go. There was a roughing the passer penalty that allowed the Falcons to kick off from the fifty.

An onside kick was obvious, and the Falcons executed it to perfection, as NaVorro Bowman completely missed the kick and Jason Snelling recovered with a great 1-handed grab, staying in bounds and giving Atlanta the ball at the San Francisco 30. The once-boisterous fans were now silent. The 49ers had yet to clinch a playoff spot, and a loss here would damage their chances greatly with a trip to Arizona in Week 17. Two pass plays and the Falcons were on the 9-yard line threatening to score. Then the unbelievable happened. Ryan was pressured, threw quickly to Harry Douglas but the pass was tipped by Tramaine Brock into the arms of Bowman, who raced 89 yards to clinch the game and a playoff spot for San Francisco. The jubilant fans celebrate below.

The final score of the final game at Candlestick.

A fitting finish to this iconic venue, and one of the best games on my trip. It cost a lot but in the end, it was well worth it.


On the bus back, I spoke with a season-ticket holder who was lucky enough to be selected to attend last season's Super Bowl. She even had the ticket in her lanyard case and let me hold it for a minute. I hope to hold another Super Bowl ticket early in 2014.

Next Up

I'm on my way to Seattle for the 32nd and final game. The Seahawks have so far ignored my emails so bad things will happen to them come playoff time (Atlanta and Houston were the only other clubs to pay me no heed). A friend is driving down from Vancouver to join me in the celebration. Check back in 2014 for the final update. Happy New Year everybody and thanks for following my NFL Stadium Journey!



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