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Every fan approaches game day a little different, especially game day when you know you are going to the stadium. For most of us, going to see our favorite team is something we only are able to do once or twice a year because geography, timing, and even escalating ticket prices make it hard for the average fan to go to games week in and week out. Either way, there is something magical about those days when you wake up and you know you are going to be there in person.
For me, going to a 49er home game involves a three plus hour drive from the central valley of California to the San Francisco Bay area. It means firing up the car by six and racing up Interstate 5 before the cutting west over Pacheco Pass to hit the 101 north. There is no better feeling of dropping into Gilroy immediately being bombarded with roadside fruit stands and the unending smell of garlic. Aside from being the birthplace of former 49er Jeff Garcia, Gilroy is the garlic capitol of the world and there is no doubt about that.
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This trip was a little different, because the destination had changed. No longer was I racing up the 101 to Candlestick Park. Sometimes if I try really hard, I can remember that feeling I got the first time I drove up to a 49er game. The anticipation of tailgating with my fellow fans and the excitement of seeing the team that I have followed for nearly 20 years at that time was almost overwhelming. Nothing can make you feel like a kid again, much like the first time you walk up the ramp and see that green field with the huge San Francisco 49er logo painted on the 50 yard line. The stable of football legends that have graced that field goes on and on. Walsh, Seifert, Montana, Clark, Solomon, Rice, Lott, Craig, Young, Owens, Garcia, Gore, Davis, Willis and countless others have entertained the city of San Francisco for many years. While the names and faces change on the field, there are a few constants that remain…The team, the logo, and the stadium.
As I found myself debarking at the light rail station in front of Levis stadium yesterday, I found myself recalling some of the highlights that I had had witnessed at Candlestick over the past decade. Owens grabbing popcorn after scoring a touchdown, Gore burning the Seahawks for 212 yards to set the club record in 2006, Steve Young throwing one more touchdown to Jerry Rice when the team retired his number at halftime, and the infamous blackout game on Monday night football. Surely Levis stadium will have its share of magic over the next twenty years, but even I have to admit that as I passed security and took a stroll down the Faithful Mile, it kind of felt like we were playing in someone else's home. The Stick was a dump, but it was our dump. In a word, it was special.
There is no denying the huge grin that was plastered across my face as I walked through gate A and over the main plaza consisting of the Fan Walk. As I climbed higher and higher up the steps I was simply amazed at what a beautiful stadium the team had constructed. A sea of red seats caught my eyes and the beautiful grass with that huge logo greeted me as I walked up and took it all in. Yep, this is home for sure! Since it was early, I was able to take a few laps around the stadium just to get a feel for the place and was immediately impressed by the wide concourses, the food selection, and beer stands that are at every turn. If you left Levis stadium hungry it wouldn't be for lack of options. Pizza, Tortas, Burgers, Seafood, Barbecue, Ice Cream, Chicken, and probably tons more that I didn't even see. Don't forget the fact that you can order from your seat for either pickup or delivery which is just another way for fans to stay where the action is.
The game experience is simply amazing as well. State of the art sound systems, video boards and sight-lines that seem to have been thought out from every seat in the stadium. There is not much that I can say that is bad about the place outside of the upper deck seats being a bit cramped for a guy my size. Being well over 6 feet didn't make for the most comfortable of days, but you are there to stand and cheer right? What was still there is the instant comrade of complete strangers that are thrown together on a Sunday afternoon with the same common bond, a love of a team and players that bring passion and excitement for a few hours. The mutual celebration of complete strangers has always been a magical thing while at 49ers games to me and it probably always will be.
As I left the stadium after a thrilling win yesterday, I took a moment to glance over my shoulder and look at the stadium one more time. It was hard not to reflect on how far the 49er organization has come over the past three seasons as it has risen from the cellar into an annual contender again. The proof stands right there in Santa Clara as a shining example of private and public support. I know that yesterday isn't going to be my last visit to Levis stadium and I will return with family and friends to create new memories there, but as the train doors closed on me and I made my trek south to start my long journey home, I couldn't hide the grin and the realization that I had just witnessed another special moment in the history of the 49ers…The first regular season win for the 49ers at Levis Stadium.
Writer Stewart M. Cockrell was invited as a guest of NRG Energy. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.