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How former 49ers QB Alex Smith came to appreciate Candlestick Park

May 17, 2024 at 8:55 AM

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For many San Francisco 49ers fans, Candlestick Park holds a special place in their hearts, even after the team moved to Levi's Stadium. The iconic venue served as the Niners' home from 1971 through 2013, though it admittedly lost much of its pristine toward the end of its tenure.

Despite its flaws, there was an undeniable allure to the stadium for fans. Watching a football game there was a unique experience that left a lasting impression.

Former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith initially struggled to understand the appeal. Here he was, playing in the NFL, surrounded by the best athletes in the world, yet his surroundings resembled the before pictures of a fixer-upper.

During Thursday night's Dwight Clark Legacy Series event, Smith reflected on one of his most memorable moments at Candlestick Park—a Divisional Round playoff game against the New Orleans Saints in the 2011 season. He vividly recalled the crowd's deafening roar after orchestrating a game-winning touchdown drive to secure a postseason victory.

"I've never heard a place so loud that it did kind of come to life," Smith shared. "And Candlestick, for me, was so different because ... you walk through this tunnel, it's like a hundred-yard tunnel. There are pipes above you that are leaking. It's all cement."

Steve Young, also present at the event, humorously added, "There were bats in there."

"You're getting drafted to an NFL team, right? It's the best of the best," Smith continued. "You're sharing a locker with somebody at the home stadium. You walk through this hundred-yard tunnel. Again, it's really creepy. And you're like, 'What is this?' You come out of the dugout.

"And then it had its own weather system. It would be sunny down here and like 75 [degrees]. You'd go up there, and it was drizzly and windy, and I didn't understand the nostalgia for a long time."

Young chimed in once more, "High tide. It smelled. It was like seeping down on you."

Despite its shortcomings, Smith eventually developed a sense of pride in Candlestick Park. One factor contributing to this shift was the unique advantage it gave the 49ers: the stadium would play head games with visiting quarterbacks.

"And one of the guys it would mess with the most was Drew Brees, and we happened to get him," Smith said of that playoff clash. "We were both 13-3. We got the home game, though, because of the tiebreaker, and they were complaining about it. They had just won a Super Bowl, one of the most prolific offenses in the history of football.

"Drew, one of the best quarterbacks ever. We're no match for them. I'm a game manager. We're running the ball, and it was just like we didn't have a chance. And we jumped up on them, and they come roaring back. He throws the jump ball to [TE] Jimmy Graham, and they go up.

"And, I think for me, our entire team, there were so many of us that had been through those seven coordinators in seven years. [RB] Frank Gore and [TE] Vernon [Davis] and [T] Joe Staley and [LB] Patrick Willis. There were so many guys that had been through a lot of crap. And I think it was certainly a moment for all of us to kind of come together and obviously, to win it like that, certainly a lot of things have to go right."

Even today, that playoff victory holds a special place in Alex Smith's heart. Now retired from the game, Smith can reflect on his time with the 49ers with a sense of pride.

He added, "Every time I'm driving by Candlestick Park now, and the sign still says 'Candlestick Park'—I've got my kids in the car, they're very tired of this—every time we drive by, that's the game because I can't get it out of my head how electric it was to be a part of that."
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