“Hopefully, it won’t get too physical,” Roger Craig says. It was the kind of thing you’d hear from just about any middle-aged guy talking about getting together to play a game of football with friends.
“‘Cause sometimes, you know, competitive juices come out of you and you tend to forget that you’re 50 years old,” he says. “You can’t make those moves any more, so be careful.”
Only Craig isn’t your average weekend warrior. He made a name for himself as a relentless running back and talented receiver for three of the San Francisco 49ers’ Super Bowl championship teams.
Craig was among dozens of fellow retired teammates, including Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana and receiver Jerry Rice, to get together for a charity game of flag football earlier this month at Candlestick Park. The old 49ers, mostly in their 50s, took on a squad of retired NFL stars led by Miami Dolphins QB Dan Marino — Montana’s foil in the 1984 Super Bowl.
The “Legends of Candlestick” game was billed as the stadium’s final football game forever. It was a chance for fans like San Jose’s Joe Quilici to say goodbye to a tired-looking Candlestick and celebrate its legacy.
“We’ve had seasons tickets ever since they moved to Candlestick from Kezar,” Quilici said. “My dad’s no longer with us, and he was diehard. He used to sit right over there in Section 37. I just had to see it one more time. For me it’s personal. Very personal.”
Like Quilici, fan Tim Griffin, from Corte Madera, has been coming out to this cold, windy park most of his life.
“I think it’s time,” Griffin said. “They need to blow [Candlestick] up. And life goes on, but it’s nice to come out and see some of these former greats play one more time.”
And those former greats, a little older, a little grayer, maybe just a little slower, still have a big following. Once play started, the fans couldn’t help themselves. It didn’t matter that it was flag football played on a short field field in a mostly empty stadium.
The consensus in the stands: Jerry Rice, the 49ers’ No. 80, is the most impressive of the old-timers scurrying around the field below. Rice caught several passes and scored at least one touchdown — it was a little hard to keep track of stats as the score mounted.
“Jerry Rice always looks good,” said Masai Kenyatta of Campbell. “He’s always in the most ridiculous shape.”
With time running out in the game, and the Candlestick wind starting to howl, the Niners needed a touchdown to win. Joe Montana spotted a target in the end zone, and lobbed the ball into the arms of former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo.
“He lobbed it! To Eddie D.! To Eddie D.!” said John Barberini of Hayward, reflecting the delight that erupted all around the stadium.
And it was over. The final score: Niners 45, All Stars 40.
Candlestick Park still has a couple more acts before it finally shuts down: There’s a soccer game between the San Jose Earthquakes and Spain’s Atletico Madrid this weekend. And then next month, Sir Paul McCartney will play to a sold-out house in what is — for now — the last scheduled event at the Stick.
DeBartolo, however, knew that this was — probably– the last time the fans would see a football game on this field.
“I thank you for a lifetime, and I mean a lifetime, of happiness and thrills,” he said.