Even if you don’t like them, a West Coast team will be fighting it out with an East Coast team for the championship of pro football on Feb. 3. The San Francisco 49ers will be playing the Baltimore Ravens in the luxurious New Orleans Super Dome. The stadium cost $165 million to build and in 2006 a $320 million renovation made it even more “super.” This 49er team will probably not have the time to appreciate the amenities of the stadium in New Orleans, but it is a quite different setting than their original playing field.
My dad, an avid Niner fan since the founding of the team after World War II, purchased season tickets after the team left the All-American Football Conference and joined the National Football League (NFL) in 1950. He took me to my first game at Kezar Stadium. The bowl at Stanyan and Frederick Streets in the southeast corner of Golden Gate Park sat nearly 60,000 people on wooden benches marked with painted seat numbers. Dad bought me a baseball cap with a Niner logo. It wasn’t so much a souvenir as protection. Flocks of seagulls descended at game time looking for scraps of food. Those without hats would cover their head with newspapers or game programs.
People ask, why the name Kezar? In 1922, Mary Kezar donated $100,000 to build a memorial to her pioneering mother and uncles. The city and county came up with another $200,000 and construction started where the park’s nursery and stable had been located. It took just a year to build. However, even though it held 60,000, only 18,000 fans were between the goal posts. It opened on May 2, 1925. The stadium was built too close to Lincoln Street and those with homes along the thoroughfare could look out their windows and watch the game. That is until the crews returned and built a higher wall in back of the stands.
Kezar was home to the 49ers from 1946 until 1970. It was also the home field in 1960 during the first four games of the inaugural season of the Oakland Raiders. But it was the Niners who made Kezar famous. NFL Hall of Famer Bob St. Clair played not only 189 professional games at Kezar, but also high school and college football at the stadium. St. Clair remembers the cramped locker rooms, the tunnel where fans — already half-drunk from visiting the many neighborhood bars — would shower both opposing teams and the Niners with beer bottles and cold hot dogs. “Because of the fans and the seagulls you kept your helmet on at all times,” he said....