I live in the heart of 49ers-land, the San Francisco neighborhood where Candlestick Park is located and where I had hoped to see scores of horn-honking, flag-waving, firecracker-lighting, red and gold wearing neighbors making the streets look like Mardi Gras West.
This Super Bowl loss is especially bitter. The San Francisco 49ers are moving to a new land, Santa Clara, an emigration that is all the more thorny to fans who are also neighbors. It suggests that the sports organization’s longtime home and deepest fan-roots seem to mean little to 49er executives.
Folks who know me might be surprised I care. I’ve never been a big sports fan. In fact, it was just this year that I went to my first game at Candlestick Park.
But I do care. I care about my neighborhood.
The 49ers' move is strangely familiar to me as one of many losses of late. I’ve come to think that the southerly wind blowing at the team is the same wind that is blowing through all of our nation’s Mega Cities, taking whole neighborhoods with it. In fact, I’ve come to think that the 49ers' move was in motion even before the 49ers organization knew it.
Sports fan or not, I wanted to experience Candlestick Park while the team (and the stadium itself) are still next door. I jumped at the chance when my friend Jeff, who has been a season ticket holder for years, invited me to a game mid-way through the season.
I walked into the stadium swallowing back a wad of middle school gym class trauma, but walked out of it a fan. A fan of the team, the stadium, and 49ers fans in general. And, as if it were possible, I was even more a fan of my neighborhood.
It wasn’t the fact that the 49ers won the game that turned me around. Or even that that game turned out to be one of a stream of wins flowing toward the Super Bowl. No, it was the bomb shelter construction of the place, the rough and tumble action on the field, controlled brawling in the stands, sea of black and brown faces, and general working class vibe that got me.
For years, the writing has been on the wall for Bayview Hunters Point, and the Southeast Sector of San Francisco in general. This swath of metropolis is losing, and will continue to lose its class diversity as urban planners and developers reshape it to accommodate the City’s population increase, and its need for housing and economic stimulus.
These changes have a steep downside for me because I really love being in a place that is home to diversity of all types. Diversity is one of the things that made San Francisco, when I visited it an age ago, the city I simply couldn’t leave.
The City is still diverse in all sorts of ways, of course, but the grit is slipping. Working families, working poor folks, and anyone else economically vulnerable are all sliding to the suburbs and exurbs. That trend is powerful. It is driving metropolitan areas across the country, and is far more powerful than any 49ers' conference room white board "pros and cons" list.
When I moved to Bayview Hunters Point, I thought the neighborhood might be one of the last places in San Francisco that would feel like the city I moved to, a place where all kinds of folks could get a foothold and get along. I didn't realize it then, but the 'Stick, which is as prominent on the shoreline here as a huge concrete wart, is emblematic of all that.
Fifteen years later, I can say that the neighborhood has been what I hoped it would be. But, fast as dominoes, it is falling in line with other neighborhoods as a place for the affluent. Losing the "Stick makes sense in that context.
The rowdy fans I saw at Candlestick Park earlier this season seemed to be a blend of people from the City, Bayview Hunters Point in particular, and the South Bay. I may have been imagining it, but it seemed as if San Francisco’s ailing Everyman was in that stadium, and the fertile ground for him and the 49ers both might truly be the South Bay.
I’m not leaving with the team. I still love it here. And I’ve still got AT&T Park to the north of Bayview where it sits as the other waterfront sports bookend. I like that park. And I love the Giants now, too (another facet of my late stage sports awakening).
But, truth is, my experience of the Giant’s scene has been markedly different than the one at Candlestick. AT&T Park is sophisticated. The crowd is whiter and politer. It’s all good, as they say. But…you know.