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Saleem Choudhry - Researcher
Saleem spends his days gathering, interpreting, and disseminating information about the game of pro football. He now shares in his blog some of the more unique stories and facts that he has uncovered while working with the Hall’s vast collection of more than 18 million pages of documents.
I recently traveled to San Francisco on vacation. I must say that San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. While there I took the opportunity to visit Golden Gate Park which is on the west side of the city. Upon entering the park I was thrilled to see the remnants of old Kezar Stadium. For those of you who don’t know, Kezar Stadium was the home of the San Francisco 49ers from 1946-1970.
The stadium was built in 1925 on a narrow strip of land with a picturesque setting in the southeast corner of Golden Gate Park. Built for a sum of $300,000, in part with funds accepted from the estate of Mary E. Kazan, the stadium was a quirky high school venue which had undergone multiple additions and “improvements” when the 49ers arrived in 1946. Most players abhorred the stadium and the amateurish accommodations that it offered.
“It was the worst (stadium) in the league,” Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Perry once commented. “The locker rooms were built for high school teams. It was horrendous really. We just became accustomed to it.”
It was also cramped. Many of the 59,952 seats were located in the first twelve rows of the stadium. As such, many players (neither team was immune) were within earshot of fans hurling verbal jabs at them and well within range of the garbage that was occasionally thrown in their direction. At one point the 49ers erected a wire cover over the players’ tunnel to protect the team from flying debris.
Like any stadium, there were many unique, famous, and infamous moments and games that took place at Kezar Stadium.
San Francisco’s first regular season game was a 21-7 loss to the New York Yanks in front of 35,000 fans on Sept. 8, 1946 (the 49ers were a member of the All-America Football Conference from 1946-49 before joining the NFL in 1950). The lowlight for 49ers fans in this game was the punishing running by Yanks backs Ace Parker and Spec Sanders which kept the Bay team off balance for most of the game.
The 49ers would go on, however, to be one of the more dominant teams in the AAFC. During the four years San Francisco played in the league they compiled a 21-5-1 record at home. Their last AAFC game at Kezar was a playoff against the New York Yanks on Dec. 4, 1949. That day Verle Lillywhite led a 49ers ground game that churned out 164 yards to help San Francisco win 17-7 and advance to the AAFC title game.
On Oct. 27, 1957 49ers team owner, Tony Morabito died of a heart attack in Kezar Staduim as he watched his team play the Chicago Bears. The squad learned of their owner’s passing while trailing 17-7 in the third quarter. The emotionally charged group of men rallied in honor of their leader to win the game 21-17.
The 49ers ended that season in a tie for the NFL Western Conference crown. A playoff against the Detroit Lions determined who would advance to the NFL title game. San Francisco started the game firing on all cylinders as quarterback Y.A. Tittle threw three TD passes to lead the 49ers to a 24-7 halftime advantage. The close quarters in Kezar Stadium, however, proved to be a disadvantage for the 49ers in this game. The Lions became enraged after they heard the 49ers celebrating in the locker room during the halftime. The incensed Detroit squad returned to the field and scored 24 unanswered points in the second half to stun the Niners 31-27.
The 1957 season also featured the introduction of the famous “Alley-Oop” pass which helped the 49ers win many of their games during the season. On multiple occasions Tittle would toss the football into the end zone as if it was a jump ball. Receiver R.C. Owens, who possessed tremendous leaping ability, would simply out jump the opposing defenders and catch the ball for a touchdown. The play became one of the most exciting and popular techniques in pro football for many years to come.
One of the most comical missteps in NFL history, the “Wrong-Way Run” by Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Jim Marshall, occurred in Kezar Stadium on October 25, 1964. Marshall scooped up a fumble by 49ers quarterback Billy Kilmer and raced 66 yards to the end zone. Unfortunately for Marshall, he had run to the wrong end zone and the play resulted in a safety for the 49ers.
The 49ers’ final game in Kezar was a tough one. The team lost to the Dallas Cowboys 17-10 in the 1970 NFC Championship Game. Two interceptions by San Francisco quarterback John Brodie proved to be too much to overcome for San Fran.
Kezar Stadium stood mostly idle in the years after the 49ers left for Candlestick Park. In 1989 it suffered a great deal of damage in the earthquake that devastated much of the Bay area. As a result it was torn down and reconstructed into a 10,000-seat venue.
It doesn’t look exactly as it did back in the day (see the current-day), but is a great tribute to the history of the area and all of the great moments that occurred in the stadium. I would love to say the same thing about the Polo Grounds, Cleveland Stadium or even Three Rivers Stadium but no remnants remain from these historic stadiums.