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Have modern stadiums taken the game away from the fans

I worry about the same thing happening with the new Rider stadium

The first 49ers game I ever went to was against the Chicago Bears at Kezar Stadium. My dad took me. It was a December afternoon in 1967, and I was 14 years old. Kezar was a faded old bowl plunked down in the middle of the working-class Inner Sunset. Scary-looking brick Polytechnic High School was across from it, along with some houses whose roofs afforded a free view of the gridiron—a veritable West Coast Wrigley Field. Golden Gate Park, filled with still-mysterious creatures called hippies, lay just beyond the foliage of Kezar Drive.

My memory of that day is so old that it resembles an ancient newsreel, flickering and spotty. I vaguely remember that Kezar had narrow wooden bench seating, that the stadium’s paint was peeling off, and that the field seemed a long way away. I can see seagulls circling overhead and hear 60,000 people cheering, a sound the exact pitch of which I’ve never encountered again. My only distinct memory is of the Bears’ Gale Sayers returning a punt for a touchdown, the instant when he cut back against the Niners’ defense an imperishable fragment of violent athletic perfection.

In 1971, the Niners departed decrepit Kezar for sleek, modern Candlestick Park, which they shared with the San Francisco Giants. When Candlestick opened in 1960, Vice President Richard Nixon threw out the first ball and said, “This will be one of the most beautiful baseball parks of all time.” Nixon’s prediction did not prove accurate, but the first time I saw the ’Stick, I would have agreed with him wholeheartedly. I was awed by the steep concrete bowl and the otherworldly escalator that climbed into the sky, the sea of orange seats, and, most of all, the big field, a green universe between chalk lines where epic deeds were going to be performed.

Over the years, I gathered indelible memories of the 49ers at Candlestick Park. Jerry Rice soaring into the air in the north end zone to break Jim Brown’s all-time touchdown record. Joe Montana scanning the field. Steve Young outrunning defensive backs. A young girl sitting next to me crying with happiness when Alex Smith fired the winning bullet to Vernon Davis in the 2012 NFC divisional playoff, after which Davis himself wept. And, during the last 49ers game ever played at the ’Stick, on December 23 of last year, in an ending too implausible to script, NaVorro Bowman returning an interception the length of the field and launching himself deliriously over the goal line to win the game.

The 49ers will produce more lasting memories. But they won’t produce them in San Francisco. This September, the San Francisco 49ers, the team I have been faithfully rooting for since that hazy day in ’67, will start playing their games at their new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Candlestick Park will be detonated in early 2015, joining the original Kezar Stadium in the trash can of history. An era that began in 1946, with the 49ers’ very first game at Kezar as part of the now-defunct All-America Football Conference, has come to an end. For the first time since Tony Morabito, who ran a lumber-carrying business in his native city, launched the 49ers in front of a crowd of longshoremen, factory workers, and draymen, San Francisco does not have a professional football team that plays in the city. This feels strange and wrong.
 
The simple truth is that, unless you’re a well-off resident of Santa Clara, San Mateo, or Santa Cruz County, or you passionately hated Candlestick (a not-so-small minority, even among San Francisco sports diehards), this move is a tough pill to swallow. The new stadium is priced for plutocrats, it is soul-shrivelingly corporate, and, of course, it is 40 exhaust-choked miles from San Francisco. But an equally simple truth is that for most of us fans, none of that necessarily matters. Because none of it is going to derail our love affair with the 49ers.
The dirty little secret about being a fan is that you’ll put up with anything. There’s pretty much nothing the team can do to permanently alienate you. The 49ers can hire Joe Thomas as general manager and Dennis Erickson as coach. They can start Jim Druckenmiller at quarterback. They can go 2–14. They can draft A.J. Jenkins. They can sign washed-up O.J. Simpson and insufferable Deion Sanders. And yes, they can leave town and build a $1.3 billion new stadium an hour away and frisk their loyal fans for thousands of dollars just for the right to spend even more on their season tickets (the dreaded seat license arrangement, more on which later), and we’re still going to watch them every Sunday. Because the 49ers are not their owners, not their front office, and not their stadium. They’re a Platonic concept, an unchanging, constantly changing entity made up of all the teams that have run onto the field over the years. And those of us who have drunk the red-and-gold Kool-Aid are not about to let the financial maneuverings of some suits deprive us of one of our favorite things in life.
For me, the move is mostly moot because, like a vast majority of fans, I usually watch the 49ers on TV. I’m as committed a fan as they come: I’ve only missed a handful of games in 35 years, the words “Billy ‘White Shoes’ Johnson” induce PTSD-like symptoms, and I’m still brooding about that phantom pass interference call on Eric Wright. But I’ve only been to about a dozen 49ers games in my life. The tickets were always too expensive (ah, I did not then know the meaning of the word), and I’m happy enough screaming at the set at home. So on a practical level, it doesn’t really make that much difference to me whether the 49ers play at Candlestick Point or at the bottom of the bay in Santa Clara. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I’m not going to be at either place.

And then there’s the other reason not to hold a grudge about being jilted: The new stadium is way, way, way better than the old one—and that’s accounting for the traffic jams and concession glitches that bedeviled the park at its grand opening last month. (The 49ers say that the problems will be addressed.) I went on a media tour of Levi’s Stadium this summer, then followed that up by joining a goodbye tour of Candlestick, so the comparison is fresh in my mind. And I can attest that Levi’s is to Candlestick as a shiny new maroon Bentley convertible with a chauffeur, a 42-inch HD TV, a Rogue RA:1K stereo, and a wet bar stocked with Château d’Yquem is to a yellow 1962 Volkswagen bug with a rusty body, torn vinyl, three empty Bud cans under the front seat, an engine that gets vapor lock after an hour on the freeway, and a worthless yet bust-inviting roach in the ashtray.

The most dramatic and obvious difference between the two stadiums is in the concourses. Candlestick’s public walkways were one step up from the Black Hole of Calcutta. Negotiating that narrow concrete passageway with a tray full of beers as a wall-to-wall phalanx of drunken yahoos bore down on you would have taxed even the lateral-movement abilities of Gale Sayers himself. Levi’s concourses, on the other hand, are like the fashion ethos of the 1970s blue jean: They’re wide. They stretch on and on. They allow even the most unsteady fan to wobble to his or her seat without colliding with half of the population of Los Gatos on the way. 

Then there are the bathrooms. Candlestick appears to have been designed by one of those Werner Erhard–like behavior-modifying sadists for whom going to the bathroom indicates weakness of will. When the secret history of the ’Stick is written, its longest chapter will be about the legions of fans who missed epic moments while waiting to relieve themselves. Levi’s, on the other hand, will have 28 percent more plumbing fixtures than Candlestick and 250 more toilets. The only people complaining about this are catheter salesmen.
The contrast between the locker rooms is even starker. The old 49ers’ clubhouses at the ’Stick were ridiculously cramped, with Montana and Rice squeezed into a little space at the top of some absurdly placed stairs. The locker room below had only eight showers. The dingy, smelly tunnel that led out to the field was so low that current 49ers guard Alex Boone, who is 6 foot 8, had to duck his head when running down it. At Levi’s, the 49ers’ locker room is like a temple for oversize gladiators, with genuine walnut finishes on the 10-foot-tall lockers, high ceilings, and big TVs lining the walls. Even the visitors’ locker room (which, per hallowed, this-is-our-house custom, is much less opulent and spacious than the home locker room) is far nicer than the 49ers’ lockers at the ’Stick.

Then there are the bells and whistles. Candlestick, not to put too fine a point on it, didn’t have any. Its one attempt at being state-of-the-art, a radiant heating system, failed to work, prompting a famous lawsuit by flamboyant attorney Melvin Belli, who wore a parka into the courtroom to demonstrate how cold his box was. Levi’s, as you might guess, is wired up the wazoo. The two 200-by-48-foot scoreboards at Levi’s are the largest of their kind in any outdoor NFL stadium, and almost 10 and a half times (!) bigger than the scoreboard at Candlestick. As befits its location in the heart of Silicon Valley, the stadium has 40 times more broadband capability than any other ball field in the country. You can push a button on your Samsung Galaxy S5 and a gigantic genie will appear, bearing in his brawny arms a perfumed houri whose veiled charms are redolent of the dusky east. OK, that app is still in beta, but you can order a beer at a concession stand with your phone and pick it up without waiting, or have your food delivered to your seat. If you order at the stands, the wait shouldn’t be too bad: There’s one cash register for every 185 fans, two-thirds more than the ratio at the ’Stick. And the food will be better, too, with dishes like Rajasthani lamb curry and Niman Ranch pulled pork sandwiches with apple-jalapeño coleslaw and homemade barbecue sauce, which can be washed down with 40 different beers.

Another striking difference between Levi’s and Candlestick is the extent of the private spaces. Candlestick was built long before teams had hit upon the idea of turning over the most desirable seats in the stadium to corporate clients who would pay big bucks to sit in glassed-in luxury suites and private warrens. The new stadium’s corporate clubs are vast and opulent, and there are also 9,000 club seats and 176 luxury suites (the ’Stick had 94). The crowning privatized glory is the rooftop, whose panoramic views of the South Bay and access to a beautiful green roof, luxuriant with vegetation, are sure to dazzle the VIPs and other paying guests who are allowed entry. As our gaggle of media serfs walked for the fi rst and probably last time through one of the corporate clubs, past a custom wine refrigerator fi lled with high-end cabs and pinots, it struck me that this space was so mega-expensive that it made the $325 seats nearby seem downright democratic. The opera feels egalitarian by comparison. If you’re a techno-libertarian who ascribes to a corporationsare- people philosophy, you may find this encouraging. If you’re not, then all that gleaming corporate space may strike you as a tad creepy. But it’s a big part of how a modern, $1.3 billion stadium gets paid for. 

10 Years after the Olympic Games

There are ruins everywhere in Athens all left over from a rather unsuccessful 2004 Olympic Games.

Olympic Games in Athens

So it begins

Readers of this blog know that I am a huge America’s Cup fan.  Not only that but I have adopted Team Emirates New Zealand as my favourite team.  So yeah, this news excites me.

The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron has lodged a challenge for the 35th America’s Cup.

Out-going Commodore Steve Burrett announced that the challenge would go ahead at the Squadron’s annual meeting last night.

The Squadron will be represented by Emirates Team New Zealand. Challenges must received by the defending yacht club, the Golden Gate Yacht Club, by midnight Friday, San Francisco time.

The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron has been involved with all but one New Zealand America’s Cup campaign since 1987, winning at San Diego in 1995 and successfully defending at Auckland in 2000.

Mr Burrett said: “New Zealand has a distinguished history in the America’s Cup and we expect Emirates Team New Zealand will once again make New Zealand proud, just as it has done many times in the past.

“We wish the team well and we look forward to contributing to the success of the 35th America’s Cup.”

Emirates Team New Zealand CEO Grant Dalton says the team is pleased to be able to be in a position to challenge with the confidence of being able to represent the country well.  

“This is the official start of a long, hard journey. We do not under-estimate the challenges ahead.

Now the field of play goes back to the lawyers who will fight in New York courts over the boat design.  In my mind it is the world’s purest expression of sport; unathletic billionaires and their lawyers fighting over specs that well paid engineers will build and someone else will sail.  It gets no better than that.

Roger Goodell Needs to Resign

Jason Whitlock On Johnny Manziel & Canadians

Fun segment about Jonny Manziel and Canadian basketball players.  Apparently we are too laid back as a country to be basketball stars.  Someone needs to tell Steve Nash.

Keith Olbermann on Ray Rice and How the NFL Encourages Violence Against Women

Just watch this.  It doesn’t matter whether you like sports or not, you just need to watch it.  The bad news is that this kind of attitude goes beyond football, if you doubt me, read this sickening account of Floyd Mayweather that Deadspin published.

Why did the US lose at the World Cup?

Not enough good players according to Dan Wetzel.

Klinsmann spoke to finding not just a great American player but also one that will stand across from the world’s best and believe he is better. One that doesn’t go into these games thinking about just surviving or rising to the challenge, but instead that he’ll impose himself on the other side.

The U.S. needs its alpha dog – a few of them, actually.

“It’s not only physically and technically but also mentally,” Klinsmann said. “It’s a completely different ball game [at this level] … we still give it a little bit too much respect in our end when it comes to the big stage. This is something they have to go through; no matter how many years it takes.”

Perhaps the most promising sign of this tournament came in the furious final 15 minutes here Tuesday. Trailing 2-0, Klinsmann inserted 19-year-old Julian Green for his World Cup debut. Rather than be intimidated by the moment, the German-American scored almost immediately, on a beautiful finish, to keep the outcome in doubt.

“Nice first touch for a World Cup,” said Bradley, whose chip set up Green.

That’s the level of skill that has to be the future for the U.S. to finally break through. That’s the presence. That’s the seizing of opportunity. Only they need a bunch of those guys.

It is Klinsmann’s chief task as he continues to oversee all of America’s soccer development.

Soccer has arrived in the United States. It’s here for good. Kids playing. Fans watching. The national team is an engaging and enjoyable group. There is no questioning the commitment of everyone involved.

Yet once again, the Americans trudged out of a World Cup bitterly disappointed, stuck on the Round of 16, with no viable answers.

They gave everything they had. It’s just once again they didn’t have enough players capable of playing with anyone on the planet.

Klinsmann has talked about this a lot.  Too many top players spend four years in the NCAA rather than being sent to the elite clubs around the world.  He also doesn’t have any control over the style of play that the top U.S. clubs or NCAA plays which means that he has to continually be teaching his style of play to new players.  There is also the problem that MLS plays during the summer and not during the winter which means that the national team schedule interferes with club schedules.

I like Klinsmann a lot but he has a lot to overcome to make the USA into World Cup contenders that other national teams do not.

Suarez Was Here

Suarez Was Here

Maintaining Wimbledon’s famous grass courts

How the famous courts are made and maintained

“You expect the court, obviously, to be great,” Murray said. “The bounces and stuff were absolutely perfect. There’s no bad bounces. It’s always, you know, a little bit slippy the first match. The grass is very lush. So that was the only thing — you need to be a little bit careful of your footing. But the court played very well. No bad bounces or anything. It was perfect.”

Such reviews have allowed Stubley, just the eighth groundsman in the club’s 146-year history, to slip back behind the scenes, where he wants to be. During Wimbledon, though, he swaps his work shorts and T-shirt for slacks, dress shirt and tie, part of the tournament’s formality. At 45, he blends into the debonair world of tennis, his build slim, his face tanned. His temples are lined with crow’s-feet, marks of someone who spends time squinting outdoors.

He oversees 16 full-time employees, expanded to about 30 for Wimbledon, who tend to 19 competition courts and 22 practice courts. The grass is nurtured all year with one primary goal: to be perfect for the tournament’s opening. After that, the grounds crew tries to maintain it, amid the toil of countless footsteps and the vagaries of an English summer.

“That’s the balancing act, having the right amount of moisture in the plant at the start of the tournament to make sure it can hold the moisture until the end,” Stubley said. “For that to happen, the court will always be slightly lush at the start of the tournament, and as you get slowly into the latter part of the first week and into the second week, the court naturally firms up more, the surface starts to dry, and it becomes a lot more grippy.”

Any growing interest in soccer a sign of nation’s moral decay

This crosses the line in so many ways

If more “Americans” are watching soccer today, it’s only because of the demographic switch effected by Teddy Kennedy’s 1965 immigration law. I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time.

This is so offensive.  The fact that “Americans” is in quotation marks is offensive as if immigrants from around he world are citizens.  Plus, my grandfathers were born in Canada (I know, not “America”) and if alive, they’d be watching England stink up the joint like the rest of the nation.  They’d also be making Suarez puns like the rest of the world.

So again, Ann Coulter is being offensive while talking about something she knows nothing about.

The view from within the peloton

A look inside the peloton from Stage 5 of the Tour de Suisse.

167 people cashed in on bet that Luis Suarez would bite someone at World Cup

175-to-1 odds that Luis Suarez would bite someone during the tournament.

Andreas Bardun, sportsbook manager for gambling site Betsson, where Syverson placed his bet, said 167 gamblers placed bets on the prop.
The biggest winner was a Norwegian who won $3,300, he said, but he cited company policy not to disclose any of the names of its bettors.

Also journalists are heading to Brazil to find out why Suarez bites people which you have to admit, is an interesting question.

The Sound of the World Cup

This is the sound of what the World Cup sounds like when Brazil scores a goal in a Rio de Janeiro neighborhood. I love it.

Keith Olbermann on Tony Gwynn

Keith Olbermann gives a wonderful and heartfelt tribute to one of my favourite ball players, Tony Gwynn

World Cup financial gains rarely materialize for host

Which is why no one of note is bidding for the 2022 Winter Games

Although some countries and cities have managed to profit from well-run major sports events such as the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, they’re far from the norm, a prominent professor of economics says.

Victor Matheson, a professor of economics at the College of the Holy Cross in Newton, Mass., says prospective hosts need to think twice about whether the massive outlays of cash are worth it in the long run.

“The economic benefit is typically zero,” Matheson says in an interview set to air on CBC’s Lang & O’Leary Exchange on Tuesday. And even when there is a modest gain, “it’s not enough to justify the price tag,” he says.

I think we know who to blame

Because the IOC and FIFA make their money from selling TV and merchandising rights, they have no incentive to keep costs from ballooning, Matheson says.

“On paper, the IOC and FIFA don’t care whether it costs $51 billion to host the Olympics in Sochi or $14 billion to host the World Cup in Brazil, because ‘I’m not paying those costs,’” Matheson says.