No Home Like Place

Moving is such a hassle. You have to pack everything up, make all sorts of inconvenient arrangements, and unforeseen problems are likely to arise along the way. Even after the move is complete and you’ve settled into the new place, it takes a while before it really starts to feel like home.

And then, just when you think you’re finally getting comfortable, someone goes and eats a turkey dinner on the logo on your lawn.

Such is the plight faced by the San Francisco 49ers this season. Levi’s Stadium was supposed to be the answer to all their dreams; instead, while it hasn’t sank to the level of a nightmare, the new stadium has certainly caused some people to lose a lot of sleep.

People here in the Bay Area are convinced that the new stadium’s deficiencies are a big part of what has gone wrong with the 49ers this season. High ticket prices have pushed out the diehard fans; instead, the Santa Clara crowds consist of easily distracted rich people who abandon their seats by the middle of the second quarter to go schmoozing in the stadium’s bars and restaurants. The reduced crowds mean little to no noise from the stands, and thus less of a home field advantage for the Niners. There have even been  reports circulating that different groups within the team are dressing for games in different locker rooms, some in the stadium room, others at the team’s nearby practice facility–a fragmented scene that seems to mirror the organization’s current chaos.

None of this reflects well on the team, to be sure. And a growing chorus within the local media has characterized Levi’s Stadium as a boondoggle that will be an albatross around the team’s neck for the rest of time. The otherwise estimable Damon Bruce of 95.7 The Game–clearly the best sports talk host in Bay Area radio–has mused that Levi’s Stadium should be torn down and the team moved back to San Francisco. (He is also the one who has taken to calling the facility “Turkey-on-the-Logo Stadium,” a deserved piece of ridicule that sprung from the Thanksgiving night debacle.) Others media observers, while not as radical in their criticism, have also declared that the 49ers can’t win in their new home–and many fans are echoing that sentiment.

There’s nothing new in all this. Often, when a sports team–particularly a successful sports team–moves into a new facility, the early reviews are negative, and if the team struggles at the outset, pronouncements of doom soon follow. But those judgments are rarely borne out by time.

When the Bulls and Blackhawks moved into the United Center, there was much kvetching about losing the ambiance of the old Chicago Stadium–particularly “The Roar” that the old barn was famous for. It didn’t help that the Bulls opened the new arena without Michael Jordan–off playing baseball–and the Blackhawks, like the rest of the NHL, were mired in a work stoppage. Funny how things turned around when Jordan came back and proceeded to lead the Bulls to three more championships–two of which were clinched in the United Center. And the Blackhawks? Well, it took them a while to get rolling, but ultimately they’ve won two Stanley Cups playing at the United Center–two more than they did in the last three decades they spent playing in the old Stadium.

Other teams have had travails after a move. Remember when the New York Giants moved out of Yankee Stadium and into the Meadowlands? Do you know what was the most famous play in the history of Giants Stadium?

I’ll give you a hint: the Giants didn’t win that game.

I’ll give you an even bigger hint: I’m originally from Philadelphia.

Yes, that’s right: the Miracle of the Meadowlands!

The fumbled snap, Herm Edwards scooping up the ball and running in for the winning touchdown. Until the Giants started winning Super Bowls, that was pretty much all anyone remembered about Giants Stadium. Their Meadowlands house wasn’t much of a home field advantage place when it opened, because the Giants were a bad team. Once again, winning cured everything.

Candlestick Park wasn’t much of a home field advantage until Joe Montana, Dwight Clark and Ronnie Lott came along and made it so. The Catch, Jerry Rice’s heroics, Steve Young’s famous run against the Vikings–no such memories have been made yet in Levi’s Stadium. The place hasn’t been around long enough to gain any ghosts, and the only thing that will change that is time. Time, that is, and a winning football team–which is not what the 49ers have right now. They’ll be fine–eventually. It’s just not going to happen today.

What we see today in San Francisco is what happens when you forget–or ignore–history: you start making a lot of pronouncements that will make you look foolish in short order…if anyone remembers what you said in the first place. And they probably won’t. Such is the nature of sports, and sports media in particular: it’s all fleeting, and you should take whatever you hear today with a grain of salt. Because tomorrow is another game, and only those who obsessively comb through the record books–or search YouTube–will ever pass this way again.

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