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Scha-den-freude! Scha-den-freude!: San Francisco Punted on the 49ers. And It Was the Right Call 

Tuesday, Aug 26 2014
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The Germans have not been very creative when bestowing new names upon their neighboring countries. They tend to go with "Germany."

They have, however, been marvelously inventive linguists, giving the world delicious words such as "schadenfreude." What an amazing concept to encapsulate in a single word. You can't do it with fewer than four words in English: "joy in others' pain."

Your humble narrator called football games on the radio for many years, and "shadenfreude" is not a football-friendly term. Neither, for that matter, is "standard deviation"; drop that one into a broadcast and your color guy will think you're talking about an unoriginal pervert.

Yes, this happened.

For the 49ers Faithful peering south at Levi's Stadium, however, schadenfreude is very much a football term. There's been a lot more schadenfreude than quality football in Santa Clara this preseason.

Thus far, the rollout for the new arena has been about on par with The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune befalling the $1.3 billion stadium and those who'd hope to watch or play ball within it have been legion. Getting to and from the stadium has involved transit nightmares befitting escapes from nuclear attacks — or Woodstock. Its $1.4-million playing field looked a lot more like an ill-maintained municipal golf course last week; players skittered about like Bambi on ice as large divots came free. The team curtailed practice early and legitimate questions were raised about whether the field was up to hosting just its second football game ever. (An entirely new turf installation was required for the 49ers to on Sunday drop San Diego, 21-7.)

A fan died of an apparent heart attack during the stadium's sweltering National Football League debut — leading an ingrate sitting one row away to take to the internet and plead for a refund. Two workers died during its construction. Personal injury attorney Christopher Dolan wrote in the Examiner that the stadium's railings are too low; he warns it's a potential deathtrap and lawsuit Valhalla.

Levi's Stadium, it seems, is the Bay Bridge of ballparks. The team may not have gotten what it paid for, but it certainly paid for what it got.

And so, jilted San Francisco fans have been offered the schadenfreude smorgasbord. It's akin to watching an ex decamp to the burbs with a rich, obnoxious new paramour, and take up residence in a McMansion built atop an Indian burial ground. Hilarity ensues.

In the current edition of San Francisco magazine, Gary Kamiya pens a lengthy, lyrical elegy for our dearly departed football team provocatively titled "The Death of the San Francisco 49ers."

And yet, the home side is only mostly dead.

In truth, the Niners' exodus 38 miles south changes very little. The team has long been headquartered in Santa Clara. Now it'll be there for seven days a week instead of six.

The dysfunctional relationship between erstwhile Mayor Gavin Newsom and team ownership has been dutifully recounted in these and other outlets. Newsom attempted to strong-arm the Niners into erecting a new stadium atop a radioactive superfund site (the rare opportunity to juxtapose the terms "Candlestick Park" and "hot").

Newsom did some strange things in his time here as mayor. But his cajoling of the Niners was among the strangest. At one point, he told the Chronicle that a new 49ers facility would be the jewel in the crown of a revitalized Hunters Point — but also told the Examiner that Santa Clara voters would be fools to greenlight a new 49ers facility because they'd be "subsidizing a giant stadium for 10 games a year."

These quotes, incidentally, ran on the same day.

The team opted to move far from Newsom and radioactive superfund sites, and took up Santa Clara on the offer of a state-of-the-art stadium paid for with $114 million in public funds and a $621 million public exposure via borrowing.

So, that's what it would have taken to keep the Niners in town. You'd have had to come up with a nonexistent site that would satisfy all parties, then pump hundreds of millions of public dollars into building it.

Anyone talking up the positive economic impact a new stadium would have on the vicinity is welcome to tour the environs around Candlestick Park and note the economic impact 50 years of ballgames had on that area.

Do it during the day.

Kamiya's story documents the lamentations of lifelong 49ers fans being asked to pony up $20,000 for the mere privilege of then shelling out $325 per Levi's Stadium ticket. A longtime season ticket-holder (who was sitting in the end zone where Dwight Clark made The Catch in '81) earlier told your humble narrator he'd be out some $30,000 for the right to then pay roughly double his Candlestick per-ticket fee of $180. "It's ridiculous," he says wearily. "But they have a monopoly."

Aggrieved fans can grouse about the loss of identity for a team with roots in Kezar Stadium and battalions of grown-up Christopher Milk kids decked out in vintage gold satin jackets that'd be deemed hideous in any other environment.

The new stadium will be antiseptic while the old ones had character; it will be full of affluent people while the old ones held blue-collar crowds; its denizens cannot possibly care as much as those who attended previous home games.

The sad truth, however, is that the 49ers obviously don't much care — and were, in fact, slow to adopt this league-wide trend. Every football team has blue-collar roots. Every new football palace discards the intimacy and intensity of its creaky forbear and caters to a fan base that, itself, is less intense. These coliseums are, by and large, located miles away from the urban centers of the cities whose names the teams carry.

And, for the most part, that matters very little.

Baseball parks, traditionally, are sited downtown. That matters. The game's quotidian nature — 81 home games a year — enables the fickle fortunes of a baseball team to work its way under the skin and into the consciousness of a city in a way football cannot. The coursing of attendees to and from a baseball stadium in the city's heart almost resembles a living process within the civic body.

Football, however, is a once-a-week spectacle. We'd be fools to subsidize a giant stadium for 10 games a year. A facility on the outskirts of town surrounded by a massive parking lot is par for the course. And there's no bigger parking lot than Santa Clara.

For four decades, the team played its games in a remote stadium cut off from the rest of the city and out of sight of the vast majority of its fans.

That's still the case.

Eight bucks for a slice of pizza and $11 for a beer, though? That's a goddamn travesty.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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