Candlestick stadium chief stays focused on finale
Mike Gay has made the half-hour commute from his city home in
San Francisco to Candlestick Park almost daily for 35 years.
Candlestick’s long-time stadium chief is working hard to ensure
a special send off Monday night while making sure not to get too
sentimental as the aging stadium’s time comes to a ceremonious
close when the 49ers host the Atlanta Falcons.
Nostalgia? Not yet.
Gay has been too busy during The Stick’s farewell season to
reflect on his decades-long front-row seat for some of the most
unforgettable moments in sports. Before Monday night’s game, Hall
of Famer Steve Young threw passes to Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as
the crowd roared. Hall of Fame baseball players Willie Mays and
Willie McCovey waved to cheering fans.
”It hasn’t really sunk in, not just for me, my crew,” Gay said
while reminiscing as he led a tour through Candlestick last week.
”I’ll know Monday night. I’ve probably tried to block it out, I
guess, but you hear it every day.”
Gay, a stationary engineer who previously worked at a hospital,
knows full well how fortunate he has been to have one heck of a
behind-the-scenes view of history.
From the daily stresses to the major ones, like racing to react
in the immediate aftermath of the 1989 World Series earthquake, and
a Monday Night Football power outage two Decembers ago, Gay has
seen it all.
Every game weekend, Gay leads a four-hour Friday night
walkthrough to check everything from parking lots, the setup of the
suites to how bathrooms are functioning.
When asked what he will miss most now, Gay said
matter-of-factly, ”That’s a good question.”
”I’ll probably miss the preparation of getting ready for a
football game,” he added.
It was difficult to see the Giants leave for their waterfront
AT&T Park in 2000, though Gay didn’t miss the tireless 24-hour
conversions from baseball to football.
”I missed the team,” he said.
He still recalls the major earthquake that hit before Game 3 of
the 1989 Bay Bridge World Series, when ”our only concern was
trying to get everybody out of the stadium” without any way to
communicate to all the fans and employees inside Candlestick given
the brand-new sound system wasn’t yet tied into the generators.
”It held up, it served its purpose,” former 49ers owner Eddie
DeBartolo Jr. said of the facility.
Gay learned in a hurry to dress for the unpredictable weather,
such as those infamous Candlestick swirling winds off the bay that
could make for bitter cold days even in the middle of summer. He
wears long sleeves to work every day, no matter the season.
”I have one jacket here, you kind of get used to it,” he said.
”We do have some nice weather. When this place heats up, it gets
warm, but when it gets cold it’s like a refrigerator.”
This year, Gay has had to be on the lookout for missing chairs
or seat backs as fans try to make out of The Stick with a final
This is the first year Gay’s crew didn’t order seat parts
looking ahead. He will likely leave with a memento of his own.
When it comes to attending the implosion, date still to be
determined, he’s not sure he needs to see that. Especially
considering the countless hours he has committed to keeping
”I might want to be here, then again I might not,” Gay said.
”I’ve seen other stadiums get imploded. Here I’ve been trying to
maintain it and keep it looking good and these guys are talking
about, `We can bring this thing down in 100 seconds.’ Whoa.”
Gay has his share of Candlestick fun facts, too.
It was one of the country’s first multipurpose stadiums, a
rarity now – although the Oakland Athletics and Raiders share the
rundown Oakland Coliseum across San Francisco Bay.
”We had the world’s largest escalators at one time,” Gay said.
”When they were installed in 1969-70, we were about the only
stadium that had escalators at the time. These light towers (some
240 feet high) here are the largest in the nation, because they
don’t make them anymore. It’s kind of unique. It’s very costly to
maintain those light towers. Those are the things that stick
At age 61, Gay is not retiring, but he’s not headed to new $1.2
billion Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, either. Employed by San
Francisco Recreation and Parks, Gay and some of his crew might soon
begin working at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
Gay takes the criticism of Candlestick in stride – and he has
appreciated hearing all of the special stories this year.
”I’ve heard so much of it,” he said. ”It’s getting good
comments rather than negative comments. That’s good for the
He will dearly miss it despite the constant challenges.
”Oh, yeah,” Gay said. ”It’s like my second home.”
Everybody knows it is time to move forward.
”Candlestick’s time’s come,” DeBartolo said. ”I do see Bill
Walsh field, I don’t know what their plans are but that field down
there should be named that. At least I would name it that.”
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org