Candlestick’s farewell draws mixed emotions

On Monday, Dwight Clark will make a point to walk to the spot of

his famous game-winning touchdown known only as ”The Catch” for

probably the final time.

He will spend a moment reflecting on that special patch of grass

in the far right corner of the north end zone at Candlestick Park,

a thrilling memory he is reminded of daily even now, nearly 32

years later.

”This will be the last time I’ll be able to stand on that spot

as far as I know,” Clark said.

Joe Montana didn’t expect to make it Monday, when The Stick says

its last public goodbye after a run of Super Bowl success; baseball

greats like Willie Mays and home run king Barry Bonds; the 1989

earthquake that interrupted the Bay Bridge World Series; and even

The Beatles’ farewell concert.

”It’s going to be weird,” Terrell Owens said before a game

last month. ”I’m glad I got an opportunity to be here.”

The current 49ers (10-4) are determined to leave their mark on

Candlestick’s legacy by beating Atlanta (4-10) in the dilapidated

stadium’s last hurrah Monday might in a rematch of the NFC

championship game won by San Francisco.

”We feel that it’s something special,” safety Donte Whitner

said.

Those who spent their most memorable years in the iconic venue –

with that recognizable boomerang-shaped concrete shell – are sad to

see it go. Even if the unpredictable swirling winds off the bay and

bitter cold hardly made it a cozy home field.

Jerry Rice walked through the stadium several weeks back and

soaked in the cheers from every direction, signed autographs and

posed for photos.

”It’s very difficult for me to come to games. Hearing those

cheers again, I want to get back on that field,” Rice said. ”This

is where everything started. It’s sort of sad to see it coming to

an end because I know next year they’ll be in Santa Clara.”

The Niners will move into $1.2 billion Levi’s Stadium at team

headquarters, while Candlestick waits out its implosion day, likely

in late 2014.

Everybody realizes it’s time.

”I’ll forever be grateful to have played on that field and

shared that field with guys who are in the Hall of Fame and guys

who have won championships for this organization,” linebacker

Patrick Willis said.

There’s no debate that a dynasty was born with ”The Catch.”

Candlestick’s top-10 football moments have been counted down during

each home game this season, with ”The Catch” at No. 1 for the

regular-season home finale.

That 6-yard touchdown reception with 51 seconds left sent San

Francisco to a 28-27 win and its first Super Bowl.

”The funny thing is, I remember the play right before that I

missed Freddie Solomon,” Montana recalled this week. ”I think I

threw it about 3 feet over his head from 5 yards away. He was wide

open for a touchdown. I always tell Dwight, `Man, it’s a good thing

I didn’t hit Freddie or The Catch would have never happened.”’

The 49ers next beat the Bengals for the first of the franchise’s

five championships.

”Oh, I think back on it all the time. I know what the play was,

it was all diagramed,” former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr.

said. ”In the far end zone, was Dwight Clark’s catch, which will

probably go down in history.

”I don’t think there’s any question, as far as the San

Francisco 49ers go and our Super Bowl runs and our history of

success in the `80s and the `90s, it started with `The

Catch.”’

The 49ers shared Candlestick with the Giants until the baseball

club moved into its downtown waterfront ballpark in 2000.

Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin attended games at

Candlestick as a boy growing up in the Bay Area – he was in the

stands for Mays’ 3,000th hit – and enjoyed being a fan more than he

did years later as a major leaguer with the Giants.

”Mike Schmidt was hitting and I was catching and he hit a popup

over home plate that I really thought at first was going to end up

near our dugout, then I thought it would end up over in the other

dugout and it ended up right where I started, and I ended up

catching it,” Melvin said. ”You’d follow the hot dog wrappers to

try to figure out which way the wind was going.”

49ers punter Andy Lee won’t miss the wind, or much else about

Candlestick after a decade kicking there.

”Bittersweet is probably the best way to put it because there

are a lot of great memories that took place there,” Montana said.

”But everyone will admit that it’s not the ultimate in a field you

would want to be known for.”

For all the problems at rundown Candlestick, those who consider

it hallowed ground don’t want to hear about the negatives, but the

nostalgia.

”It was our dump, so we could talk bad about it,” Clark said,

”but we didn’t want anybody else to talk bad about it.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org