As a native San Franciscan, I grew up attending countless Giants baseball games at Candlestick Park. I have only attended about six 49ers games in that venue, but the vibes between professional baseball and football games at Candlestick could not have been more starkly different.
I don’t remember any negative fan altercations at a Giants game in their former venue, but every time I went to a 49ers game, I witnessed multiple fights, either in the tailgating area or inside the park itself.
I’ve gone to three contests between the Saints and 49ers at Candlestick (all as a Saints fan), and I’ve enjoyed myself each time. Thankfully, I avoided any harassment despite dressing in my best black and gold. It probably helped that I usually rolled deep with several Saints fans, and during one game years ago, I sat next to a high school friend and 49ers fan who is a San Francisco policeman. I never felt I needed his protection, but it was nice to have nonetheless.
Other friends of mine have not received the same courtesy while rooting for the Saints at Candlestick Park. The divisional playoff game in 2011, in particular, was a miserable experience for many Saints fans who felt overly harassed, intimidated, and bullied during and following the Saints close loss to the 49ers.
Stories surfaced of Niner fans verbally assaulting teenage girls attending the game with their father. One of my friends was called terrible and profane names before she stood up, turned around, and reminded the local fans that she was simply trying to enjoy their city and contribute to their economy.
Another friend of mine was exiting the women’s restroom when a Niner fan walked up to her and spit in her face. When she asked the security guard if that was appropriate fan behavior, he replied, “We Dat.” It terrified her that, first, a grown man would feel it’s ok to spit in a stranger’s face, and second, that the people paid to “protect you” at an NFL game would not only disregard your plea for help, but engage in similar harassing behavior as the fan.
This weekend, I attended my first game in the new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. Again, I had a positive experience, but what’s more, every Saints fan I talked to had a welcoming experience too. Of course it probably helped that the 49ers were 1-6 going into the game, but I noticed, in general, a much more hospitable atmosphere from the tailgating area to within Levi’s Stadium.
I smiled at every Niner fan I passed, and most smiled back. I saw many tailgate parties sporting both teams’ jerseys and happily pre-gaming with each other. One Niner fan even told me “good luck and to enjoy myself”. The local fans in my section were chatty at first, but once the Saints started piling on the points, they mostly just wallowed in their craft beers and Napa Valley wine while bitching about Jed York and Trent Baalke.
At times, it was hard to distinguish if this was a road game or a home game for the Saints. The stands were filled with black jerseys and, of course the obligatory shirtless man with hair curlers. Cheers for a Saints first down eclipsed the cheers for a 49er first down throughout the game.
It was clear the connection between the Bay Area and the Crescent City is still strong. There were no ulterior motives to be found. For the first time since 2011, the two fan bases seemed entirely focused on enjoying a great football game on an absolutely beautiful day.