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Flame dimming on Candlestick, but old stadium won't go without a fight

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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Forget last week; Candlestick will not allow brilliant sunshine and warm temps this Sunday. (Getty Images)  
Forget last week; Candlestick will not allow brilliant sunshine and warm temps this Sunday. (Getty Images)  

The weather report for Sunday's NFC Championship Game in San Francisco is for night and morning lousy, with moments of late morning and early afternoon totally crappy. Rain and wind, locusts and toads, and rivers of blood all around.

Why, it's perfect. Another Candlestick metaphor from The Stadium That Wouldn't Die.

Not because bad weather will affect one team more than the other. If the Giants or 49ers can't function because the weather's bad, they deserve what they get. The Packers play in snow. The Bears play in gales. The Dolphins play in crushing humidity. The Jets play in Jet uniforms. Everybody's got something.

No, this is about something more ethereal -- the true San Francisco Football Experience.

A week ago against New Orleans, the weather could not have been more clement. Mid-60s, no wind at all, field dry and firm. Everybody got a fair shot.

But of course the out-of-towners still wanted to talk about the blackout during the Steelers game instead, as though that were Candlestick's fault -- the old barfly trying on a dress too tight and having the zipper break.

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But that was a transformer outside the stadium, not the stadium itself. And even after three blackouts, two during the game and a third an hour afterward, the game still got played and nobody got hurt, because Candlestick doesn't give in to the scorn of others. It kicked the ass of the Earthquake of 1989 and was one of the safest places in the Bay Area. It's parking lots flood every now and then because a lot of them are barely above sea level. Traffic in stinks, traffic out makes traffic in seem like a breeze.

And on Feb. 2, the NFL owners are meeting to approve the financing plan for the team's new stadium in Santa Clara. They are approving the plan, even though the money has not all been collected, let alone dispersed to the construction company that will build it.

In short, the old girl knows it is running on fumes, and short of collapsing into the sea, all it really can do is summon the elements to let everyone know just how it feels about being put out to bid by demolition crews.

And Candlestick has elements, as you know. The wind, mostly -- straight from Satan's lungs, over the southern rim of the stadium and right into your eyes, with a peanut shell and cigar ash chaser.

But when you throw in a good hard rain, the field, which actually is under sea level, retains the water as though it were municipal bonds and turns even the most pristine groundskeeping work into the Second Battle of Ypres.

And that's what the drones at the Weather Channel see for Sunday -- wind and rain. And dressing accordingly will not help. Neither will forcing a cheerful disposition, or fortifying one's courage with drinks from the Tailgate Bar and Grill. Candlestick is pissed, and its anger will be heeded.

The 49ers may be back this way again next year, and the year after. They do look like a team built for the long haul. But Candlestick Park cannot know that. It can only operate under the assumption that there aren't many more chances to make a bad impression, so it's seizing this one as best it can. Weather forecasts may change, of course, but if what we see now happens on Sunday, Candlestick Park will be ready.

You won't be able to miss it. It will be the huge misshapen concrete oval that still manages to point its middle fingers at everyone who dares come in that day. She may be disparaged, and she will still keep everyone safe from real harm as she always has, but she will make it clear that she isn't happy about it in her own particular idiom. You can go to the game, but don't bet heavily on it being a great time out.

Hey, if you're going, just be thankful she doesn't throw up on your car with a neighborhood tree.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com

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