Silicon Valley Victory
The 49ers debut their new digs, and establish a new standard in the NFL. Plus, Blake Bortles makes things difficult in Jacksonville, a look inside the growing penalty problem and more notes from Week 2 of the preseason
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — There are two words for the 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium, which opened for football Sunday afternoon: imaginative and cool.
Imaginative, because the Niners, when they couldn’t get a deal done with the city of San Francisco for a new stadium eight years ago, decided they could do a couple of things. They could continue to fight to build a stadium in some inaccessible place near San Francisco where they didn’t want to be, or they could look elsewhere, to a place more accessible to the biggest city in the Bay Area, San Jose, and a place much closer to the mega-companies that had come to define the area. The site of this stadium is nine miles from Apple’s headquarters, 11 miles from Google, two miles from Intel, 10 miles from Facebook, four miles from Cisco and six miles from Yahoo. Levi’s Stadium is 45 miles south of Fisherman’s Wharf, but the world is changing—the world has changed—and so why mourn what isn’t?
Cool, because of these things:
- The 38,000 square feet of solar panels produce enough energy to run the stadium for the 10 home 49er games each year.
- On the roof of the stadium Sunday morning, 49ers CEO Jed York pointed out a few of the 16 types of indigenous vegetation on site. Sixteen? “For Joe Montana,’’ York said.
- All of the water that services the bathrooms and irrigates the field is reclaimed and purified from previous uses.
- There are light rail stops and bicycle racks just outside the stadium, You can ride your bike to the stadium from nearby San Jose neighborhoods, and my friend, San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy, said he plans to walk the four miles from his house to the stadium one time this season.
There’s a hands-on 20,000-square-foot 49ers Museum that lives and breathes the history of the franchise. You walk in, and there’s a virtual Patrick Willis walking alongside you, so real that it’s eerie. You sit in the broadcast booth, and you can announce “The Catch,’’ and email yourself the clip. My favorite part: the re-creation of Bill Walsh’s office, realistic down to the exact paneling and drapes and desk and original film projector he used when hired by Eddie DeBartolo.
- The first local students to use the learning center in the museum, 50 fifth-graders from San Jose, will be bused in today. They’ll have already seen a couple of videos on the physics and mathematics of football, and be educated by interactive displays that emphasize science and technology.
- Noted local chef Michael Mina had a side of Wagyu beef on the rotisserie Sunday morning, but in keeping with the Bay Area appetites, there are 26 vegan food stations dotting the concourses.
- There’s a 210-linear-foot stat crawl inside the Fantasy Football lounge. Not my cup of tea, but when 31 million Americans play fantasy football, you figure a few of them would want the latest when they’re at the game.
- Another not-my-thing thing, but I realize it’s important today: Levi’s Stadium has four times the high-speed wifi capacity of the NFL’s standard for 2015. In other words, 40,000 people could live-stream a movie over the Internet while watching a football game. What does that mean? Basically, you shouldn’t have any trouble with instant updates for your fantasy-football team on your smartphone here.
Driving up to the stadium Sunday morning, I thought what a pity it was to not have football in one of my favorite cities in the world anymore. Then I realized that’s an old-man thing to say, and Candlestick was a dump in the truest sense of the word, and life goes on—comfortably, in what feels like a palace, a $1.2 billion venue that is just about paid for in a state that’s supposed to be impossible to create things like this.
The readout on the ribbon boards that surround the bowl of the stadium said this just before kickoff:
“Goodbye old cold foggy, soggy status quo stadium … Hello most technologically advanced fan experience on the planet.”
I’m not a stadium junkie, and I don’t tour many of them. So I don’t know if this is the future of stadiums. But walking around Levi’s Stadium on Sunday morning, I certainly thought it should be. And I thought how ridiculous it is that the Raiders are playing in the pit they’re playing in, trying to find a home somewhere, anywhere. The San Antonio Raiders? Puh-leeze. Better to relocate to Los Angeles, certainly, if Mark Davis isn’t greedy and he can find a rich financial partner (or buyer) and the city can figure a way to make the business of the NFL work. But here’s a factoid for you: Levi’s Stadium is closer to downtown Oakland than to downtown San Francisco. The smartest thing of all would be for the Niners and Raiders, old buddies that they are, to pull a Giants-Jets and share a venue. Why not?
Now, for the football.
There haven’t been many days in the Jim Harbaugh Era when Niners fans wouldn’t want me to bring up football, but this is one of them. The preseason is a bad precursor for truth, and it’s silly to make too much of a 34-0 loss in August. But San Francisco is a lesser run-defense team without defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (torn biceps) and run-stuffing linebacker NaVorro Bowman (rehabbing from knee surgery). The Niners will be missing two of their three best defensive players—pass-rusher Aldon Smith (suspension) and Bowman—for at least the first four games of the season. That means the Niners will have to play Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, the stingy Cardinals and Chip Kelly’s Eagles, at least, with a wounded D. That puts pressure on Colin Kaepernick, who is capable of putting up 30 points regularly. But Kaepernick is going to get hit a lot, and when quarterbacks get hit a lot, they’re subject to injury, and the Niners’ backup passer situation is grim. Blaine Gabbert looks as bad as he ever did in Jacksonville, and he’s got a $2 million guaranteed deal to be an insurance policy, and Harbaugh said Sunday there’d be no cavalry on the way; the backup would be either Gabbert or Josh Johnson.
The 49ers are too good, and the coaching staff too smart, to have many days like Sunday in 2014. I wouldn’t worry, yet, if I were a Niners fan. I’d enjoy this era, and this stadium.