49ers Greatest Games At Candlestick Park

49ers Greatest Games at Candlestick Park
Candlestick Park was home to many iconic moments in the history of the San Francisco 49ers. Photo Credit: Michael Estigoy via Creative Commons License.

The 49ers had a memorable place to call home in Candlestick Park. This was where their dynasty was born and where countless legends were made. This was a dynasty of pure gold where some of the greatest players of all time battled against their foes on the way to becoming champions.

With a gorgeous view of the San Francisco Bay, Candlestick showed the beauty of San Francisco as well as the heart of the 49ers. While it was known for mud and fierce winds, it was looked on with a sense of pride by the 49er Faithful. This was more than just a venue for the 49ers. This was home and they left a piece of their heart in the dirt at Candlestick Point, the site of Candlestick Park.

The memories that were made will never be forgotten and will live on in 49er lore. The following is just a few of the greatest games in Candlestick Park history.

49ers Greatest Games At Candlestick Park

December 7, 1980- 49ers vs. Saints

After years of losing, the 49ers had finally started to figure things out by winning six games in 1980. The most important part of this was finding their quarterback of the future, Joe Montana, who replaced Steve DeBerg as the starter.

The final win of 1980 did not take them into the playoffs, nor did it win a championship. What this win signified was that they were ready to wreak havoc on the NFL in future years.

The 49ers were embarrassed against a hapless Saints team that had not yet won a game that year and trailed 35-7 at halftime. When the second half came about, the 49ers started playing at a different level and made a comeback for the ages.

Following a rushing touchdown by Montana, receiver Dwight Clark caught an exhilarating 71-yard touchdown pass. This play changed the momentum of the game as well as the direction of the franchise.

Later, receiver Freddie Solomon caught a 14-yard touchdown pass to bring the 49ers within 7. The 49ers were not about to let this great opportunity slip away and quickly marched down the field where Lenvil Elliott ran it in from 7 yards out for the tying touchdown.

Overtime came and the 49ers smelled blood. After a quick drive down the field, the 49ers put the Saints out of their misery with a field goal made by Ray Wersching.

This was the biggest comeback in NFL history until the 1992 playoffs when the Buffalo Bills overcame a 32 point deficit. The 49ers comeback against the Saints was almost laughable due to the quality of competition the 49ers faced in that game. However, this game was not about the level of competition but rather what it signified.

It showed the NFL that the 49ers were not going to cower against the first sign of adversity. They were going to fight back. The rest of the NFL would soon realize just how much fight the 49ers had in them.

October 11, 1981- 49ers vs. Cowboys

The 49ers were in the midst of their first championship season but had yet to play against the NFL’s elite. The Cowboys came into Candlestick Park with a winning attitude which had carried over from the 1970’s.

It was during that period that they had become known as “America’s Team” and appeared in five Super Bowls while winning two. They had no idea that they were going against the NFL’s next great dynasty that afternoon.

The 49ers had a new weapon in defensive end Fred Dean who had been traded from the San Diego Chargers and was activated that week. He was all over Cowboys quarterback Danny White with pressure on just about every pass.

The game was a blowout from the start with the 49ers opening with a
24-0 lead. Ronnie Lott intercepted one of White’s two interceptions and ran it in for a touchdown in the third quarter, the Cowboys were done and could only count the minutes on the clock until the game was mercifully over.

The final score was 42-14 but was not even that close as the Cowboys returned a fumble for a touchdown in the closing minute of the game. This did not cure them of their shellshock. This game was more than just a blitzkrieg against the NFL’s elite; it was a signal that the 49ers were ready for a championship run.

January 10, 1982- 49ers vs. Cowboys

The 49ers were the surprise of the NFL in 1981 and were hosting the NFC Championship game for the first time since 1970 while they played at Kezar Stadium. The Cowboys had been blindsided by the 49ers earlier in the season and were determined to not be embarrassed again. What transpired was one of the greatest games in NFL history and would produce a defining moment in 49ers history.

The 49ers were becoming known for a finesse style of play called the West Coast offense which minimized turnovers. Most of the time this strategy worked but the Cowboys were ready and caused the 49ers offense to have a miserable day.

By the game’s end, the 49ers had thrown three interceptions and fumbled three times. Six turnovers were not what the 49ers were used to but they fought back and scored when they needed to the most. It came down to a last-minute possession which will live on in NFL history forever.

On this drive, the 49ers had 89 yards to go against the Cowboys vaunted rebirth of the “Doomsday Defense,” from their glory days of the 1970s. The 49ers were expected to pass but instead ran the ball on most of their plays during that fateful drive.

After battling the Cowboys great defense down the field, the 49ers stood on the Cowboys six-yard line. Coach Bill Walsh called a Sprint Right Option where Montana had the option to throw it to either Solomon or Clark.

Solomon was well covered which left Clark as the only option. Montana threw the ball where only Clark could get it and “The Catch” was born.

Candlestick Park erupted in jubilation but there was still a minute left on the clock and the Cowboys were known for their late-game heroics. Danny White threw a pass over the middle to Drew Pearson who had nothing but muddy turf between him and the end zone.

All seemed lost until 49ers defensive back Eric Wright grabbed onto Pearson’s shoulder pad and yanked him down from rewriting NFL history. White was stripped of the football on the next play and the 49ers won the game 28-27.

After years of agony and waiting for the 49ers to at least get to an NFL Championship game, the 49er Faithful were rewarded for their patience. NFL history would never be the same as this game launched a dynasty.

The 49ers would go on to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl 26-21 and dominate the rest of the next two decades. “The Catch” opened the door for the 49ers to establish themselves as an NFL power.

Many more games would help define the 49ers of the 1980s but this game was the original defining moment for this great dynasty.

January 15, 1995- 49ers vs. Cowboys

The 49ers and Cowboys have had an intense rivalry over the years. From the playoff battles of the early 1970’s to the grudge matches of the 1990’s, these two teams have shown what a rivalry is all about.

It is about heartbreak and triumph with both teams going to great lengths to defeat each other year after year. The 1990’s were the epitome of a great rivalry. During this time, they were the two best teams in the NFL and the rest of the league didn’t come close to their greatness.

While the Buffalo Bills of the same period were talented, they never got over the championship hump. In reality, the NFL consisted of only two teams during this time; the Cowboys and the 49ers.

The two teams met in three straight NFC championship games between the 1992 and 1994 seasons. The Cowboys won the first two of those games and the 49ers grew more frustrated after each loss.

The 49ers were going through a major transition changing from Montana in favor of Steve Young at quarterback. While having two Hall of Fame quarterbacks on the same roster is quite the luxury, the 49ers felt they were doing Montana a disservice and after the 1992 season they traded him to the Kansas City Chiefs where he finished off the remainder of his great career. After the trade, the 49ers were officially Young’s team but he had yet to win over the fans because he hadn’t yet had the playoff success of his predecessor.

The 1994 season felt different. The 49ers spent a lot of money in the offseason to bolster up their roster and brought in a number of big-name stars including Deion Sanders and Rickey Jackson. They also signed Ken Norton Jr. from the Cowboys which was the 49ers’ way of telling the Cowboys how bad they wanted to beat them.

The 49ers and Cowboys met at Candlestick Park for the NFC championship game with much at stake. The Cowboys were looking at advancing to their third straight Super Bowl while the 49ers were looking for vengeance.

The 49ers got off to a terrific start with defensive back Eric Davis intercepting Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman and taking it in for a touchdown. Young then connected with running back Ricky Watters for a 29-yard touchdown. The Cowboys were stunned as William Floyd ran in a one-yard touchdown moments later. With the game was only five minutes old the 49ers were already ahead 21-0.

Dallas fought back with Michael Irvin catching an Aikman pass for a 44-yard touchdown. The first quarter ended with the 49ers ahead 21-7. The Cowboys fought back and were down 24-14 shortly before the half but their effort to battle back into the game took a significant setback on the last play of the half.

Young threw a perfect pass to Jerry Rice for a 28 yard touchdown. From that point on the 49ers were back in control for good.

The 49ers held on for a 38-28 victory and Young was ecstatic as he ran a victory lap around Candlestick Park. He had finally won over the fans and the Super Bowl was simply a formality.

He threw a Super Bowl record six touchdown passes in that game and led the 49ers to a 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers. The real Super Bowl that year was played at Candlestick Park as the 49ers finally defeated their arch nemesis.

January 3, 1999- 49ers vs. Packers

After winning the Super Bowl in the 1994 season the 49ers had trouble against the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs. San Francisco was bounced from the playoffs by Green Bay in the three straight seasons following Super Bowl XXIX. They met again in the 1998 Wild Card playoffs and the game lived up to its name. It was truly a wild affair.

The game was a classic shootout with high drama throughout. The Packers started off strong and went into halftime up 17-10 but the 49ers were determined to not lose this game.

The 49ers scored 10 unanswered points to take the lead in the third quarter despite one of their best receivers, Terrell Owens, being held to just two catches to that point. The Packers took the lead late in the fourth quarter and looked to have control of the game.

The 49ers gutted through the adversity and marched down the field one last time. Starting at their own 24-yard line with 1:50 left in the game the 49ers were driving until they hit a snag.

After making a reception, Rice appeared to fumble the ball away to the Packers but the referees ruled Rice down on the play. Candlestick Park collectively exhaled a breath of relief and watched the 49ers battle for their playoff lives against their nemesis.

Down 27-23 and facing third and three with only 14 seconds left, the 49ers called “3 Jets All Go” and hoped it would work. Young almost tripped dropping back but steadied himself and threw a bullet of a pass across the middle into a sea of white Packers jerseys.

Somehow, Owens held onto the ball despite the immense coverage and immediately cried tears of joy. In an instant, he had redeemed himself as well as the whole 49ers organization. They had finally overcome the Green Bay Packers.

Despite the 49ers losing the following week, this play still lives on in 49ers lore as “The Catch II” due to what it means to the fans. They had finally overcome their newest rival, Brett Favre, and the Packers.

January 5, 2003- 49ers vs. Giants

The 49ers had an up and down 2002 season but still went on to win their division and host a Wild Card playoff game. The game lived up to the name and is best known for the exhilarating comeback the 49ers pulled off in the fourth quarter.

The game started off well for the 49ers with a 76-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Garcia to Owens in the opening minute of the game. The Giants battled back and built a 28-14 lead at the half.

Following a Tiki Barber touchdown and a field goal by Matt Bryant the 49ers looked at a seemingly insurmountable 38-14 deficit in the middle of the third quarter.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and the 49ers were forced to go into the hurry-up offense the rest of the game. With Garcia and Owens leading the offense the lead dwindled to 38-22 by the end of the third quarter.

Garcia ran in a touchdown in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter and threw a two-point conversion to Owens to bring the 49ers within eight. After a Jeff Chandler field goal, Garcia led the 49ers down the field one last time.

With a minute left in the game, Garcia threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Tai Streets. Pandemonium enveloped Candlestick Park but the game was not over yet as the Giants still had a minute left to try to steal a victory in San Francisco.

The Giants offense had been quiet for most of the second half and scrambled to get a drive going against a pumped up 49ers defense. The Giants tried a field goal but did not get a good snap and their holder was forced to throw a desperation pass.

The pass failed and Candlestick erupted in jubilation. It would be the last playoff game Candlestick Park would experience in the decade.

January 14, 2012- 49ers vs. Saints

After eight agonizing seasons of futility, the 49ers were finally back in the playoffs and hosting a red-hot New Orleans Saints team. Their quarterback, Drew Brees, had just broken the league record for passing yards in a season.

The 49ers defense was one of the best in the league and anticipation was high for a clash between the league’s best offense and defense. The game lived up to the hype and will live on in memories of Candlestick Park forever.

The 49ers got on the board first with an exhilarating 49-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Smith to tight end Vernon Davis. The 49ers lead ballooned to 17-0 before the Saints mounted a comeback.

With four minutes left in the game, Brees threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles to take the lead for the first time in the game,
24-23. The 49ers mounted a drive and gave Smith the opportunity to run a naked bootleg into the end zone for an inspiring 28-yard touchdown, to retake the lead.

The Saints wasted no time getting the lead right back with a 66-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham. All hope seemed lost with only 1:37 left in the game.

The 49ers offense was thought to have spent all of its energy on the previous drive but they would surprise the world with one final drive. It was the West Coast offense at its finest with short dump off passes over the middle chewing up yardage as well as time.

Finally, the 49ers were at the Saints 14-yard line with 14 seconds left. Smith threw a bullet of a pass toward Davis who enveloped the football with his giant hands and held on with every ounce of his being.

Candlestick Park erupted in ecstasy and Davis was brought to tears as the 49ers prevailed 36-32 in an instant classic. “The Catch III” was born and a new generation of 49er fans could rejoice in their own legendary playoff moment. The 49ers were back and the league was on notice.

The four touchdowns in the final four minutes by both teams were the exclamation point on an exciting game. The 49ers would eventually make it to the NFC Championship game three straight seasons and the 49er Faithful made many new memories over that span. A new era had begun in San Francisco.

December 23, 2013- 49ers vs. Falcons

This was Candlestick Park’s final season before demolition. The 49ers were unable to win the division but still made the playoffs as a wild card.

With the regular season winding down it became clear that their battle against the lowly Atlanta Falcons would be the final game at Candlestick Park. The 49ers were down 10-3 in the third quarter before mounting a comeback. They took the lead early in the third quarter and almost never looked back.

The Falcons battled and were in the red zone down 28-24 when a legendary play happened. 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman intercepted Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and ran 89 yards for a breath-taking touchdown.

The 49ers won the game 34-24 and Bowman’s interception closed the gates of Candlestick for the final time. It was a fitting finale for a place filled with memories.