Sorting through my old sports tickets and memorabilia during the Covid shutdown, I couldn’t help but reflect back on the events. Today’s story focuses on a game between two NFC foes, the Cardinals and 49ers. All these years later, I’m still discovering what made that day so special.
Pick 60’s Sports Ticket Takes
At a time when so many of us are striving for a more minimalist lifestyle, it’s a challenge to make the distinction between ‘collecting’ and hoarding. I’ve been called a closet packrat over the years but for sports fans, all it takes is a trip down memory lane to realize why we hold onto the mementos.
One of the weathered envelopes I dusted off this week contained a selection of sports tickets from the past 25 years. Each stub tells a story and since the NFL is my favorite sport to handicap, I had a look back at this Week 5 matchup between the Cards and Niners.
Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
Date: Sunday, October 10, 2004
Line: 49ers -1 and O/U 37
The Niners had fallen on hard times and were off to a 0-4 start. Getting a ticket on game day didn’t seem like it would be a problem and since we were in the area, I decided to head over to the field.
At the time, I was a tour guide with a motorcycle company. We spent the better part of October traveling around California and between trips, we would base out of Fisherman’s Wharf. This was a solo mission to the game since neither of my fellow guides cared much for football. October was also nearing the end of our tour season and after five long months, I couldn’t blame them for wanting to spend the afternoon vegging out.
First things first, I called in a small bet on the total going “Over” 37 points. Arizona was 1-3, having scored 12 or less in each of their losses, but betting the over in games I was going to attend in person was almost an autoplay for me. It sure beats sitting on your hands and cursing every score. Of course if the “Over” looks REALLY bad, I’ll just bet the side. After all, I’m not a savage!
Upon arrival at ‘Monster Park’, aka Candlestick, I wandered into the tailgating section and started looking for anyone selling tickets. This one gentleman approached me and asked, “Hey, you looking for a ticket? I got the best seat in the house!”
I asked him what makes it so good and he replied, “50-yard line, for one thing. Plus, you get to sit beside me!”
This dude could tell I’d never been there before so he jumped right into his closing spiel.
“Listen kid, these are THE best seats you’re going to find out here today. Trust me!”
Classic salesman pitch, I thought. But not only did Jim seem like a standup guy, he said I didn’t even have to pay him until we got through the gate.
Boy, he sure wasn’t kidding about the quality. We were 16 rows off the field, directly behind the Cardinals bench. Meanwhile, everyone in the section knew each other like family. Jim introduced me to the crew and then he offered a brief history.
The season tickets had once belonged to his father, from the Joe Montana days, and to his grandfather before that. Whenever his wife couldn’t make it, Jim would just come down to the stadium and find someone outside, like me. He had never once failed to sell the second ticket and got to meet some interesting people along the way. Sounded like a great system.
From Zero to Sixty
Things started off slow, with a scoreless first quarter. Hall of Fame RB Emmitt Smith, who had signed with the Cards to finish off his career, carried a few times but couldn’t find much room.
Looking back at the boxscore, I can see that one of Emmitt’s rushes ended on a 15-yard crackback penalty by some rookie receiver. No one thought much about it at the time. Likewise, nobody in the ‘fam’ gave more than a passing interest when that same rookie, a certain Larry Fitzgerald, hauled in a 23-yarder to end the quarter. It was literally the only exciting play from the opening frame.
Coach Dennis Green was on the sidelines for Arizona and this was prior to his infamous “Crown their ass” rant. The weather was beautiful and everyone was having a great time, but the score was only 14-12 through three quarters. That’s when Jim started telling me about his early exit strategy, if things stayed quiet. He said, “You’re welcome to stay, but I’m too old to fight with those crazy, postgame transit lineups.”
That’s when this game got interesting.
Smith had been plugging along and he rushed in for a early fourth quarter touchdown. The former Cowboy great finished with 16 carries for 63 yards and I considered it to be such an honor, seeing him tack those digits onto his illustrious stack of all-time achievements.
Fitzgerald was next for the Cards, catching a 24-yard endzone score that stands as his *first-ever big league touchdown.
Note: I had no idea who Larry was at the time and literally posted @PickSixtySports the moment I realized what I had witnessed.
The game saw 30 points in the fourth quarter alone and San Fran ended up winning 31-28 in overtime. Jim made his exit before the OT and I tagged along. Not knowing the stadium or transit system, his warnings of the postgame chaos were enough for this guy. We caught the first bus and even that part was cool because a few of our fellow riders were blasting the game over the radio, hooting and hollering with every play.
Sports Ticket Sequel
A year later, I ended up meeting Jim and his wife back in San Fran for another game. That time it was Peyton Manning and the Colts, en route to their 13-0 start. Greatness, obviously, and on the other side was first overall draft pick Alex Smith making his first-ever NFL start. Smith had taken a few snaps in previous games but today he got the call and it wasn’t pretty.
No touchdowns for San Fran in this yawner, but I did see Smith throw four picks and get sacked five times. A big defensive effort like that creates quite a buzz around the Colts’ bench and when you’re sitting just a stone’s throw away, you can feel it. Watching Peyton make his rounds on the sidelines was cool, too. Talking to all the units, making sure his coaches and O-Line were all good. In his eighth year, the Sheriff had control of the situation like nothing I’d ever seen before.
Indy won that game 28-3 and afterwards, we made our way back into town. I stayed in touch with for awhile but haven’t been back to the Bay Area since then. Sports tickets say a thousand words, though, and the memories of those games will last a lifetime.