Bob Mallamo tugged at sturdy metal door, bracing it with an iron rod as the metallic slam roared down the corridor. He stood back and eyed the door carefully, as if parting company with an old friend.
“Come Monday night after the game,” Mallamo said, his voice shaking, “when I lock those doors it’ll probably be the last time.”
Mallamo has locked these doors countless times over his 31 years as the San Francisco 49ers' locker room manager at Candlestick Park. It’s his final ritual after each game is over, the reporter interviews finished and the players gone.
On Monday night, the 49ers will play what’s likely the final sporting event in the history of the 53-year old stadium. And then like the team, Mallamo will report for duty in Santa Clara.
"It’s going to be hard to get up in the morning and not drive here,” Mallamo said.
As he drifted through the 49er’s original locker room, the smaller one beyond the team's current locker room, he let the memories flood back. He could still see Joe Montana dressing out, Jerry Rice bounding across the room – Freddie Solomon lacing up his cleats.
“I come in here, I get goose bumps,” Mallamo said. “All the memories and stuff here.”
He recalled when the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake hit, the old locker room pipes began to spray dust. Some players thought it was smoke, and panicked.
“It’s funny to see professional athletes running that fast out the door,” he said with a laugh.
Still, Mallamo tempered his nostalgia for the ‘Stick, with practical notions. He knew the stadium’s glory days were long gone.
“Let’s face it, this place was built for 1960,” Mallamo said. “It was built for baseball and football came in 11 years later.”
Over the years, the constant complaint from visiting football teams was the lack of space in the visitors’ locker room. Mallamo said when the Raiders came to town, they would use their showers to store equipment until the third quarter. Then the equipment was cleared out in time for the post-game showering.
“Quarterbacks and stadiums both have shelf lives,” said San Francisco Parks and Recreation Director Phil Ginsburg. “And it is time to say goodbye.”
The Parks and Recreation Department, which runs Candlestick, will host several events in the year following Candlestick’s last game. One event will be a community day. The other, possibly a concert. Paul McCartney told San Francisco city leaders last summer he’d be interested in playing a sendoff show in the ‘Stick – the site of the Beatles final concert in 1966.
On Tuesday, city leaders opened the stadium up to journalists for a pre last game tour. Stadium director Mike Gay walked gingerly across the field, stopping at the hallowed North end zone where Dwight Clark made his famous leap and catch to beat Dallas in 1982.
But of his 35 years working in Candlestick, Gay said his favorite memory wasn't a sporting moment at all. It was Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1987.
“I think there was 87, 88,000 people in here,” Gay said. “And you could hear the lights hum from the towers - very peaceful crowd.”
Gay said he will miss the football games, the growing anticipation and adrenalin as modern day gladiators took the field in front of thousands of cheering fans.
Sometime in late 2014, the city will hand over the stadium to the Lenar Corporation which plans to implode the building and replace it with a housing development. So far, there are no plans for a plaque to mark the site of “the catch,” or the Beatles’ last show or even the stadium itself.
Mallamo said he would like to see a park or a soccer field somewhere in the development. A place where people could reminisce about the stadium that used to stand there. And the more-than half-century of memories still ride the famous bone-chilling winds drifting through the bones of the old place.