Ken Norton Jr. has seen Candlestick Park from every possible vantage point.
First, it was as an opposing player. That’s when Norton was a Pro Bowl linebacker for the Cowboys from 1988-93, when Dallas won the 1992 NFC Championship game against the 49ers at the Stick, 30-20.
Then, it was as a Pro Bowl linebacker for the 49ers from 1994-2000, when San Francisco won the 1994 NFC Championship game against the Cowboys at the Stick, 38-28.
Now, Norton is the linebackers coach for the division rival Seahawks.
So Sunday, he’ll see the venerable venue that opened in 1960 for the last time. The 49ers will move into their new digs – Levi’s Stadium – in Santa Clara next season. It’s not the last regular-season game at Candlestick. That will happen Dec. 23, when the 49ers host the Atlanta Falcons. But it will be the final game for the Seahawks at Candlestick, where they’ve been facing the 49ers since winning a preseason game there in 1977.
Since Candlestick Park opened in 1960 as the new home of the Giants when they moved from Brooklyn, many stars have played at or played the venue:
“No question, it’s always special,” Norton said. “The first time I went there it was special. So now that a stadium like that is going to be gone, it certainly takes you down memory lane.”
In addition to the matchups with the 49ers as a Cowboy and then the Cowboys as a 49er, Norton’s memory-lane trip includes memorable games against the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams, as well as the games he played with Jerry Rice, Steve Young and so many other great players who have taken the field at Candlestick in the iconic home uniform of the 49ers.
“Just all those moments we’ve had there,” he said. “And then it goes back even before me with Joe Montana and Dwight Clark and that whole deal (‘The Catch’ for the game-winning score in the 1981 NFC Championship game).”
Candlestick Park has hosted nine conference championship games and 19 other playoffs games.
“It’s been extremely special,” Norton said. “And that stadium has been very good to me and to a lot of 49ers. Some great moments there, just for myself – playing Dallas, playing Green Bay, playing Minnesota in the playoffs, playing our championship games.
“And then just the home-field advantage. Sometimes the fog comes in at night. It’s a little bit rainy. It’s a little bit muddy down there. Teams have to wear their long cleats, they can’t stand it.”
Pete Carroll’s Candlestick memories go back even farther. The Seahawks’ fourth-year coach grew up in the Bay Area and went to Giants baseball games there as a kid, when the 49ers were still playing at Kezar Stadium. Carroll later coached for the 49ers, as the defensive coordinator in 1995-96.
“It was really cool to be part of that growing up, being born in San Francisco and all that. It’s special,” Carroll said. “It’s cool to go back there. It’s been a big part of my youth.”
And Carroll, now 62, will go back there one last time, with so much on the line. With a victory, the Seahawks clinch the NFC West title and a first-round bye in the playoffs – against the team that has won the division the past two seasons and went to the Super Bowl last season.
It seems a fitting last visit for Carroll, Norton and their players to Candlestick, a stadium that has seen so much that they’ll see one last time.
“It’s a really, really special place,” Norton said.