Paul Kitagaki Jr./ pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Fans cheer the 49ers as they take the field against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night. In the parking lot before the game, Carol Gioia tailgated under a tent with a red banner that stated: “Goodbye Candlestick Park.” “It’s bittersweet for me,” said Gioia, 63, of San Jose. “I’ve been doing this for 26 years.” Gioia said she won’t renew her season tickets at the new stadium – “I can’t afford to do it” – but she still intends to tailgate in parking lots of the businesses nearby. “We’ll have the crowd noise,” she said. “Candlestick Park has seen better days, but the memories – you can’t take those away from us. We’ve collected a lot of memorabilia, a lot of good friends.” Harry Edwards, the Bay Area sociologist and longtime consultant for the 49ers, said that was one of the draws of the stadium, often panned for outdated facilities and unfriendly conditions. “It really became a focus of community,” Edwards said, “much the same way as a tremendous house of worship.” One moment that stands out, Edwards said, came in December 1998. The 49ers were about to play the Detroit Lions and running back Barry Sanders, who, like 49ers running back Garrison Hearst, wore No. 20. “I walked up to Garrison in the locker room and said, ‘This place is packed. Everybody’s coming out here to see No. 20 put on an unforgettable show,’ ” Edwards said. “He looked up at me and said, ‘Doc, I’m going to do everything I can not to disappoint.’ ” Hearst rushed for 198 yards that day in a 35-13 49ers win. Afterward, Edwards saw him walking off the field. “I walked past him and said, ‘Hey Garrison, I love a man of his word,’ ” Edwards said. “He said, ‘I haven’t broken it yet.’ “I got all those kinds of memories.”

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