Not only are Jerry Rice and Steve Young showing up at 49ers practices, they’re suddenly prominent at home games as well.
Responding to fan critiques that 4-year-old Levi’s Stadium was too bland and didn’t have enough of a home-stadium feel, the 49ers added 100 portraits and banners, installed a ring of honor atop their suite tower and added splashes of the very thing around which the franchise was named: gold.
Said team president Al Guido: “A lot of people kept saying, ‘You know, we need to add some gold into the building. It feels like it was red and white. And we’re not the Arizona Cardinals. We’re the San Francisco 49ers – so where’s all the gold?’ ”
A.J. Bolino has been a season-ticket holder since 2006. He said he noticed the changes right away, especially the ring of honor, when he settled into his seats before Saturday’s preseason game.
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The display features the jersey numbers, from Young’s No. 8 to Charles Haley’s No. 94, of the 20 former 49ers who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“That was, I thought, a pretty classy touch,” said Bolino, 45. “… I know that some people might think it’s kind of cheesy. And, yeah, it probably could be. But for a long time I think the 49ers were working so hard to build this new aura around the team that they really missed out on connecting the dots to what was already a super-rich legacy.”
The stadium enhancements coincide with an effort to embrace past greats more so than in recent years.
Both Young and Rice spoke to players before a recent practice, and Rice, 54, even laced up his cleats and got on the field with wideouts and cornerbacks who weren’t born when he was named Super Bowl MVP in the 1988-89 season.
“They told them what the 49er Way is and it was awesome,” general manager John Lynch said. “I was sitting up here watching, I was proud of our guys because they were just spellbound. And so, why not take advantage? Denver every day gets to look at John Elway and he’s a big part of their history. So why not embrace that? And it’s something we’re doing and we’re going to continue to do.”
Guido said the stadium initially was light on nostalgia because the team thought its museum would be the best way to honor the past. But fan surveys – about 150,000 of them over the last three years – revealed a call for more history and color.
Perhaps the most striking additions are the large banners in the main concourse that depict great moments in the team’s history.
One, of course, shows “The Catch,” Dwight Clark’s leaping touchdown grab in the 1981-82 NFC Championship that cemented a victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Another is titled “Young Gets Away Again,” a nod to broadcaster Lon Simmons’ call in 1988, when the 49ers quarterback seemed to duck and dodge every Minnesota Vikings defender on the field on his way to a game-winning, 49-yard touchdown run.
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman’s “Pick at the ’Stick” – an 89-yard interception return during the last game at Candlestick Park – also is featured. So is the moment when Rice broke Jim Brown’s touchdown record on Sept. 5, 1994.
“That one got Jerry’s approval,” Guido said while pointing at the banner.