The biggest issue with Levi’s Stadium hasn’t been the traffic, turf or temperature.
It has been the tenants.
The 49ers are 9-16 at home since moving in there in 2014, and Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of their last win at Levi’s. On Sunday, with their 23-3 loss to the Panthers, they set a franchise record with their eighth straight home loss, breaking a mark established in 1963.
The point: It’s far easier for East-side-sitting fans to focus on melting down in their seats when the home team is melting down on the field.
This is not to dismiss real problems. On Monday, The Chronicle’s Ann Killion reported the 49ers have engaged a stadium architecture firm “to investigate feasible solutions to address concerns regarding warm weather days.”
But winning cures a lot, if not everything. And the lack of success at Levi’s has significantly amplified the complaining about its imperfections.
This question was recently posed on Twitter: What is the best 49ers’ moment/game at Levi’s? Amid a few serious responses, the replies were heavy on sarcasm, including free food at a training-camp practice in August; the Seahawks eating Thanksgiving turkey at midfield in 2014; and an elusive fan running on the field in the 2016 opener.
But the following is a no-snark, one-man’s-opinion list of the best five moments or games at Levi’s. It drives home the point: Fans’ game-day experience hasn’t been enhanced by the games.
Carlos Hyde’s spin-move TD run (Sept. 14, 2015)
Candlestick’s top moment is The Catch. Call this The Can’t Catch Me.
In a 28-0 season-opening win over the Vikings, Hyde turned Houdini on a 10-yard touchdown run that broke a scoreless tie. On a garden-variety, off-tackle run to the right, Hyde, 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage, was encircled by five defenders.
His solution? He did a 360-degree pirouette that left them flat-footed — and left defensive end Everson Griffen comically tackling air before running into a teammate. Hyde capped it by reversing field and soaring, Superman-style, into the end zone. It didn’t match Steve Young’s winding run through Minnesota defenders at Candlestick in 1988, but it was legitimately memorable moment at Levi’s.
First win at Levi’s Stadium (Sept. 28, 2014)
A team with Super Bowl aspirations avoided a 1-3 start by overcoming an 11-point, second-quarter deficit to beat the Eagles 26-21, thanks to a goal-line stand in the final minutes.
Before the late-game drama, there was a jaw-dropping play: In the second quarter, Colin Kaepernick rolled left and flicked an off-balance, off-his-back-foot, across-the-field, what-is-he-thinking pass to Frank Gore, who sprinted the final 42 yards to complete an improbable 55-yard touchdown.
Safety Antoine Bethea was named the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in his game, and he credited part of his success to studying. Bethea was calling out the Eagles’ plays before the snap two years before the Eagles’ play-caller, Chip Kelly, lasted just one season as the 49ers’ head coach … partly because his offense was deemed too predictable.
Craig Dahl hands Jim Harbaugh ball (Dec. 28, 2014)
Can a top moment come from the meaningless final game of a head coach who went 44-19-1 and was fired shortly after the final whistle because of massive franchise dysfunction?
And: Hey, you try to come up with five of these.
After Dahl’s late-game interception secured an 8-8 season and 20-17 win over the Cardinals, he handed the just-secured ball to Harbaugh, who was drenched in a Gatorade bath by Quinton Patton and Nick Moody moments later as fans roared in appreciation.
It was a sweet and significant moment amid a bitter end.
Colin Kaepernick’s 90-yard touchdown run (Dec. 20, 2014)
At his peak — and even during the start of the downturn in 2014 — Kaepernick could be worth the price of admission, even at Levi’s prices.
Case in point: In the third quarter of 38-35 loss to the Chargers, Kaepernick dropped back to the 1-yard line, was flushed to his right because of pressure, was grazed by a defender at the 7-yard line, but was otherwise untouched as he bolted up the middle of the field for a 90-yard run.
It was the second-longest run by a quarterback in NFL history and the last how-did-he-do-that play of Kaepernick’s six-year tenure with the 49ers: He didn’t have a run more than 30 yards in his final 20 starts.
Shaun Draughn’s stiff-arm TD (Sept. 12, 2016)
OK, this isn’t all that memorable, but, well, that’s the point.
The 49ers opened the Kelly era with a 28-0 prime-time win over the Rams and this play symbolized their domination.
In the second quarter, Draughn took a shotgun handoff and swept left where he was met 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage by safety T.J. McDonald. No problem: Draughn tossed McDonald to the ground with a hellacious stiff-arm and galloped into the end zone on a 3-yard scoring run.
As Draughn turned the corner and gave the 49ers a 14-0 lead, it was fair to wonder if the 49ers could turn the corner with their latest new head coach.
But 366 days later, they have moved to their latest new head coach and have zero wins at Levi’s since this game.
Would a long-awaited victory cool off fans? Would success shift some focus off the stadium? The 49ers would like to know.