When Willie, Wilt and Y.A. made Bay Area postseason debuts
Published: Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 7:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 7:39 p.m.
An NFL playoff game had arrived. Niners faithful buzzed with anticipation, burned with excitement. The stadium in San Francisco was sold out. The 49ers’ quarterback had had a breakout season; still, there were stubborn rumblings of support for the backup QB, a former first-round draft choice.
The date: Dec. 22, 1957. The place: Kezar Stadium.
The game featured a crowd of 60,118 on hand to watch the 49ers and Detroit Lions in the first pro sports postseason game in Bay Area history.
The Niners and Lions had finished in a first-place tie in the Western Conference at 8-4, each team earning a victory over the other. The winner of the playoff would host the Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Browns, featuring rookie running back sensation Jim Brown, for the NFL title the following week.
Y.A. Tittle, coming off an All-Pro regular season, threw two first-quarter touchdown passes, 34 yards to R.C. Owens and 47 yards to Hugh McElhenny, and the Niners took a 14-0 lead. When Gordie Soltau kicked a 10-yard field goal (back in the day, goalposts were on the goal line, not the end zone’s end line) early in the third quarter, the 49ers took a 27-7 lead and looked for all the world like they were headed to the NFL championship game.
But history tells us the Lions rallied, Tittle was intercepted three times, coach Frankie Albert kept Stanford product John Brodie on the bench and the Niners lost 31-27. Detroit went on to win the NFL championship, something the Lions haven’t done since. Still, quite a memorable game, even if it does leave a sour taste in the mouths of some Bay Area old-timers.
Other professional postseason firsts in the Bay Area:
The first big-league baseball postseason game played in the Bay Area was on Oct. 1, 1962, at Candlestick Park (before it was enclosed), before a crowd of 32,660, when the Giants hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first game of a best-of-3 National League playoff. Willie Mays hit a first-inning homer off Sandy Koufax, Billy Pierce pitched a three-hit shutout and the Giants won, 8-0.
Except, technically, that wasn’t really the first big-league postseason game played in the Bay Area. In the era before divisional play, if a playoff was needed to determine a league champion, those games counted as part of the regular season.
So, the first official big-league postseason baseball game played in the Bay Area was on Oct. 4, 1962, before a crowd of 43,852 at the ’Stick, when the Giants hosted the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the World Series. Whitey Ford outpitched Billy O’Dell, and the Giants lost, 6-2. The Series would go seven games, with the Giants losing the finale 1-0 at home.
The first NBA postseason game played in the Bay Area was on April 1, 1964. The Warriors, finishing their second season in San Francisco after moving from Philadelphia, hosted the St. Louis Hawks at the Cow Palace in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals before a crowd of 5,231. (Where was the playoff fever?) The Warriors got 37 points from Wilt Chamberlain but lost, 116-111. The Warriors went on to win the series in seven games, then lost to the Boston Celtics in five games in the NBA Finals.
The first NHL Stanley Cup playoff game played in the Bay Area was on April 2, 1969, when the Oakland Seals (still a year away from changing their name to the California Golden Seals) hosted the first game of a best-of-7 series against the Los Angeles Kings at the Oakland Coliseum Arena before a crowd of 5,449 (well, at least they outdrew the 1964 Warriors). The Seals tied the game 4-4 on Gene Ubriaco’s goal with 2:33 remaining in regulation. But the Seals lost, 5-4, in overtime, and would go on to lose the series in seven games.
And the first postseason pro soccer match played in the Bay Area was on Aug. 20, 1976, at Spartan Stadium in San Jose when the San Jose Earthquakes, North American Soccer League Southern Division champions, defeated the Dallas Tornado 2-0. The Quakes, who averaged 19,826 fans to home games that season, would go on to lose on the road in the conference championship, 3-1 to the Minnesota Kicks.
Except, technically, that might not have been the first postseason professional soccer match played in the Bay Area. Depends on whether your soccer preferences are outdoor or indoor and what your “postseason” standards are.
For the record, NASL held a 16-team indoor tournament in the winter of 1975, with regional winners meeting in a final-four style championship. On March 16 at the Cow Palace, the Earthquakes defeated the Tampa Bay Rowdies 8-5. San Jose’s Paul Child and Gabbo Garvic were tournament co-MVPs.
Robert Rubino can be reached at email@example.com.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.