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.