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Barber: 49ers looking for 1st signature win at Levi's Stadium

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SANTA CLARA — Let’s discuss the greatest 49ers win in the history of Levi’s Stadium. First, we need to identify that win.

Here are some candidates.

Sept. 14, 2015: The Niners come out on top in their Santa Clara debut, beating the Dallas Cowboys 28-17 under coach Jim Harbaugh in a sparkling Monday night opener.

Dec. 24, 2017: Rejuvenated by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, acquired in a trade two months earlier, the 49ers survive a fourth-quarter scare and beat the playoff-bound Jacksonville Jaguars 44-33.

Nov. 1, 2018: The 49ers earn bragging rights by dismantling the Raiders 34-3 in a Thursday night game.

Oct. 7, 2019: San Francisco chops down the much-hyped Cleveland Browns, sacking Baker Mayfield four times in a 34-3 Monday win.

Nov. 17, 2019: Garoppolo throws four touchdown passes and the 49ers pull away from the Arizona Cardinals to run their record to 9-1.

I know what you’re thinking right about now. I’m offering you an album, and it’s Captain & Tennille’s Greatest Hits. The 49ers have won 20 regular-season games since moving into Levi’s Stadium in 2014 (they are 20-25 overall), and not one of those wins stands up as a classic. As the five aforementioned candidates suggest, the Niners’ home victories since they abandoned Candlestick Park have been inconsequential, too early in the season to feel important or at the expense of mediocre opposition — and sometimes all three.

In other words, over 5½ seasons, this team has yet to log a signature win at Levi’s.

Oh, it’s had a couple signature losses. You know about Thanksgiving Day 2014, when the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, both 7-4 at the time, met here in a battle for the inside track to a playoff position. (It’s easy to forget that both trailed the Cardinals in the NFC West at the time.) That one felt important. Unfortunately for the home fans, the Seahawks won 19-3 and ate themselves into a post-prandial stupor on the field afterward.

The Seahawks added insult to insult two Sundays ago. The 49ers entered the game 8-0; Seattle was 7-2. The Niners had a chance to assert their dominance in the division, but their mistakes allowed Seattle to escape, 27-24, in an overtime thriller.

So if you’re keeping score at home (or away): The Seahawks have two really big wins at Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers have zero.

This record must be factored into the tarnished reputation of the Levi’s crowd. Before the 49ers found a groove this season, it had become increasingly easy for opposing fans to find affordable tickets for games here. And even when things are going well for the team, the many empty seats on the east side of the stadium are glaring (literally, during afternoon games). Throw in the poor acoustics of the bowl, and Levi’s has become known as an all-too-friendly environment for road teams.

That’s a sharp contrast to Candlestick, which could be cold and dumpy and loud-loud-loud. But can we really blame Levi’s Stadium or the 49ers’ reconfigured fan base for the diminished atmosphere?

In their final year at the ’Stick, the Niners started the season there with a season-opening win against the Green Bay Packers, a reigning division champion, and later added a rugged 19-17 victory against the Seahawks, who would go on to win the Super Bowl. The year before that, the 49ers had finished the regular season by beating Arizona by the bay to clinch the NFC West title, and followed two weeks later with a home playoff win against Green Bay.

All of those results were bigger than anything the 49ers have claimed since September 2014. So give the fans a break — or give yourself a break. The Niners are only now establishing a winning tradition in Santa Clara. If they can sustain it, the crowd noise will follow. In fact, it has already improved substantially.

“It’s like a totally different stadium,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said Wednesday on 95.7 The Game. “It’s a totally different fan base this year. It’s been so much fun. I can’t stress to the fans enough how we appreciate it and what a toll that can take on the opposing team. On third down, it is deafening out there, and it’s awesome.”

Face it, Levi’s will never be Candlestick. Modern stadiums, and modern sports spectators, are built differently. But it can become a significant advantage for the 49ers. A truly memorable win will help establish that.

Which brings us to Sunday’s game against the Packers, a game attractive enough to be flexed to prime time. This isn’t an early-season sparring match; football weather has arrived, with dry leaves blowing in the wind. This isn’t a game without consequence; it has certain postseason implications for both sides. And this isn’t the Big Ben-less Steelers stumbling into town as sacrificial lambs.

The Packers are legit. They are 8-2. In the NFC, only the 49ers have a better record. They have a dangerous pass rush that is certain to impede Jimmy Garoppolo. And they have Aaron Rodgers, who at 36 remains one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, whether he’s throwing on rhythm in the pocket or creating improvisational magic. The Packers don’t have a single turnover in their past four games.

So yes, this could be it. If the 49ers win Sunday, they will have their signature Levi’s win. The kind that makes the people watching on TV think, “I want a piece of that.” The kind that makes fathers and sons and mothers and daughters look back in 10 years and smile at what they shared that night.

The signature is right there on the page. All the 49ers need is the win.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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