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Kezar Stadium

When the 1920’s began, discussions began for a new sports venue in San Francisco. In 1922, the estate of Mary A. Kezar donated $100,000 to the San Francisco Park Commission to build a memorial for her late mother and relatives. An additional $200,000 was raised to finish the project and construction began on the grounds of the old Park nursery and stable yard. The stadium officially opened on May 2, 1925 with dedication ceremonies and a two mile race between two of the best runners of the era, Ville Ritola and Paavo Nurmi of Finland. In addition to track and field, Kezar also hosted motorcycle and auto racing, boxing matches, rugby, lacrosse, soccer, baseball, and cricket.

The first big event in the stadium was the 1928 city championship game between San Francisco Polytechnic and Lowell High School which drew 50,000 spectators and is still a Northern California record for a high school game. Kezar also began hosting the annual East-West Shrine Game starting in 1925, beginning a lengthy affair with the historic game. In total, Kezar would host the East-West Shrine Game from 1925 to 1941, 1943 to 1968 and 1971 to1973. The stadium saw many future NFL greats playing in their final collegiate game within the confines of the beloved stadium. Greats such as Forrest Gregg, Hugh McElhenny, Dick Butkus and Alan Page made the game worth watching.

From the beginning, a number of college teams made Kezar their home including Saint Mary’s (1927), USF (1930) and Santa Clara (1935). College dominated the region in those days. With Stanford and Cal battling out their rivalry in their own stadiums, Kezar played host to some legendary teams who have since faded from memory. Santa Clara had the most national recognition in those days, winning two Sugar Bowls in the 1930’s and an Orange Bowl in January of 1950. In 1948, the Broncos defeated the University of Oklahoma 20-17 at Kezar Stadium; Oklahoma would go on to finish the season ranked fifth in the nation.

The 49ers were formed in 1946 and began to take the heart of San Francisco. Though they only made one playoff appearance between 1946 and 1970, they won over the city’s heart with a consistent will to win. The City by the Bay found it hard to forget the Million Dollar Backfield and the glory of the 1950’s, where seemingly every game was an exciting affair. It was around this time when Saint Mary’s (1950) and Santa Clara (1952) left Kezar as their home, leaving just the University of San Francisco as its sole collegiate tenants.

Rocky Marciano fought against Don Cockell on May 16, 1955; it was the second to last fight of Marciano’s career. The Kezar crowd especially enjoyed watching some of the game’s greats battle it out every Sunday against their heroes. Players such as Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas and Deacon Jones roamed Kezar’s muddy field.

One of the unique features of the stadium was a long dark underground tunnel which led to the field. Fans loved to pour beer and throw other object on even their own players who were coming out of the tunnel. It became so bad that the 49ers were forced to put up chicken wire to combat the effects of the foreign objects. While behavior was rude, it linked the team to the city in a memorable fashion. While the fans griped about losing seasons, the 49ers were building a contender which would leave the fans at Kezar in love with the team. The 49ers would close out their time at Kezar by hosting the very first NFC Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys. Although 49ers would lose that game and move to Candlestick Park for the 1971 season, they had finally won over their fans.

The University of San Francisco would leave the following year and Kezar would remain the home of high school football. Shortly after the 49ers departure, scenes from Dirty Harry were filmed there and it also became a popular concert venue, hosting the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Doobie Brothers and Bob Dylan along with a host of many more famous performers.

After the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989, most Kezar Stadium was demolished and left in its wake is a 10,000 seat stadium perfectly fit for high school football. The old locker rooms still exist as does the long, dark tunnel. It is the home of Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory and remains a popular attraction for high school football, college lacrosse and women’s professional soccer.

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