Monday night, the 49ers and Falcons played the last scheduled game at Candlestick Park. Thanks for all the great memories, Candlestick.
Wait. Did I say memories? I meant nightmares.
I became the sports book manager at Reno’s Club Cal Neva in June, 1981. The San Francisco 49ers were coming off a 6-10 record in 1980 under newly appointed head coach Bill Walsh.
Joe Montana, a third round draft choice out of Notre Dame, had split the quarterbacking duties with Steve DeBerg in ’80, but would be the starter for the ’81 version of the Niners. I knew a little more about Montana than most fans, but I’ll get to that later.
There was reason for promise under Walsh and his young protégé. The Bay Area dominates the Reno gaming market and fans had no hesitation backing their squad in the future book. Once the season started, they backed the 49ers on a weekly basis as well. Why shouldn’t they? They seemed to win and/or cover every game.
Just my luck, ESPN wrangled this final Candlestick contest for their Monday Night Football finale. The World Wide Leader creates publicity as well as they cover sports. Needless to say, “The Catch” was prominently shown.
While I watched for the millionth time this week Joe Montana’s pass to Dwight Clark in the corner of Candlestick’s end zone to beat the Cowboys, I felt the salt in the wounds of that cut all over again.
Two weeks later the 49ers won the Super Bowl beating the Bengals 26-20. My first season as a bookmaker was just short of a disaster. Thankfully I had bosses who understood.
Had I conjured up the spirit of some wise old bookmaker, I’m sure he would have told me not to worry. You’re in this for the long haul. Things will get better.
Sorry, Ghost of Bookmakers Past, you’re a liar. It only got worse.
Montana’s 49ers went on to win three more Super Bowls. Steve Young replaced him and added one more. They had great regular seasons along the way, too.
So many customers would tell me they came to Reno, put 50% of their bankroll on the 49ers, maybe threw a little on the over and made a parlay, and that paid for their trip. Yeah, eight regular season home games at the Stick, and usually a couple playoff games on top of that. Good times, good times.
Sure, the 49ers hurt bookmakers all over the country during that stretch, but no one got the brunt of it like Reno. I’m proud of the fact that I grew that business to the point where our sports books wrote a majority of the action in Northern Nevada. Although there were a lot of weeks I would have loved to have spread it around a little bit.
The Giants caused a little pain, too, but never to the level of the 49ers. The 1993 team won 103 games and thankfully missed the playoffs. A Giants’ World Series that season would have been agony.
Now, back to Joe Montana. Joe and I are both from Western Pennsylvania and almost the exact same age. He went to Ringgold High School, I went to Churchill. Ordinarily our schools don’t play one another in football, but due to some outside issues we did in 1972, our junior years.
I wasn’t on the field playing, however I was in the stands booking action on the game. I made Churchill a three-point favorite.
That day, there was a rainstorm that hampered playing conditions badly. Ringgold went out to a 14-0 lead that looked insurmountable under the circumstances. Late in the game Ringgold with future Super Bowl winning QB Montana at the helm turned the ball over twice.
Churchill scored off both turnovers, eschewed the tie and went for two on the second touchdown. They converted and went ahead 15-14. The Churchill defense then prevented Montana from pulling out a late victory that has since become his trademark.
My school won and the kids who bet Churchill -3 all lost. If I were writing my own obituary I would have it in the first paragraph. “The day I middled Joe Montana.”
It doesn’t make up for all the torture Candlestick Park, and primarily Montana, put me through over the years, but at least it’s something.
So Candlestick, good-bye and good riddance.
Chris Andrews has over 30 years of experience as a bookmaker in Nevada. Check out his new website at www.againstthenumber.com and www.sharpssports.com. You can follow him on Twitter@AndrewsSports. Contact Chris at [email protected].com.