SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A ticket to the game of a lifetime at Candlestick Park ended with the theft of a lifetime memory, just days before Christmas. As Stephen Schilling leapt to his feet to cheer the game-winning interception that sent the 49ers to the playoffs Monday night, a thief ripped a family heirloom off the back of his stadium seat, and sneaked away into the roar of the crowd.
A gold and red 49ers jacket is nothing unusual in the windswept stadium, but what made this one special is it’s been coming to this stadium for decades, usually on the back of Stephen Schilling’s father, William.
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William Schilling worked for Southern Pacific railroad and the city of San Francisco after World War II, until his retirement. He helped build the city, and his love for his city’s team was passed along to his family.
When he died in 2005 at age 89, his son took on the mantle of 49er fanaticism, carrying on the tradition of wearing the old gold and red jacket to every game.
“That jacket, originally my Dad’s, was one of the only items of his I still had,” Schilling said.
As the family has been season ticket holders since the 1970s, this jacket is as much a part of the history as the stadium itself. Stephen, age 68, and his sister where there when the Beatles played their last concert, and for every historic 49er game you can recall.
“Sometimes the value to that person is priceless, and the minor act of ripping it away from that owner imparts a pain much greater than the actual value,” Schilling said. “It was a final ‘act’ on a great night, and to some degree stole something from me of my memories at the ‘Stick,’ that included many years of games, lots of playoffs including NFC Championships, two Super Bowls, Giants games, a World Series (1962), an All-Star game, and a couple No-hitters.”
Stephen was born in 1946, the same year the 49ers got their start. He’s a San Francisco native who now runs a non-profit in Bakersfield. He and his late dad had that rare father-son bond that makes football such a part of the fabric of American culture.
Like most football fans, he won’t talk about the emotions of the game, but daughter Mari Schilling tells CBS that the family uses the same escalator every time, in a pre-game ritual going back decades. And every time Schilling ascends the escalator that he and his father rode, he quietly sobs, overcome with the emotion of all the loving memories shared in their family seats, watching the men in red and gold take the field. As his father aged, Stephen would help steady his dad, with a strong hand on his waist, making the ascent a few final times before his passing.
The pending demise of the stadium is like losing part of the family for the Schillings. But losing the patriarch’s jacket, the jacket from the man who introduced the family traditions, and the jacket which lived through the decades as a woven remembrance of the man who wore it, is the most devastating blow.
Schilling said, “The jacket hardly fit me anymore (too small by a size), and my wife said yesterday when we left Bakersfield that I probably didn’t need to take it, but I insisted, as it was important to wear it at the last game at the Stick.”
The Schillings have reported to the 49ers organization, and even searched eBay and Craigslist for it, but the bigger loss is that of their trust. The concept that someone could have so betrayed them in their beloved stadium, in their beloved seats for a jacket that won’t carry any meaning for the culprit is too much.
Mari Schilling said she hopes Levi’s Stadium will work to reduce crime, “…Instilling in every game watcher, ever tailgater, … that we should treat others as we want to be treated.” She said, “I see the 49ers not as a sports team, but as a business capable of influencing the public.”
And, she still holds hope for a Christmas miracle and the return of the beloved 49ers jacket.
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