By Molly McCrea and Dennis O'Donnell

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — On Saturday Aug. 10, the San Francisco 49ers will play their first preseason game at Levi’s Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys and Bay Area football fans will get their first glimpse of the 2019 Niners.

Fifty years ago, on August 10, 1969, there was a historic preseason match: the 49ers battled the Cleveland Browns in the NFL’s first nationally-televised exhibition game and KPIX carried it.

“It’s an almost carnival-like atmosphere,” reported Barry Tompkins on August 8, 1969 from Husky stadium in Seattle where the game was played.

Tompkins worked for KPIX at the time.

“That was a big deal — to make a road trip with the 49ers? Wow!” laughed the veteran sportscaster.

On hand in 1969: the team’s number-one draft pick from Penn State, tight end Ted Kwalick.

“I’m looking forward to giving it a try and seeing what it’s all about,” Kwalick said to Tompkins back in 1969.

Kwalick laughed seeing himself in the old film. He remembers just how different it was to make it to the pros.

“You’re playing against the best and you’re in a league against the best,” commented the former 49ers player.

Fifty years ago, the Niners organization was quite different. The headquarters were in the old Jack Tar hotel on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco.

“It was still a mom and pop shop then. It wasn’t anything like it is now,” explained Tompkins. He said you could walk into the GM’s office, put your feet up on his desk and eat a sandwich.

The 49ers first played at Kezar Stadium, still located by Golden Gate Park.

Tompkins grew up in the Richmond District of San Francisco and could walk to the games.

“You could get in for nothing if you were a kid and bought Christopher Milk. There was tag on the Christopher Milk cartons that got you into a 49ers game free,” Tompkins remembered.

KEZAR MEMORIES: Veteran Sportscaster and former KPIX Sports Reporter Barry Tompkins shares some memories of going to Kezar stadium as a kid and when he reported on the 49ers

He recalled how the Niners would share the field with college and high school teams, turning the field into a muddy mess by mid-season.

In 1971, when the team switched to Candlestick Park, it was considered a step up but it was also a step onto AstroTurf.

“We didn’t mind falling on the grass but we did mind falling on the AstroTurf because it would give you burns and it would last for a whole season,” noted Kwalick.

“I think it was Dwight Clark who said it: It was a pig sty but it was our pig sty,” said Jerry Walker when KPIX asked him about his memories of The Stick. Walker is the archivist for the 49ers.

Walker loved Candlestick Park because of the legendary plays and big victories that occurred there. However, there were serious drawbacks.

“It was definitely old-school,” noted Walker. “A very old school with no heat,” he added.

“The old Mark Twain line is absolutely true. The coldest I can ever remember being was being on a sideline in the 49ers preseason game at Candlestick Park in July,” said Tompkins.

In 2015, when Candlestick was being demolished, the great former 49ers quarterback Joe Montana did not shed a single tear. He visited the site with KPIX and we asked him what thought, as he witnessed the stadium as it was being reduced to rubble.

“This is the best it’s every looked,” quipped Montana.
The switch to Levi’s Stadium brought a new state-of-the-art football venue to the team and the Bay Area.

Niners fan Walter Lopez got his first look at the facility while attending a recent open-training camp with his kids. He loved it.

“It’s just a beautiful new facility with all the latest technology,” the Anaheim resident marveled.

Over the years, there have been remarkable changes to the gear. From shoes to pads, what the players wear is dramatically lighter.

“Players are bigger, stronger, faster and I think one reason they’re faster is the equipment,” Walker said.

Today, there are so many ways to view a game: from streaming to HDTV. Tompkins is not sure it is for the better. He said television has complicated the game.

“Technology has changed things and technology has changed football as well,” said Tompkins.

One other huge difference in football is what the players eat. KPIX asked Kwalick how he and his teammates would nutritionally prepare before a game.

“We drank a lot of beer,” he laughed. “Back in the day there was really no nutrition. It was like ‘eat a big red steak” and you get ready for the game,” he continued.

Today, sports nutrition is packed with data-driven science

Over the years, one thing has never changed: the 49ers Faithful.

“It was a great feeling to go out on the field with 60,000 people cheering and to go on out and do your best,” said Kwalick

“You love to hear them screaming and yelling. You want to perform well for them,” noted Montana.

“That feeling that you get right before a kickoff and everybody is yelling and it just gives me the chills inside just thinking about it,” said current 49ers free safety Adrian Colbert.


Husky Stadium

Kezar Stadium

Kezar Stadium

Barry Tompkins

Candlestick Park


Levi’s Stadium

Levi’s® Stadium