Four Signs The Levi’s Stadium Experience Is Getting Better
Since opening up during the 2014 NFL season, Levi’s Stadium hasn’t fully developed into a home-field advantage situation for the San Francisco 49ers just yet. Out of the 32 total games played there, the 49ers have only come away with 12 victories at their young stadium. And whether it has been a variety of reasons from past bad 49ers teams since moving into Levi’s fans on the visiting side of the stadium complaining of the heat from the sun during more so the beginning parts of the NFL season, the “Field of Jeans” has yet to consistently offer the atmosphere that the 49ers’ previous home (Candlestick Park) had provided fans for 43 seasons.
But since acquiring quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots in exchange for a 2018 2nd-round draft pick on October 30, 2017, the fan experience at Levi’s Stadium has noticeably reached a level it had never been obtained previously in the past and everyone is enjoying the ride. It is amazing how one player (let alone a quarterback) can change the culture of a franchise. And despite being long eliminated from playoff contention, there is no question that Garoppolo provides the 49ers with hope in 2018 and going forward. Here are four legitimate reasons that Levi’s Stadium can eventually become a place that visiting opponents will dread coming to one day.
The Jimmy G Effect
Not to beat a dead horse, but Garoppolo has been nothing short of spectacular since taking over the reigns of signal caller Week 13 from rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard. An athlete who possesses great pocket awareness and the ability to make throws only few elite quarterbacks can make, Garoppolo has somehow made everyone on the 49ers offense look much better than previously shown through the first 11 games of the 2017 season. Some of that might have to do with a new group of players whom have been with the 49ers since Week 1 getting more acclimated with head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense as each week goes on, but those players are also buying into Garoppolo and what he can do on the football field. Not to be left out from players who have benefitted since “Jimmy G” hit the scene is the 49ers defensive side of the ball. Since taking over as the starting quarterback, three-and-out drives seem less common than they did during the Pre-Garoppolo Era. And in return, the 49ers defense are able to get more rest on the sidelines while Garoppolo strings together timely drives.
Garoppolo is 6-0 as a career starter (4-0 with the 49ers) and since coming to San Francisco has put on display unbelievable throws that have not been seen from a 49ers quarterback in a very long time. Ask yourself this…when was the last time you seen a quarterback who played for the 49ers not named Joe Montana or Steve Young (maybe even Jeff Garcia) and felt comfortable enough on a third-and-long play that they could deliver a first down? Exactly!
The fact that Garoppolo has only started six career football games leads one to believe that the former Eastern Illinois quarterback has a long way to go before he can be considered in the same sentence with legends such as Montana or Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (though some fans can’t help themselves and have already anointed Garoppolo the “Goat). Now having said that, you don’t back up one of the greatest of all-time in Brady for three and a half seasons without picking up pointers and techniques. There is no doubt that when anyone looks at Garoppolo running the 49ers offense that certain attributes such as footwork and pocket presence is very similar to Brady.
Whether the 49ers lock up Garoppolo with a long-term contract or give him the franchise tag, it’s very hard to envision the 49ers letting the newest sensation in Northern California walk away. Not to mention the 49ers are in excellent shape for 2018 with a projected $116 million in cap space, they can not only afford to pay Garoppolo what he wants but also go out and acquire key free agents. With the 49ers offense ending the season clicking really well, Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will make the necessary moves during the offseason to get the 49ers to the next level. And with the way Garoppolo is playing, just imagine how much he can accomplish with a few more offensive weapons to work with at his disposal.
Lynch Is Fan Friendly
Before last Sunday’s 44-33 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Lynch made a surprise appearances at various tailgate locations outside Levi’s Stadium and mangled with the Niner Faithful before the game. Accompanied by staff assistants who were throwing out free stuff like hats, t-shirts, blankets, etc., Lynch took the time out of his busy schedule to take photos with the fans and sign autographs out in the parking lots. This is a big deal in trying to bridge a positive relationship between fans and the 49ers front office. After seven grueling seasons with formers 49ers general manager Trent Baalke ruining (err…running) the show, it is clear that Lynch knows what it takes to win and will stop at nothing to make everyone within the Niner Empire happy.
Players (And Fans) Are Having Fun Again
The 49ers weren’t having a lot of fun as a team when they started 1-10 out of the gate, but nobody ever lost sight of the mission to get better as a unit and their patience seems to be finally paying off. Winning, of course, makes everything a lot more fun and during the 49ers four-game winning streak has been a classic example. For example, whenever a 49ers special teams tackle was made few of the players would run into the end zone and encourage the fans to get loud…and the crowd would instantly respond with a loud cheer. The energy transferred between 49er players and the Niner Faithful has been electric this whole month (this includes the previous two road games with the Chicago Bears and the Houston Texans that had good representation of 49er fans on the road). And each side will look to feed off each other one last time this season when the 49ers travel this Sunday to face playoff-bound division rival Los Angeles Rams.
As stated earlier the 49ers won’t be going to the postseason, but you would not think that if you attended either of the final two home games at Levi’s. The fact that the 49ers are finally playing as a team (plus the Jimmy G Effect) has piqued fans the Niner Faithful’s interest and everyone wants to be a part of the experience. The fans are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and they have every right to be excited about the upcoming future of the 49ers franchise.
The Niner Faithful came out in full force last Sunday against the Jaguars and gave Levi’s Stadium that Candlestick aura that had never been felt there before. They were so loud when the 49ers defense took the field that you would have thought it was San Francisco fighting for a playoff spot. Yes, Levi’s provided a playoff-type atmosphere last Sunday and proved that one day it can become that home-field advantage that the 49ers have missed since leaving “The ‘Stick”.
Barring something catastrophic, the 49ers are definitely on the up again and fans have every reason to be optimistic going into 2018 and beyond. Consider that Garoppolo is still learning the playbook, and one can only imagine what the fourth-year veteran can accomplish with a full offseason to study Shanahan’s offensive system. And with plenty of money to spend, upcoming draft picks as well as a destination plenty of free agents will want to consider, the Niner Empire is back!
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