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Memories of empty Gatorade bottles
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Scads of empty Gatorade bottles littered the practice football at Zuckerman Field.

That’s the one-time summer training camp of the San Francisco 49ers. From the late 1990s to 2002, the University of the Pacific catered to this proud NFL franchise.

The Niners held two practice sessions daily free to the public. Bleachers were often scattered with mostly fans trying to catch a glimpse of their favorite players.

The blowing of an air horn often signaled that a particular drill was over. From there, players would gather together and grab a quick drink to quench their thirst amid the scorching valley heat that often accompanied July and early August.

They would then toss down those empty bottles of Gatorade onto the practice field, with some hired hand nearby to gather up the recyclables.

For those of us attending those sessions, we pretty much knew the routine. There were a few surprises, including retired linebacker Matt Millen once making an appearance as a football referee.

On a few occasions, the Niners would conduct practices in Amos Alonzo Memorial Stadium. Fans could actually stand within spitting distance of the players during warm-ups. In fact, I can still recall zeroing in on a conversation between backup quarterbacks Tim Rattay and Rick Mirer. Both were blown away over the hefty contract that then-San Diego Charger QB Drew Brees had reportedly inked.

In the final year in Stockton, Jeff Garcia had emerged as the signal-caller in SF, following in some big footsteps. Since taking over from Steve Young – Young, who saw his career end on Monday Night Football in 1999, managed to eke out a hall-of-fame career after replacing the legendary Joe Montana –Garcia had made the jump from the Canadian Football League to a Top 5 QB in the NFL.

Yet, he was no Steve. He certainly wasn’t another Joe.

Garcia, who was a star at San Jose State, showed plenty of instinct for the position. He did enough prior to coming to San Francisco to impress then-GM Bill Walsh, who knew a thing or two about the quarterbacks.

Garcia’s voice was also distinct. It sounded a bit raspy when he was barking out the cadence: “Y…Ninety, Y…Ninety!”

But Garcia had nothing over the Soda Guy. He was a local vendor who would sell soft drinks to the fans seated in the bleachers in an oft-kilter manner. “PEP-si! Diet PEP-si! Spri-i-i-i-te!”

Whether you liked it or not, he caught your attention.

Those were some of the sights and sounds that I recall from my days of hanging out at Niners camp.

These days the team conducts the summer sessions at its regular practice facility in Santa Clara.

Most are closed to the public.
Zuckerman Field is no longer part of UOP. In its place is the Klein Family baseball facility.

Last week, Garcia was waived by the Oakland Raiders. But chances are good that he’ll latch on another club later this season.

The Niners haven’t been to the playoffs since those final days in Stockton.

Millen was a disaster as GM for the Detroit Lions.

Brees plays for the New Orleans Saints and is a Top 5 quarterback.

Pepsi Max and Pepsi One have joined the Pepsi / Diet Pepsi family. I’m not really sure if Sprite has any new company.

And I only buy Gatorade if it’s on sale.

But I still do my best to recycle.