SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds could read the nerves all over Roger Craig.
So the veteran linebacker pulled the young running back aside in the Stanford Stadium locker room a couple of hours before Super Bowl kickoff 31 years ago.
“Hacksaw just said, ‘Hey, don’t be afraid, play every play like it’s going to be your last,’” Craig recalled. “He got in my ear. Coming from him, that was huge. Hacksaw saw something special in me.”
A few hours later, so did the world. Craig ran for a touchdown and caught two more from Joe Montana in a 38-16 thrashing of Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins.
As the Super Bowl returns to the technology-rich, football-crazed Bay Area for the first time since then to celebrate its 50th edition, Craig can’t help but reflect on how different the NFL’s biggest show has become.
The hype, the entertainment, parties galore.
It’s big money, too. The NFL Ticket Exchange list price for the Feb. 7 game at Levi’s Stadium was $4,388, with the average resale price per ticket a whopping $5,215.
And how about the NFL Experience back in 1985?
“We didn’t have that. The only experience we had, we kicked Miami’s butt really good,” Craig recalled. “That was a good experience that we won and put on a great show.”
Fans arriving at the San Francisco airport and heading into the city this coming week will no longer see iconic Candlestick Park perched on the point. It was torn down last year. Now, it’s all about $1.3 billion, second-year Levi’s Stadium, a humongous, impressive site as generic as they come.
“They worked very hard for it, pro and con — I’ve seen both on the stadium,” former 49ers owner and Hall of Fame finalist Edward DeBartolo Jr. said. “For the Bay Area, it’s just phenomenal. It’s so deserving. I wish it didn’t take so long to come back.”
The 49ers’ former home still brings back memories of the franchise’s rich Super Bowl history under DeBartolo: San Francisco captured five Lombardi Trophies. The Niners missed a sixth title in a three-point loss to Baltimore in February 2013 in New Orleans.
There will be more private jets flying in, technology companies pushing their products, and the festivities stretching north into wine country as big spenders fork out tens of thousands of dollars to attend the game in high style.
“This is a Bay Area Super Bowl, not a city, the whole Bay Area,” Craig said. “Probably from Pebble Beach to Sonoma.”
It’s a two-NFL team market again here, with the Oakland Raiders moving back in 1995. But they need a new stadium and could be leaving the area once more — and soon.
The Niners finished an 18-1 season that year, with only a three-point loss to Pittsburgh. Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers are looking to become just the third team — the Chicago Bears did it in 1985 — to go 18-1 and win the Super Bowl.
Craig rented a limousine right after the Super Bowl to take his wife from Stanford to dinner in San Francisco, a mistake given the rush of fans and the fact he missed a postgame party with his teammates, who gave him some good-natured grief.
Now 55 and a running buff working for the software company Tibco, Craig naturally has fond memories of that championship run. He then caught a career-high 92 passes the following season as a third-year pro.
“We accomplished something special because it was in our backyard and we were able to win big in our backyard,” Craig said. “Of course Dan Marino had a record-setting year that year, 48 touchdowns and 5,000 yards. They didn’t give our defense a chance.”
Former 49ers offensive lineman Guy McIntyre figures there were a modest 150 media members for that 1985 Super Bowl week.
“It wasn’t as hyped, the fanfare, the big buildup wasn’t as great as it is now,” said McIntyre, a three-time Super Bowl champion and five-time Pro Bowler still working for the 49ers. “Then, because we were here and we were living here, we went about our normal day-to-day routine to the best of our ability.”
McIntyre finds it eerie that the weather 31 years ago was quite similar to the rainy El Nino pattern hitting the Bay Area this winter after recent years of drought.
Not much else seems the same. The ‘Stick, where the Niners played from 1971-2013, with all its quirks and those unforgettable swirling winds, never hosted a Super Bowl, yet was such a part of all those dominant teams.
“The landscape, Candlestick was not part of the Super Bowl, but that whole stadium no longer exists,” McIntyre said. “It’s been 31 years. A lot has changed in the Bay Area.”
Craig is ready to see the “show.”
“The NFL has done an outstanding job of creating this event that was worldwide, which is pretty amazing,” he said. “This is going to be a big deal.”