By Bruce Newman, San Jose Mercury News
SANTA CLARA — At times it seemed like an amazing music festival with occasional — less successful — football interludes. But no matter what anybody says about Super Bowl 50, a game with more three-and-outs than thrills, it produced an almost-perfect day and an unforgettable experience for 77,000 fans Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.
The NFL, which spends millions of dollars plotting and planning to prevent every catastrophe that could possibly befall its annual showcase, almost certainly had a plan in place for a sod-busting El Niño downpour. But more than any other part of the gameday experience, including the Broncos’ 24-10 victory, the weather was perfect.
The sun tracked across a cloudless sky, with gametime temperature of 76 degrees — tying the previous record high from 1963, three years before the first Super Bowl. It was the kind of glorious day Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews didn’t even dare dream of when Levi’s Stadium was awarded the golden game.
“Everything went perfectly,” Matthews said by phone from his home after the game. The mayor, it turns out, is not a football fan, although he allowed that he watched it on TV. “After four years of drought, rain was not at the forefront of my list of worries. I expected we would have the kind of beautiful weather we’re accustomed to in February. And we got it.”
The eastern stands at Levi’s Stadium had become a notorious tanning salon during the San Francisco 49ers first two seasons there, taking a direct hit from the afternoon sun. So the Dignity Health First Aid Center had handed out nearly all of its sunscreen supply shortly before kickoff as upper-deck fans prepared for the blast.
Heidi Mendenhall, who traveled from Charlotte to back the Panthers, said the stadium was beautiful but the sun was an issue for nearly the entire first half. “If you’re on the sunny side, it’s kind of the pits,” she said. In Charlotte, she added, the stadium has picnic tables for early arriving fans to eat and escape the sun. “Ya’ll don’t have any picnic tables.”
But most fans were thrilled to see the sun instead of a sea of umbrellas, and by the second quarter the entire stadium would be in shade anyway. “I’m happy,” said Karen Tyler. “I’m wearing a hat, but it’s friggin’ fantastic weather.”
“It is perfect,” Mark Roberts said.
It was a day filled with perfect moments, the first of which came when the league trotted out Super Bowl MVPs from all 50 years. Two of the golden oldies showed up via satellite feed, and Dallas defensive stalwart Harvey Martin had passed away, but the rest of the elder statesmen looked great. The Bay Area was strongly represented by Joe Montana, as well as 49ers Jerry Rice and Steve Young; the Raiders’ legendary receiver Fred Biletnikoff and quarterback Jim Plunkett; and San Mateo natives Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Lynn Swann of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That was followed in short order by another little slice of perfection: Lady Gaga delivered the national anthem without missing a note — no small feat in the midst of that commotion. As her final warble faded, the Blue Angels roared over the stadium, close enough to rattle crystal in the luxury suites.
There were a few glitches, of course. The social media storm at times overwhelmed the stadium’s Wi-Fi capacity, and the fans’ long stay in the building may have overwhelmed Levi’s online ordering system. Denver fan John Fredrickson tried to order beers from his seat twice without success and finally headed to the long line at the concession stand.
“It’s a pretty nice stadium, but the online ordering isn’t working,” Fredrickson said. Ben Dorlind, a Broncos fan from Denver, had the same experience ordering beer. He got a message telling him delivery would take 52 minutes, then shoved off for the concourse.
After weeks of warnings from organizers and the media that there would be huge traffic jams and long security lines, for the most part everybody came early. The California Highway Patrol and Valley Transportation Authority reported no significant delays before the game, with arrivals spread over about six hours.
At the final security checkpoint on Tasman Drive near the east entry to Levi’s Stadium, a group wearing T-shirts that said “Meet a Muslim” was handing out clear plastic bags to fans walking into the stadium. The bags met the NFL’s strict security standards of transparency for this event. The Muslim community, which had to learn the hard way how to make it successfully through airport security in the wake of 9/11, saw the game as a goodwill opportunity.
“With all the negative information out there right now,” said Bilal Ahmad, of Santa Clara, “we are out here just trying to create a positive image.”
Up on the suite level, where the VIPs meet, actress Amy Adams brought her two brothers, Rich and Dan. They grew up in Denver and were all decked out in orange. “It means everything to be here,” she said before joining Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth and other actors in a fifth-floor suite. “I’m a lifelong Broncos fan.”
At halftime, first Coldplay, then Bruno Mars, Beyoncé and even the Cal band combined for the first outdoor halftime show conducted in daylight since 2003. Beyoncé and her 24 high-heeled dancers probably didn’t do the turf, which was already coming up in clots during the first half, any good. But the music show went over like gangbusters and certainly rivaled anything the Broncos and the Panthers accomplished on the field.
In Levi’s club level, fans who had been loitering around cocktail tables and only partially watching the game raced to see with their own eyes the halftime spectacle the moment Coldplay started playing. Down below, Terry Harker stayed put in his seat in the front row on the 40-yard line.
“It’s great. You can see everything,” said Harker, who owns a golf resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. “I feel like it’s all happening for me.”
Article Courtesy: Mercury News