Looking back on ’85 Super Bowl evokes time when Stanford played host

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Super Bowl XIX at Stanford Stadium. Miami Dolphins vs. San Francisco 49ers. Field play. (Photo by Chuck Painter for Stanford News Service)

 In January 1985, the Bay Area hosted its first and only Super Bowl – at Stanford Stadium.

Led by JOE MONTANA, the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Miami Dolphins, 38-16. That is the game story, but how exactly did the NFL’s biggest game wind up on the Farm?

According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, DONALD KENNEDY, university president at the time, was asked in 1982 to consider the stadium for a Super Bowl site by QUENTIN KOPP, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Kopp wanted to bring the NFL’s premier event to the Bay Area, and in doing his homework found that Stanford Stadium – not Candlestick Park nor the Oakland Coliseum – was the only Bay Area venue that met the NFL criteria for hosting a Super Bowl.

Stanford Stadium originally opened in 1921 as a football and track venue, an earthen horseshoe with wooden bleacher seating and flooring set on a steel frame. Its original seating capacity was 60,000, which grew to 89,000 by 1927 as a nearly enclosed bowl. Though it’s hard today to imagine a Super Bowl crowd sitting on wooden bleachers, back then it was a large enough facility to host the sprawling event.

Kennedy had reservations but he did not want to say no to Bay Area fans. Neither did the City of Palo Alto.

In the weeks leading up to the game, the Monitor described most Palo Alto passers-by as “slightly underwhelmed” at the prospect of the game in their own backyard.

“The people in town are enthusiastic about the 49ers, but there’s an equal amount of trepidation,” said LARRY KLEIN, Palo Alto’s mayor at the time, who compared Stanford hosting the Super Bowl to having a party at the house next door without being invited.

“When you dump 100,000 wild people into a town of 50,000,” a local bookseller told the Monitor, “there’s a crunch. I’m going into hiding.”

On campus, the university reaped some benefits, making $2.3 million worth of improvements to the 60-year-old stadium with the help of private donations and NFL contributions. Apple Computer supplied 86,000 souvenir pillows to cushion the stadium’s splintery benches.

But putting Stanford in the media spotlight had some concerned.

“I’m afraid there’ll be a lot of complaints about the stadium,” said an alumna. “I’ve been going there for 20 years, so I know what it’s like. I have to lean forward with someone’s knees in my back to watch the game. I’m worried about the glitzy-type people who fly in for the Super Bowl and then say, what a rotten place.”

As for students, they were described as evenly divided. “Half the students are going skiing, while the other half are going to hobnob with the tailgaters,” one student said.

Some students attempted to rent out their rooms for the weekend until the administration expressly banned it. Others were appalled at the game’s commercialism. “I find it rather inappropriate,” said an electrical engineering doctoral student. “Having a major media event at a university seems beyond the bounds of why the university is here.”

Faculty members seemed subdued, the Monitor reported, but this game offered a local connection to the 49ers. The late ELIE ABEL, then chairman of the Department of Communication, said, “Most faculty people have more than a passing interest in the game and its outcome. We’re thought of as elitists, but we share a common allegiance to the 49ers.”

Ah, the 49ers – the second Bay Area-hosted Super Bowl will be played in 2016 at the team’s new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

How much did the tickets cost for Stanford’s Super Bowl in ’85? About $60 – compare that to an average ticket price of $2,862 for Sunday’s MetLife Stadium matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, according to the New York Post.

Kennedy told the Monitor reporter about being deluged with ticket requests. Referencing Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Stanford two years earlier, he told his colleagues, “I am now in a position to inform you that members of this academic community clearly have more interest in a professional football contest than in lunching with a reigning monarch.”

—CLIFTON B. PARKER