Football / Sports

A statue of former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver/kicker Gordy Soltau at the Levi's Stadium 49ers Museum in Santa Clara, Calif., on Aug. 5, 2014. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

Museum at 49ers' new stadium brings great moments to life

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- There are no busts here.

The Hall of Fame exhibit at the 49ers' new museum instead features what look like life-sized action figures.

Dwight Clark leaps skyward to make "The Catch." The "Million Dollar Backfield" gathers in an eternal huddle. Joe Montana and Bill Walsh savor a sideline meeting of the minds.

The museum, which will be open seven days a week starting Friday at Levi's Stadium, clearly decided to skip the stoic bronze plaques.

Instead, designers mostly let players choose the pose in which to spend eternity -- Roger Craig, forever caught in a high-step -- and artists got busy creating steel skeletons and bodies made from a resin composite. Designers even dressed the statues in real clothes, calling in a seamstress in some cases to make it fit.

The exhibit, early in the tour at the 49ers Museum, sets the tone for 20,000 square feet that emphasize motion. Interactive exhibits allow visitors to superimpose themselves into team photos, record a play-call from the radio booth and participate in a scouting combine.

Even the walls move. Guy McIntyre, an offensive lineman from 1984 to 1993, served as one of the tour-group leaders during a sneak peek Tuesday and said his favorite part was the so-called "Star Wars" wall.

On a space-colored video screen, the names of every player to suit up for the 49ers emerge from the darkness and twinkle briefly onto a video screen. To qualify for the wall, a player needed to be on the active roster only once.

It took only a few seconds of watching to see the names of Montana (a three-time Super Bowl MVP) and linebacker Jason Kyle (two games in 2000).

"Football is the ultimate team sport. It takes so many people to be successful," said McIntyre, now a team executive. "There were guys in practice, they didn't start, but they gave you that effort. They worked out just as hard in the offseason.

"They played their part in this."

The tour concludes with the five Lombardi Trophies, one for each Super Bowl victory. Everything leading up to that finale shows, in essence, how the team got there.

Some of the team's founding documents from 1945-46 are on display. There's also a slightly deflated ball from the first touchdown scored in Walsh's West Coast Offense. (Freddie Solomon hauled in a 44-yard pass from Steve DeBerg on Sept. 2, 1979).

There are color-coded playbooks from the 1950s, Clark's shoulder pads and a Montana player contract (alas, without the salary figures). Overhead in one hallway, 207 footballs hang like brown clouds--each one representing a touchdown scored by Jerry Rice with the 49ers.

For those with more modern tastes, there is the letter quarterback Colin Kaepnernick wrote as a fourth-grader predicting he would play for the 49ers.

And, of course, there are Jim Harbaugh's khakis.

"Walking through this space is going to give you chills," Paraag Marathe, the team president, said.

In one of the more lavish displays, Walsh's office gets re-created in full from the way it looked when the team was headquartered in Redwood City.

It looks as if the coach just stepped away. His coffee cup sits to the left of his desk while a red binder bursting with plays from 1988 is to the right.

A few feet away, a movie projector that suggests Walsh was reviewing his greatest hits. One of the canisters is marked "End Zone. 49ers-vs-Cowboys. 1-10-82." That's a pretty good view of "The Catch."

Craig Walsh, the coach's son, donated many of the items in what's called the "Bill Walsh Innovation" gallery. Other items came from fans, collectors, family members and the players themselves.

"It was amazing," McIntyre said. "Once we sent out the word, it just started coming."

This museum is the second-to-last part of the stadium to open. (Michael Mina's new restaurant opens by Monday).

The stadium struggled with the onslaught of crowds and traffic last Saturday when the Earthquakes hosted a soccer game in the first sporting event at the new place.

But Jesse Lovejoy, the director of the 49ers' museum, said his staff is prepared for visitors this weekend. He said he's been given a fire-code maximum capacity of 1,632 and figures that a steady "flow-through" will keep things manageable.

Lovejoy said the average fan visit will last 60 to 90 minutes.

McIntyre, who was part of the team that created the museum, said he was proud to see the place come to fruition. "It's the first time for me being on the ground floor of something this big, this large," he said.

Wait, what about the 49ers' dynasty itself?

"Well, that too," McIntyre said. "I guess I was part of the actual history."

(c)2014 San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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