75 for 75: The Pick at the Stick

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"75 for 75" is an article series from the 49ers Museum highlighting legendary moments in 49ers history as part of the team's 75th Anniversary celebrations in 2021.

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December 23, 2013

The last 49ers game ever played at Candlestick Park ended with a breathtaking flourish after a timely interception by NaVorro Bowman. The highly emotional and dramatic finish was heightened by the Pro Bowl linebacker's earlier miscue. 

The 49ers held a comfortable 27-17 fourth quarter lead in a game they needed to win to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot. Then the Atlanta Falcons caught fire. 

With 2:09 to play, Atlanta cut the 49ers lead to 27-24 on a touchdown from tight end Tony Gonzalez. A penalty against San Francisco on the scoring play allowed Atlanta to kick off from the 50 yard line. From there, the Falcons attempted an onside kick. The ball bounced toward Bowman, skipped over his hands and was recovered by Atlanta at the 49ers 30 yard line. The Falcons immediately were in position for a game-tying field goal.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had been unstoppable in the fourth quarter, completing 13-of-15 passes including two touchdown throws. From San Francisco's 30 yard line, he connected on two more throws, moving the Falcons to the 10 with 1:10 remaining. The 49ers needed a stop.

On the third play of the drive, Ryan went for the game-winning touchdown. He spotted Atlanta wide receiver Harry Douglas on a slant off the left flank. Ryan's pass was on target and Douglas was pulling the ball into his body when 49ers defensive back Tramaine Brock slipped a hand in and popped the ball free. For a split second, Brock and Douglas wrestled for the pigskin before it was tipped and floated in the air for an agonizingly long moment. Then Bowman appeared, grabbed the football in full stride, looked up and saw nothing but open field. 

Bowman raced 89 yards untouched to the end zone, escorted by safety Donte Whitner, then dove headfirst and somersaulted over the goal line sending 69,732 fans into euphoric delirium.

"That was one of the greatest plays I've ever seen," 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh gushed in a postgame interview. "I've never been involved in a football game where something that good happened in a game. And, it was a great play by T-Brock (Tramaine Brock) and a great play by NaVorro Bowman."

It provided sweet redemption for the 49ers Pro Bowl linebacker.

"That one meant a lot," Bowman said. "I was the guy who missed the ball on the onside kick and our coach just said, 'let it go, move on to the next play, we still have a shot to win,' and it really got me through it. And having Pat (Willis) out there just getting me right. I was able to overcome it and make a play for my team."

It ensured San Francisco of a 34-24 victory and another postseason run.

"There's a lot of history in that stadium," Bowman said. "For this to be the last game, we cannot leave it with an L. I'm just glad we got the W."

Indeed, Candlestick Park provided the 49ers with one of the NFL's greatest home field advantages. From 1971 to 2013, the 49ers won more games at Candlestick than any other NFL team on its home field, including 20 of 27 playoff contests.

It was also the site of a wide-ranging collection of memorable events including the Beatles' final concert in 1966, a Pope John Paul II mass in 1987 and a devastating earthquake that interrupted the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's in 1989. 

But Bowman's touchdown, aptly remembered as "The Pick at the Stick," ensured San Francisco of a euphoric end to four decades of 49ers football at Candlestick Park.

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