As the NFL season reaches its business end, the San Francisco 49ers are a team without a home.
Saturday saw the Santa Clara County Public Health Department announce new directives aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus amid a surge of cases.
They prohibit sports at all levels that “involve physical contact or close proximity to persons outside one’s household, including all contact sports”.
Those measures will remain in place for at least three weeks, during which time the 49ers have home games with the Buffalo Bills and the Washington Football Team scheduled to take place at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) November 28, 2020
San Francisco finish the season with a home game against the Seattle Seahawks on January 3, but it appears likely that game will also take place elsewhere.
It is another headache for the reigning NFC champions in a miserable season in which they are 4-6 having seen their roster decimated by injury.
But just where will they play their remaining home fixtures? Here we assess some realistic, and some outlandish, potential alternatives.
Arizona/out of state
Let’s get the most likely, and most depressing alternative, out of the way first.
Reports suggest that State Farm Stadium, the home of the Arizona Cardinals, has emerged as the favourite to take on the Niners as temporary tenants.
The 49ers are said to want to play in an NFL stadium and Arizona would be practical as it is relatively nearby and San Francisco and the Cardinals never play at home on the same day.
It appears the 49ers will be temporarily bubbling up in an out-of-state location where restrictions are looser. If the Niners do fade completely from playoff contention, then it may be fitting for them to round off a season they will want to forget in a hurry by playing out the string at the home of another team.
Providing Alameda County, of which is Oakland is part, does not introduce the same measures as Santa Clara, the Coliseum could be considered the leader in the clubhouse among the realistic California options.
It hosted NFL football as recently as last year as the Raiders played their final season in the Bay Area before moving to Las Vegas, so would likely be the easiest local stadium to get ready in time.
California Memorial Stadium
The home of the California Golden Bears also resides in the East Bay in Alameda County. The Bears have only one more home game scheduled in the 2020 college football season, so logistically this 98-year-old venue could work as a solution.
— SFGiants (@SFGiants) March 9, 2016
The 49ers actually playing in San Francisco? What a concept.
Oracle Park, home of MLB’s San Francisco Giants, will remain free until April and has previously played host to college football bowl games.
The size of the field may be an issue that prevents a move to Willie Mays Plaza from being a realistic option, but the prospect of the Niners playing at one of the most spectacular ballparks in MLB is a fun one to think about.
Let’s get nostalgic.
There is no chance of the 49ers moving back to their original home, nestled within the picturesque grounds of Golden Gate Park.
No chance of it happening but it would be incredibly cool if the 49ers played a game under the lights at Kezar Stadium. Beautiful spot. pic.twitter.com/AT0xUV0xiu
— Nicholas McGee (@nicholasmcgee24) November 29, 2020
Gone are the days when Kezar could hold close to 60,000 people. Today it hosts USL soccer and high school football and would be ill-equipped to accommodate two NFL teams and the television equipment needed to broadcast games.
But in a season that has brought the 49ers little reason for celebration, a return to where it all started would allow them the chance to finish it off with a unique experience.