NFL: Death of 49ers fan at new stadium raises questions


SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The death of a 49ers fan at Levi’s Stadium and the huge crowds who abandoned the sunny seats for shady concourses are shining a bright light on an issue that many Niner faithful were unprepared for Sunday: the heat.

It’s no secret Santa Clara is hotter than San Francisco, but the 49ers have also traded in the Bayside fog and breezes that often cooled down Candlestick Park for the beaming Santa Clara Valley sun that glistens off the new stadium’s gleaming glass suite tower. Many of the 68,000 seasoned fans who attended the first 49ers game in Santa Clara, a preseason contest on Sunday afternoon, wound up with overheated cellphones, sweat-drenched jerseys and an uncomfortable souvenir.

“I came home super sunburnt,” said Gabe Hernandez, a 30-year-old fan from Roseville. “Me and my friend only lasted one quarter until she tapped out to get out of the beaming sun. I miss the Stick.”

The stands were half-empty by halftime and almost completely vacant by the end of the game while fans in red-and-gold jerseys packed the covered concourses and air-conditioned clubs and stood in long lines for ice cream.

Though the temperature was just more than 80 degrees in Santa Clara, it felt several degrees hotter in the crowded stands on Sunday. Fire department and team officials said the heat accounted for most of the 60 emergency calls at the stadium, an unusually high number for 49ers games, and two people were taken to the emergency room.

“Many people just needed to get out of the sun,” Fire Chief Bill Kelly said. “For many of them there was a general feeling of weakness and (they) just needed to rest and get some water.”

The most serious call came in the third quarter, when an older man in section 221 collapsed and suffered a cardiac emergency, which is usually caused by a heart attack. Santa Clara firefighters performed CPR for at least 10 minutes and took him out on a stretcher, but he was pronounced dead at a San Jose hospital.

It’s unclear if the heat contributed to his death, as the authorities declined to speculate.

The fan was sitting in the sun-baked part of the stadium behind the visitor’s sideline and occupying a seat someone had already vacated, said Craig Love, who was sitting in front of the man who died.

“It was really, really hot right there and he was just pouring sweat,” said Love. “I never remember it that hot at Candlestick.”

Love, who took a cellphone video of the incident, said he saw the fan who died talking with a man in front of him for a while. Then Love turned around and saw him passed out on a neighboring seat, covered in his own vomit. Love assumed he was drunk and turned back around. The other man sitting next to Love tried shaking the passed-out fan awake, and a woman who also seemed to be in the fan’s party came by and slapped him hard on the knee and shouted at him.

Within two minutes, stadium officials were notified and quickly laid the man out on the concrete floor and pounded his chest for a while, to no avail, as dozens of onlookers gathered around and the game continued in the background. The man, who has not been identified, turned over and made a brief sound before paramedics arrived but was otherwise unconscious, Love said.