First impressions from Candlestick Park

SAN FRANCISCO -- Must be a playoff game.

Traffic was backing up from Candlestick Park onto Highway 101 five-plus hours before the San Francisco 49ers' kickoff against New Orleans in the NFC divisional round. It's been years and years since that happened for a weekend game, to my knowledge. Some fans were camped out in RVs since midnight.

This morning, one fan barreling along at about 75 mph rolled down his window to wave a giant 49ers flag, only to have the crisp morning air rip it from his grasp. The flag flew onto the highway and struck another vehicle. Hey, no harm, no foul.

I pulled into the parking lot at about 8:10 a.m. PT -- well in advance of the 1:30 p.m. kickoff and before the scheduled opening of gates -- but cars were already flowing into the lots. I found a spot and had to ask the guy in a van occupying the bordering spot to move the swinging back door from his van (encroachment?). This fan was already grilling chicken. He offered me some, too (in retrospect, I should have taken him up on it.)

Bright sunshine is blasting through the pressbox glass. The field below looks better than I can recall it looking in recent seasons. Both end zones are mostly red, with black and white borders around the "49ERS" and a gold stripe running beneath the "ERS" -- a vintage look. Each 25-yard line features the NFL shield inside the silver outline of a football, with the word "DIVISIONAL" in all caps below. The customary 49ers logo with the team's initials marks midfield.

Temperatures are in the upper 40s and rising, with barely a trace of clouds visible from inside the stadium. The 49ers' cheerleaders are warming up down where the New Orleans Saints' players and coaches will stand during the game.

Not quite five hours til kickoff.