SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Levi’s Stadium, the San Francisco 49ers' $1.2 billion crown jewel, is in its second year and will play host to Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7.
But on Sunday, in the waning moments of the Niners' 24-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, a defeat that “clinched” last place for the 49ers in the NFC West for the first time since 2005, the stands emptied and the yard looked famished.
Yes, the old joke goes that many fans showed up dressed as red seats, but there was little doubt that it was the smallest crowd yet to take in a Niners regular season game here in Santa Clara. It looked about 40 percent full of its stated capacity of 68,500.
And a few Niners themselves understood. Kinda.
“We love our fans to death,” said receiver Torrey Smith, who caught two passes on five targets for 33 yards. “But we played in an empty stadium.
“I don’t blame them. We’re not playing good. It’s not fun to watch right now. Who wants to sit there and watch that?”
A 4-10 football team generally trends downward, and fans become upset. Like the one(s) who have hired a private airplane the past two weeks to fly anti-Jed York banners over the stadium two hours before kickoff.
Three weeks ago it read, “JED & 49ERS SHOULD MUTUALLY PART WAYS.”
Sunday, the banner said, “HOLD JED ACCOUNTABLE.”
Of course, Jed York is the Niners’ CEO, who “mutually” parted ways with former head coach Jim Harbaugh after last year’s 8-8 season following three straight trips to the NFC title game and a Super Bowl appearance, and the one who told fans to hold “accountable” for the team’s performance.
Yes, the 49ers Faithful is growing restless.
“In the stadium, the fans are probably fed up,” said inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who had a game-high 12 tackles.
“To see them come out and still cheer us on, I think when they got up, we felt it as a team. If we were winning, they would have stayed in the stadium. It’s just the position we’re in, where we have to bring our own energy.”
If not their own fans.