Features & Columns
58th annual Sister Cities International Conference comes to San Jose
Thanks to the San Jose-Dublin Sister City Committee, the 58th annual Sister Cities International conference will unfold in San Jose this weekend, featuring hundreds of officials, diplomats, youth and young professionals and business leaders from around the world.
None of them know, however, the space-time continuum-shattering implications of including Dionne Warwick and Norman Mineta in the agenda on the very same weekend that the San Jose Earthquakes play the first sporting event at Levi's Stadium, the 49ers' new facility. By doing so, the organizers have created a borderline-mystical scenario in which the whole 40-year San Jose Earthquakes saga has now come full circle. This is better than anything you'll see on ESPN, trust me.
The original version of the San Jose Earthquakes began in 1974, just a few years after the 49ers began playing at Candlestick Park. Before the Quakes even had any players, they hired Dick Berg away from the 49ers to be San Jose's new General Manager. For four seasons, Berg had been the Niners' Promotions Director, the one in charge of all the zany halftime activities. For the Niners, it was Berg who orchestrated celebrity appearances, elephants, tigers and all sorts of hijinks. The team's attendance increased dramatically during his tenure.
Berg, along with Quakes owner Milan Mandaric, insisted this new pro soccer franchise locate in San Jose, not anywhere else in the Bay Area. They didn't want to be yet one more professional sport in San Francisco or Oakland. They wanted to be San Jose's first-ever pro sports team. However, executives in charge of the North American Soccer League at that time, especially co-founder Lamar Hunt, were not convinced. They thought San Jose was a cowtown wasteland—no "there" there—and wanted the new soccer franchise to name itself after San Francisco instead. But Berg and Mandaric fought the league, eventually winning the argument.
Berg was also the one who brought Krazy George into the mix, as the franchise debuted. As a result, Berg's promotional tactics played a role in the initial explosion of the team in San Jose and the Quakes led the league in attendance during their first two seasons. By today's standards, averaging 16,000-17,000 does not seem like much, but for those few couple of years, it was a little more than what the Giants or the A's were averaging, even though the latter had just won the World Series three times in a row. For anyone old enough to recall those years, it was the first time San Jose ever had a legitimate professional sports identity to call its own. Suddenly, San Jose was now in the pro standings, playing against New York, Chicago, Seattle and Tampa Bay.
Everyone I've ever spoken to who was part of that San Jose soccer scene in 1974 uses the Dionne Warwick song "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" as the backdrop for any discussion. At that time, San Jose was a town in search of an identity, they all tell me, independently of each other. That song, although released six years earlier, was still a part of the local landscape in 1974, for simultaneously right and wrong reasons. Warwick has claimed for decades that some San Joseans even asked her to stop singing the song, accusing her of putting the town on the map and overpopulating it. Talk about an identity complex. Sheesh.
Norman Mineta was mayor when the Quakes started in 1974. At that time, he wasn't yet a transportation secretary and didn't care if Krazy George landed in a helicopter on the field at Spartan Stadium, surrounded by 16,000 screaming fans—probably illegal in today's post-9/11 landscape. Part of Mineta's shtick at the time was to give a then-sprawling cultureless city a sense of identity, a sense of civic pride. The Quakes' emergence as the town's first serious pro sports identity dovetailed perfectly. Mineta became a proud cheerleader for the squad.
Now, 40 years later, everything has come full circle. Just last weekend, the Quakes played in the final sporting event ever at Candlestick and this Saturday they play the first game at Levi's Stadium. Next year, they open their own new stadium across from Mineta San Jose International Airport. Both Mineta and Warwick are in town this weekend as part of the Sister Cities Conference. She performs Friday night at the CPA. San Jose will party like it's 1974.