SANTA CLARA

Joe Staley walked off the practice field recently, looked straight up at the 49ers' sleek new stadium and tried to be as diplomatic as possible.

He had a point to make. Staley is good at making strong points, and clearly the 49ers are elated to be moving from one era to the next -- literally a short walk now.

But the players also know that there are emotional land mines ahead involving Lombardi trophies, Hall of Fame moments and the sentimental heft of a 49ers dynasty gone by.

"I don't know if I should say this," the 49ers' eighth-year left tackle said before proceeding anyway, with a shrug. "I mean no disrespect to past eras; they've accomplished a ton of stuff here. And the fans have been great. But I'm very excited about establishing a new era, our own memories."

Playing at Candlestick Park was all about "The Catch," Bill Walsh's playbooks, five Super Bowl titles and being measured against the glory of the past.

Moving to Levi's Stadium means a new stage for a new generation of talented players who maybe have grown a little weary of the constant comparisons.

Staley and the rest of the 49ers -- from Jim Harbaugh to Colin Kaepernick and through the rank and file -- are more than ready to start up at Levi's Stadium this season and leave the Candlestick days behind.

Yes, that includes all the memories, the dynasty chatter and the shadow of everything great that used to be.


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"One of the things that I got sick and tired of hearing, especially during those (bad) years," Staley continued, "when I was a rookie and all the way up till Coach Harbaugh got here ... before we started winning, it was how great the '80s were and how great those teams were and you need to go see this guy and talk about winning. ...

"That pissed me off. I think myself and a lot of guys who went through that (bad) era really want to create our own identity. Because we take a lot of pride in what we do.

"But at the same time, those teams won five Super Bowls. And we haven't done anything like that. We have the opportunity here with the new stadium, new team, we've got core guys who can do something."

The new stadium is the switch-over for this franchise, no doubt.

It is the largest achievement in Jed York's ownership reign -- and something his beloved uncle Eddie DeBartolo Jr. could never accomplish, after years of trying to redo or upgrade Candlestick (while DeBartolo was winning titles).

The stadium is a glitzy symbol for a new 49ers age, it is already providing the York family with millions upon millions in revenue, and it is all their own.

But these 49ers know that the only way to make a truly clean and permanent break from Candlestick and the '80s is to win a Super Bowl or two while at Levi's in the 2010s.

That's the only way to do it.

"From my perspective, it would give you an opportunity to create your own history," general manager Trent Baalke said recently of the Levi's debut season. "Candlestick -- the memories of Candlestick, all the great games that were played in there and all the players that were a part of it, they'll never forget that.

"Our players will never forget the (January 2012 playoff) game against New Orleans -- the guys who went through that. They're never going to forget that last game in Candlestick, against Atlanta, not only because it was the last game, but how we won that game, how it ended.

"This is an opportunity to start their own traditions, build their own memories, build their own history and make it part of the organization's history."

Of course, there's a gaudy museum at Levi's honoring the team's rich history and achievements.

There are significant tributes to Walsh, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young, Ronnie Lott, Eddie D., and the rest.

But the focus of this $1.3 billion stadium is on the new horizons and new goals -- the 49ers have made it clear that this stadium is not a nostalgia tour.

It's a new thing. And they want to win new Super Bowls.

"Very excited about the new stadium," Kaepernick said at the start of camp. "I think it's an opportunity for us to start our own legacy. There was a lot of tradition, a great legacy at Candlestick, and this is an opportunity for us to really make this our home and start something new."

For Staley & Co., that means keeping the past laurels up on the pedestal, but also leaving them behind while the new 49ers try to add more trophies. In their own way.

"They've created a lot of great memories for this era and this franchise," Staley said. "We see those trophies in our locker room all the time.

"But like I said, we take a ton of pride for what we do, and we want to be known for our own era, our own identity, so that 20 years from now, they can say, 'You need to look up Joe Staley and see what he did well.' "

Then Staley laughed at the image he had just described -- a team 20 years from now haunted by the achievements of Staley.

Maybe it was because he almost couldn't believe he had said what he did, but also because he and his teammates would dearly love for it to come absolutely true.