San Francisco's Million Dollar Backfield: The 49ers' Fabulous Foursome
In the 1954 season, the San Francisco 49ers fielded the finest backfield in NFL history with four future Hall of Famers playing for the offense.
"There was no greater running backs than Hugh McElhenny, John Henry Johnson and Joe Perry in the same backfield," Hall of Fame Y.A. Tittle declared on San Francisco 49ers: The Complete History. "It made quarterbacking so easy because I just get in the huddle and call anything and you have three Hall of Fame running backs ready to carry the ball."
First came fullback Joe "The Jet" Perry who became the first running back in NFL history to run for 1,000 yards two straight seasons and by 1956 he became the NFL's all-time leading rusher.
In 1952, halfback "The King" Hugh McElhenny joined "The Jet" and Tittle.
"He had a style to me that was flowing like a willow in the wisp," Perry said about McElhenny on San Francisco 49ers: The Complete History. "And seemed like at times he had eyes in the back of his head."
"I think I ran more with fear than I did of confidence of running," McElhenny responded on San Francisco 49ers: The Complete History. "Fear of being embarrassed, fear of getting caught from behind, fear of making a fool of yourself, you just want to do well."
John Henry Johnson became the final addition to "The Million Dollar Backfield" in 1954 where his physical approach to the game became a perfect complement to Perry and McElhenny's running styles. This gave the San Francisco 49ers their third breakaway threat.
"I'm convinced if John Henry Johnson had been a prize fighter he would be heavyweight champion of the world," Tittle stated on San Francisco 49ers: The Complete History. "Because he did dish out punishment."
During their first year together, the "Fabulous Foursome" shattered the 49er team record for rushing yards in a season.
With the extremely potent offense, many thought San Francisco was due to win a NFL Championship but problems on the defensive side of the ball landed the 49ers in third place behind the first place Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears in 1954.
"The Million Dollar Backfield" was disbanded before winning a championship in 1957 when John Henry Johnson was traded to the Detroit Lions.
Y.A. Tittle played 17 years in the NFL experience and finished his career with 33,070 passing yards and 281 touchdowns (39 rushing).
He was presented with the NFL's Most Valuable Player Award in 1961 and 1963.
Joe Perry was the first running back in NFL history to gain 1,000 yards in two consecutive seasons.
His 9,723 rushing yards placed him first all time until Jim Brown broke the record. He finished his career with 12,505 combined yards.
Hugh McElhenny is only one of three players to gain over 11,000 yards carrying the football, scoring 60 career touchdowns (38 rushing).
In 1952, he had the longest punt return (94 yards) and longest play from scrimmage (89 yards). He also scored two touchdowns in the first Pro Bowl.
John Henry Johnson
John Henry Johnson was the final piece of "The Million Dollar Backfield" and racked up 6,803 yards rushing and 48 touchdowns.
His extremely physical style and love of contact set him apart as a runner and blocker.