Close your eyes. ..
Now, reflect back, and tell me…
What is your favorite NFL Team of All-time?
Let’s see… As a 49ers fan, I have the privilege of having multiple choices. Not to “pop my collar” or anything, but it’s a luxury that only a handful of us fans have.
So, what characteristics does a team need to have to be MY favorite all-time team?
Of course, you need superstar players- players who have the ability to not only “speak” to the fans in section 425, but also the fans sitting at home, watching the game. When I use the word “speak”, it doesn’t mean that Jerry Rice is asking the fan in the “nose-bleed” section “what kind of beer he/she is drinking”. It simply can be defined as a player who has the spiritual gift in making the fan feel like they are the 54th player on the sideline. That skill is overlooked, and is rare.
What is also an important trait is the fortitude and will a team has to win. When a team has their “backs against the wall”, their character is tested; how they respond is the key to a great team. Overall, the final outcome is very important in picking an all-time great team, but to me, the general personality of the team is what “catches my eye”.
After juggling three teams in my head, I have come to the conclusion that my favorite All-time NFL team is the 1998 San Francisco 49ers team.
I hear the crowd, “Boooooooo!!!... The 1998 49ers??? Why???”
My original thought was to choose the 1994 San Francisco 49ers team, who slaughtered the San Diego Chargers, 49-26 in the Super Bowl. That team was great! Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Rickey Watters, and Brent Jones on offense; Ken Norton, Gary Plummer, Bryant Young, Dana Stubblefield, Merton Hanks, Tim McDonald, Eric Davis, and Deion Sanders on defense: this team was a squad, destined for greatness! There it is, right there- they were assembled together to win. If they didn’t win the Super Bowl in 1994, it would have been a huge disappointment. When a team is brought together to win, they fall out of the running to be my all-time favorite team- the expectations were too high. The 1998 team was a different story…
The summer of 1998 was a weird one for me: after recovering from the loss the Green Bay Packers handed to us in the playoffs (a season where Steve Young & Jerry Rice both were injured at the beginning of the season, but came back just in time to lead us in to the playoffs) and the New York Knicks, as an eighth-seed, making it to the NBA Finals, only to lose to the San Antonio Spurs ; I was a bit nervous for what awaited me in this upcoming NFL season.
As a fan, I tend to be very optimistic: a “hopeless romantic” fan. What can I say? I tend to look at things as if the “glass is half full”, rather than “half empty”. That being said, I was expecting something terrible to happen, immediately following the kick-off in week 1. Ironically, the total opposite occurred…
On September 6th, 1998, the 49ers & Jets came out in week one, with the intensity and fire of a playoff game- a game where both teams played didn’t play any defense. Throughout the first 4 quarters, the 49ers & Jets battled to a 30-30 tie; pushing the game into overtime. This is where Garrison Hearst, made history.
The New York Jets did a great job in pinning the 49ers back to their 4-yd line. Instead of calling a passing play: a quick hit to the TE or WR, Coach Steve Mariucci chose to run the ball, just to give the offense some space to make a move up the field. The play was “90-0”- a running play to the right, where the full back threw a lead block, and the left guard would pull and block a linebacker. Mariucci only wanted 4-yds, what Mr. Hearst gave him, was an early Christmas gift. After a broken tackle, a great juke, and the ability to push it “full throttle”, Garrison Hearst ran for 96-yd touchdown run- he won the game for the Niners, beating one of the best teams in the AFC, and breaking the 49ers record for longest run from scrimmage. That play itself, set the tone and theme for the 1998 season: gumption!
I am proud to say that as a 15 year old teenager, I grew my first grey hair during this 1998 season- the battles on each and every Sunday were entertaining, stressful, suspenseful, and exciting. This team won 5 games by 6 points or less during the 1998 season (lost 3 by 5 points or less)- once again, showing their resilience.
At regular season end, the 49ers finished with 12-4 record; second in the NFC West to the 14-2 Atlanta Falcons. Yes, my young NFL fans, at one time, the Falcons were in the NFC West. Anyway, due to Jamal Anderson & his fellow “dirty birds”, we had to face Brett Favre & his Packers in the 1998 Wildcard Playoff game… and “ohhhhhhhhhh” what a game it was.
The stage was set: Favre vs. Young; Wild Thing vs. The Most Accurate QB of All-Time. The fourth quarter heroics of both Favre & Young exemplify what the playoffs were/are all about- Win and your off to the next round; lose, get your family ready for vacation. It’s that simple! Both QB’s understood that, only one would will their team to a victory.
The first half of this grueling game in Lambeau Field was exciting, but fell in comparison to the second half. The second half of this game consisted of two ties, and three lead changes. At the end of the fourth quarter, Brett Favre engineered an 89-yd scoring drive; capping it off with a 15 yd touchdown strike to Antonio Freeman with 1:56 seconds left on the game clock. As a 49ers fan, my hatred/respect for Brett Favre would hit its all-time high- I actually was able to shed two tears. I didn’t shed more than two tears just on the fact that we had 1:56 seconds left, and Steve Young was the captain of our ship (if it was J.T. O’Sullivan, I might have broke my T.V. and gave up; then cried my heart out). Captain Steve Young, subsequently superseded Favre’s Heroics- Young went 7-9, and capped a 76 yd drive with my favorite play in 49ers history: Down 27-23, the 49ers had one play left. On the 29 yd line, Steve Young dropped back for the pass, stumbled; sees the Packers playing a soft-prevent zone, throws a perfect pass to Terrell Owens on a post route in the end zone with 3 seconds left on the clock; as soon as he caught the ball, T.O. was sandwiched by both safeties. The question from my perspective was: Did he catch it? Next thing I heard was this: “Owens made the catch! Holy Moly… this is amazing!” (Sir John Madden). I immediately joined T.O. with my tears of joy! That single play depicted this 49ers season, and ignited Terrell Owens career.
Unfortunately, our season ended the following week, with a heart-breaking loss to the Atlanta Falcons. This team never made any excuses for that loss, but I would like to state a fact, that the outcome of this game would have been different, if we had Garrison Hearst and Terry Kirby at our disposal.
This 1998 season had me at the edge of my seat from day 1. I will never forget the heart, courage, guts, and bravery this team exhibited. It was a movie, and story that I will never forget…
1998 San Francisco 49ers… THANK YOU!