When World War II ended in 1945, the Bay Area was booming. Thousands of veterans were returning and opportunity was in the air. The vegetable gardens south of the city were bought up by Henry Doelger, whose thousands of side-by-side homes at Westlake Village inspired Malvina Reynolds to later write Pete Seeger's song, "Little Boxes."
People were hungry for football as many of the local colleges had disbanded their football programs during the war. The All-American Football Conference was formed the next year, 1946, with eight teams. They wisely placed teams in cities where the NFL already had teams to give them competition.
The AAFC consisted of the Baltimore Colts, Brooklyn Dodgers, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Rockets, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Dons, New York Yankees, and San Francisco 49ers.
49ers fans affectionately regard Bill Walsh as the king of coaches. Well, fans, we had a guy in 1946 who had silver hair like Bill. In fact, his nickname was the Silver Fox. He was a brilliant coach who featured some of the most explosive offenses in football history. His name was Lawrence T. "Buck" Shaw.
Like Walsh, he came to the Niners after a very successful career as a college coach at Santa Clara. Buck spent six years there and amassed a 47-10-4 record that included two Sugar Bowl victories for the Broncos. The fact that they had disbanded their football program made Buck available to the Niners.
His AAFC Record as Head Coach
1946: In their inaugural season, Buck led the Niners to a 9-5 record, with Frankie Albert running the T-formation and passing to Alyn Beals, a great wide receiver who made All-Pro all four years the team played in the AAFC.
1947: The following season the Niners were also successful, posting an 8-4-2 record. Cleveland won the title for the second consecutive season and featured Otto Graham and Marion Motley.
Needing to improve in 1948 in order to compete with Cleveland, Buck brought in Joe Perry and Veryl Lillywhite to complement his running back tandem of All-Pro Johnny Strzykalski and the tough running Len Eshmont.
It worked. Lillywhite ran for a 59-yard TD in his first carry from scrimmage.
The Niners started out the season at 10-0, destroying most of their opponents. In those ten games, the 49ers outscored their opponents by 376 to 142. The Niners averaged 37.6 points per game, scoring over 40 twice and over 50 once. They allowed 14.2 points per game.
The only problem: Cleveland also started out 10-0. In Week 11, the Niners faced the Browns in Cleveland. In a close and hard-fought game, the Niners made a couple of critical mistakes that resulted in a 14-7 loss. Beals dropped a wide open TD pass, and a fumble at the one-yard-line ended our chances.
The Niners took it out on the Brooklyn Dodgers the next week on the road to the tune of 63-14, and returned home to face Cleveland again, this time in the friendly confines of Kezar. The game was sold out two weeks in advance. I attended that game at the age of six.
In one of the greatest games ever played in Kezar, the Browns squeaked out a 31-28 win. They won the next week to finish the season undefeated, then defeated the Yankees in the championship game to become the only team besides the Miami Dolphins to play an entire season undefeated.
1949: The Niners continued to be an outstanding team, finishing the season at 9-3. They swamped the Yankees in the playoff game and lost to the Browns and Otto Graham again in the Championship Game, 21-7.
We finished our AAFC experience 38-14-2.
The next season the league merged with the NFL. Three teams from the AAFC were accepted into the senior league—the Baltimore Colts, the Niners, and the Cleveland Browns. The Browns immediately won the NFL title in their first season—1950. Since Cleveland already had a team, the Rams were relocated to Los Angeles.
Buck Shaw continued to coach the 49ers through the 1954 season. His record as a Niner coach was 72-40-4. His teams scored 3003 points and allowed just 2167 points. Buck was then hired by the Philadelphia Eagles and led them to the NFL title.