The San Francisco 49ers are a storied franchise
The year is 2011 and the San Francisco 49ers have endured their eighth straight non-winning season. This comes after a period from 1981 through 1998, when the 49ers had an amazing record of 17 straight winning seasons, not counting the strike year of 1982.
So why is it great to be a 49er fan?
The answer is twofold. First off is the tremendous history and success of the franchise. The 49ers have a glorious history and some truly legendary players. It's the one thing you can never take away from any 49er fan.
Secondly, with a new coach and a new, positive energy surrounding the franchise, the outlook is much brighter than it has been in several years.
Let's explore the top 25 reasons why it's still great to be a 49er fan today.
I opted to include John Brodie as one of the 25 reasons why it's great to be a 49er fan for sentimental reasons. Brodie was a very good quarterback for the 49ers but just below Hall of Fame caliber.
Brodie played his entire 17-year career with the 49ers, from 1957-1973. When I was a young boy in the late '60s and becoming a big 49er fan, Brodie was my quarterback.
Just like you always remember your first girlfriend, you always remember the first game you saw and your heroes that played in it. For many years, John Brodie was that football hero of my favorite team, for me.
Brodie had a distinguished career, throwing for 31,548 yards and 214 touchdowns.
Following his playing career, Brodie became a broadcaster for NBC's football telecasts. He did that for several years, then pursued another passion when he joined the Senior PGA Golf Tour. Brodie even won a tournament on the Senior Tour.
Brodie once stated that by playing football, broadcasting, then playing pro golf, that he never worked a day in his life.
Marshall played for 20 years in the NFL, 19 of those with Minnesota. Marshall played in an amazing 302 consecutive games on the defensive line.
However, Marshall will always be remembered in 49er lore as the man who ran the wrong way.
In 1964, the 49ers were playing the Vikings. The Niners fumbled the ball, and Marshall scooped it up and began running. He took the ball into the end zone and thought he had scored a touchdown. Unfortunately for Marshall, he had scored a safety for the 49ers.
The call of the play by 49er announcer Lon Simmons was legendary. If you ever get a chance to hear the call of this play, it's a classic. That's what made it so much fun and incredulous all at the same time.
I went to my first 49er game in the late 1960s. At this time, the Niners played at Kezar Stadium, near Golden Gate Park.
When I first walked into Kezar, I marvelled at the painted end zones and the plush green football field. It was an exciting sight for a nine-year-old to see. The aroma of hot dogs and stale beer wafted through the stands.
I would later come to realize that Kezar was really a substandard venue for NFL football. However, as a young kid attending his first 49er game, it was paradise.
The benches at Kezar were old and creaky. You had to be careful not to get splinters, or slivers of wood sticking into you. The other issue were the seagulls hovering overhead. You were at their mercy, if you know what I mean.
Players that left the field were instructed to keep their helmets on, or risk being beaned by a beer bottle thrown from the stands.
Nevertheless, Kezar Stadium had a unique charm all its own, and for me, as a youngster, all I cared about was that it was the home of my beloved 49ers.
The San Francisco 49ers have had some incredible Hall of Fame players. Part of being a fan is knowing and appreciating the history of the team. The early years of the 49ers include several legends of the game.
These old time Hall of Fame greats include Y.A. Tittle, Hugh McElhenny, Joe Perry, Leo Nomellini, Bob St. Clair and John Henry Johnson.
Eddie DeBartolo Jr. Owned The Team During The Glory Years
Eddie DeBartolo Jr. owned the San Francisco 49ers for 23 years, beginning in 1977. During his run as the 49er owner, the team won five Super Bowls.
The first two years of DeBartolo's reign were putrid as he hired Joe Thomas to run the team. The 49ers floundered as Thomas gutted the team and never rebuilt it. In 1977 and '78, the 49ers had a record of 7-23. Thomas was fired after the 1978 season and DeBartolo's next move would prove to be a stroke of genius.
In 1979, Bill Walsh took over as head coach of the 49ers and the team went 2-14, the same as in the prior year. However, Walsh was beginning to build a foundation and in 1980, the 49ers improved to 6-10, as Joe Montana took over during the season as the starting quarterback.
The 1981 season saw everything come together perfectly as Montana and Walsh led the 49ers to their first Super Bowl title.
Eddie DeBartolo's tenure as the owner of the 49ers was a time of luxury and extravagance for the players, as long as they performed well. Star players from other teams would come to the 49ers as free agents, just for the opportunity to play for this great franchise and the chance to win a world championship.
It seemed as though money was no object to DeBartolo, as long as the 49ers won. the It was during these years that the NFL instituted the salary cap, or as some would call it, "The DeBartolo Rule."
DeBartolo would take his players and their wives or girlfriends on lavish trips, following a Super Bowl victory. Players and their significant other's were showered with expensive gifts, and DeBartolo was widely known as the most generous owner in pro football.
The 49ers flourished under his control and went on to win five Super Bowls. His passion for 49ers was always evident.
Unfortunately, the lustre faded and DeBartolo was forced to cede control of the team to his sister Denise and her husband John York following the 1999 season. The 49ers have never been back to the Super Bowl.
Eddie was involved in a felony corruption case involving former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, bribery and a riverboat casino gaming license. After several years away from the team he loved, DeBartolo has been seen more frequently at 49er reunions and team events.
It was during Eddie's ownership that the 49ers saw unparalleled success and had two decades of outstanding football. Eddie's nephew, Jed York, now runs the team and seems to have the same passion for the 49ers as his uncle. Time will tell if he can bring the 49ers back to glory. .
Dwight Hicks and Carlton Williamson Celebrate An Interception
It was the spring of 1981 and the NFL draft was underway. Bill Walsh was orchestrating the draft for the 49ers, and what a draft it turned out to be.
Walsh selected Ronnie Lott, a defensive back out of USC in the first round. Then in Round 2, cornerback Eric Wright was drafted. Walsh then took safety Carlton Williamson in Round 3.
In the first three rounds of the 1981 draft, the core of the 49er defensive backfield was brought together. All three players made Pro Bowls over the years, and Lott became a team leader and eventual Hall of Fame inductee.
However, with three rookies in the defensive backfield, there needed to be a veteran presence to help hold it all together. That veteran was journeyman Dwight Hicks, who had a relatively pedestrian career up to this point.
This unit jelled and became known as Dwight Hicks and the Hot Licks. Stellar play from the defensive secondary was a key factor in the 49ers' emergence as a championship caliber team. Amazingly, in 1981, their first year together, with three rookies starting in the defensive backfield, the 49ers won their first Super Bowl.
RC Owens Was A Great 49er Receiver
In the 1950s the San Francisco 49ers had a great passing combination with Y.A. Tittle at quarterback and R.C. Owens at wide receiver.
Owens had tremendous leaping ability and Tittle would loft the ball up in his direction. The play was usually called for the end zone, and Owens would routinely out leap his defender to snare the pass for the score.
Owens played eight seasons in the NFL, five with the 49ers. While with San Francisco, he caught 176 passes for 2,926 yards, a 16.6 yards per catch average. Owens also scored 20 of his 22 career touchdowns with the 49ers.
Y.A. Tittle is a Hall of Fame quarterback, having played 17 years in the NFL, 10 with the 49ers. While with the Niners, Tittle threw for 16,016 yards and 108 touchdowns. His completion percentage of 55.9 percent was very good for that period.
The term "alley-oop" became popular, and it was due to this great passing combination.
Terrell Owens Began His Career with the 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers trailed the Green bay Packers 27-23 with the clock winding down. The Packers had knocked the 49ers out of the playoffs the prior three years, and they were about to do it again.
Much like the Dallas Cowboys were the 49ers' nemesis in the 1970s, the Packers played that role in the late '90s.
Terrell Owens had played a terrible game, having dropped four passes and fumbling once.
This was an amazing play, as Steve Young stumbled as he dropped back to pass. He somehow regained his balance and found Owens between four Green Bay defenders. This time, Owens held on for a 25-yard touchdown that would propel the 49ers into the next round of the playoffs.
49er announcer Joe Starkey, who also called the "The Play" between Cal and Stanford, went berserk when Owens made that catch. He yelled "Owens, Owens, Owens" and went berserk, as the touchdown reception gave the 49ers a 30-27 victory.
If you haven't heard the call, it's a must, just like the Jim Marshall wrong way run I mentioned earlier.
The 49er Offensive Line Under Bobb McKittrick Utilized Athleticism
Bobb McKittrick coached the San Francisco 49er offensive line from 1979-1999. He coached in all five of the 49ers' Super Bowl championships.
McKittrick was known for using quick, agile linemen. They utilized their speed and athleticism over brute strength. I hesitate to use the term finesse because McKittrick's linemen were taught some very aggressive techniques, such as the cut block.
One thing is certain and that's how well McKittrick molded his offensive lines into functioning units.
In a relative sense, the 49er linemen under McKittrick were undersized, but because of their intelligence, teamwork and athleticism, they were a well oiled machine.
Some of the top linemen coached by McKittrick include Randy Cross, Guy McIntyre, Keith Fahnhorst, Harris Barton and Jesse Sapolu.
Jerry Rice is the Greatest Wide Receiver of All Time
It was a Monday Night Football game and the 49ers were in their prime years. I don't even remember who the Niners were playing but they were unstoppable. The precision with which they ran their offense was like clockwork and they made offensive football look like a gorgeous dance.
I can still hear TV color analyst Dan Dierdorf stating in awe, as he just shook his head, "so many weapons." Frank Gifford adopted the same phrase and the term "so many weapons" became synonymous with the 49er offense.
The skill position players on the field were Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Brent Jones, Roger Craig and Tom Rathman. These great players knew Bill Walsh's precise west coast offense so well, and they executed it to perfection.
Pass completions were not considered good unless the receiver caught the ball in stride so they could continue running at full speed. Montana's accuracy was legendary in enabling the 49er pass catchers to catch the ball without breaking stride.
This is something that Steve Young also learned and perfected later in his career.
The finely tuned 49er offense was so good that often times in practice, the ball never hit the ground.
Steve Young Became A Top QB in the NFL
When Steve Young first joined the 49ers he was known as a reckless and somewhat wild quarterback who loved to run whenever he got the opportunity. As he learned the game from Bill Walsh and also by watching Joe Montana, Young developed into a good pocket passer, who could take off and make a play when things broke down.
Young's ability to turn a broken play into positive yardage was never more evident than on Oct. 30, 1998. The Minnesota Vikings were giving the 49ers all they could handle and led the Niners 21-17 late in the game.
Young went back to pass and saw nobody open. At the same time, the pocket was collapsing, and Viking pass-rushers were swarming. Young took off to his left and broke the line of scrimmage.
He raced down the field and eluded many a would-be tackler. Then when he had nothing but green field in front of him, Young stumbled. He lost his balance and dove head first into the end zone for the game winning touchdown. The 49ers won the game 24-21.
This play was made even more special if you listen to the great Lon Simmons make the call. He must have said, "Young gets away" about four times.
Indeed, Young did get away and rambled down the field before stumbling around the ten yard line and fighting to keep his balance. He was able to dive into the end zone for a 49-yard touchdown run on a truly amazing effort.
If you have not heard this call, you owe it to yourself to find it and take a listen.
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Jim Harbaugh, the new 49er head coach, gives the team and fans cause for optimism. Harbaugh will bring his positive energy and offensive prowess to a team that desperately needs an offensive infusion.
Harbaugh will incorporate the west coast offense back into the 49ers' game plan. Unlike the plodding and boring offense the 49ers have displayed in recent years under Mike Singletary and Dick Nolan, Harbaugh will bring exciting offensive football back to San Francisco.
Harbaugh was a very good NFL quarterback in his own right and played 14 seasons in the NFL. He threw for 26,288 yards and 129 touchdowns in his career. He was also a Pro Bowl selection in 1995.
Following his playing days, Harbaugh became an assistant coach for the Raiders in 2002-03. He then became the head coach at the University of San Diego for three years and guided the team to a 29-6 record and two league titles.
Harbaugh earned his biggest accolades as the head coach at Stanford, where he led the Cardinal from 2007 through the 2010 season. He is widely regarded for the development of the top collegiate quarterback in the game, Andrew Luck.
As the head coach of the 49ers, Harbaugh has an uphill battle as any extended lockout means he will not be able to implement his systems as effectively as he would like. It may take him a couple of years, but Harbaugh will have the 49ers back in contention. You can bank on that.
Patrick Willis Leads The 49er Defense
Its always great to be a 49er fan when you get to watch Patrick Willis play defense. He is the leader of the Niner defensive unit and along with Justin Smith, provides constant effort and intensity that other players follow.
Willis came to the 49ers as a No. 1 draft pick in 2007. He immediately stepped into the starting lineup and has never failed to have at least 100 tackles in his four NFL seasons.
Willis earned Pro Bowl honors in each of his four years and was selected as a first team All-Pro on three occasions. He will lead the 49er defense under new coordinator Vic Fangio.
Jerry Rice Makes A Leaping Catch Over Charles Dimry
The Falcons decided they would put young cornerback Charles Dimry on Rice one on one. Dimry, in his third year talked it up before the game, and Rice felt a lack of respect from the third-year corner.
Rice would have one of his best games ever, as he and Joe Montana repeatedly victimized Dimry and the Falcons.
Joe Montana had a career best 476 yards passing and his main target was Jerry Rice. Rice torched Dimry, as he caught 13 passes for 225 yards and five touchdowns. The 49ers won a high scoring contest 45-35.
George Seifert Watches His Defense
George Seifert was an assistant coach under Bill Walsh from 1980-1988. He became the defensive coordinator in 1983 and held that position for six seasons.
Seifert was the quiet, unassuming man up in the booth who was the architect of those great 49er defenses of that era. The 49ers won three Super Bowls with him as a defensive coach.
When Bill Walsh stepped down as the 49er head coach in 1989, Seifert was elevated to the top position.
Under Seifert, the Niners would win two more Super Bowls, in 1989 and 1994. Any Super Bowl victory is outstanding, but the 1994 championship was extremely gratifying for Seifert. He was out from under the shadow of Bill Walsh, and this was truly his team.
In his eight seasons as head coach of the 49ers, from 1989-96, Seifert led the Niners to a regular season record of 98-30, plus the two Super Bowl titles.
Frank Gore Is The 49ers Only Proven Running Back
It has been a treat watching Frank Gore play football over the past six seasons with the 49ers. He has been a true warrior on the field and has played his heart out in every game.
Over those six years, Gore has rushed for 6,414 yards and 35 touchdowns. He has also been a valuable threat out of the backfield on passing downs as he has 270 career receptions, with nine touchdowns.
My concern is that over these past six seasons, Gore has been subjected to a tremendous amount of punishment. His 1,371 carries average out to 228 per season, and he was rarely off the field.
Gore's running style also contributes to the punishment he takes. He runs through tacklers, as opposed to running around them. A good pass blocker also, Gore is hit on almost every play.
The workload finally caught up to Gore last year, when he missed the final five games of the year due to a severe hip injury that required surgery.
Jim Harbaugh is counting on a healthy Gore to lead the rushing attack for the 49ers. Gore is a pleasure to watch because he works so hard, I hope he still has some gas left in the tank.
In the mid 1950s, the San Francisco 49ers put together an amazingly talented backfield. Back in the days when a million dollars was a lot of money, this foursome was called "The Million Dollar Backfield." So great were these four that they are all members of the Hall of Fame.
These supremely talented players were led by Hugh "The King" McElhenny. He played for the 49ers for nine seasons from 1952-1960. McElhenny rushed for 4,288 yards and was also a threat out of the backfield with 2,666 yards receiving. McElhenny also had a nose for the end zone, as he scored 50 touchdowns for the 49ers.
Joe "The Jet" Perry was a 49er from 1948-1960 and rounded out his career playing for the 49ers one last year in 1963. Perry amassed 8,689 yards rushing and another 1,505 receiving. His 79 touchdowns led the franchise until a fellow named Jerry Rice came along.
John Henry Johnson was the third member of this group. He played 13 years in the NFL, but only three with the 49ers, in 1954-1956. Johnson was a big, physical runner and very powerful.
The ringleader of this legendary group was "The Bald Eagle" Y.A. Tittle. He was the quarterback of the 49ers from 1951-1960. Tittle threw for 16,016 yards and 108 touchdowns, while with the 49ers. His completion percentage of 55.9 was very good in an era when passing was not as prevalent as it is today.
To have four members of the same backfield all become members of the Hall of Fame is an incredible accomplishment.
Joe Montana to Dwight Clark, "The Catch," was the play that enabled the 49ers to defeat their nemesis the Dallas Cowboys. The date was Jan. 10, 1982, and it was the NFC Championship Game. The 49ers trailed the Cowboys 27-21.
Montana drove the 49ers down the field to the Dallas 6-yard line with only 58 seconds left to play. On third down, Montana was flushed out of the pocket and fading toward the sideline, when he saw Clark in the back of the end zone.
He threw the ball high and deep in the end zone and it looked like it was going to be incomplete, giving the Niners one final play. Clark leaped up as high as he could go and snared the ball with his fingertips, coming down in bounds for the touchdown.
"The Catch" propelled the 49ers to their first Super Bowl and began the dynasty that will go down as the longest continuous run of success in pro football. As a long suffering 49er fan, this play will always be one of my all-time favorites.
The San Francisco 49ers trailed the Cincinnati Bengals 16-13 in Super Bowl XXIII. The Niners had the ball on their own 8-yard line with only 3:10 left in the game.
Joe Montana would take the 49ers down to the Bengal 10-yard line with 39 seconds left in the game. As we would learn later, it was really a broken play, which was originally designed to go to Roger Craig.
Montana looked right to Craig, then left and fired the ball to John Taylor who got inside the Bengal defender. Taylor caught the ball for the touchdown which gave the 49ers their third Super Bowl title.
The drive was epic and Montana showed once again why he was known as "Joe Cool."
As the 49ers were moving down the field to their final score, there was an air of calm and certainty. It seemed like the players and fans all knew Montana would drive the 49ers to the game winning touchdown. He most certainly did.
Steve Young Won Super Bowl XXIX
Steve Young had the unenviable task of replacing a legend. He joined the 49ers in 1987 and spent several years watching Joe Montana. Young got his first meaningful action in 1991, as he replaced an injured Montana.
Young played with a reckless abandon and would utilize his speed and running ability to make plays. He moved around so much that his offensive linemen would complain that he was hard to protect because they never knew where he would be.
Under Bill Walsh, Young gradually learned how to be a pocket passer. If a play broke down he still had the athleticism to run for valuable yardage, but his main goal was to find open receivers.
Young learned his lessons well and ultimately led the 49ers to their fifth championship in Super Bowl XXIX.
Young played for the 49ers for 13 seasons. He threw for 29,907 yards, 221 touchdowns and had a completion percentage of 65.8. He also rushed for 3,581 yards and scored 37 more touchdowns.
Young was a seven-time Pro Bowler and also earned three first-team All-Pro honors. He also was the league MVP twice and Super Bowl XXIX MVP. Young was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.
Ronnie Lott Closes In For Another Big Hit
Ronnie Lott was a special player. He was the heart and soul of the 49er defense. He played 10 years in San Francisco, initially at cornerback, then safety, later in his career.
Lott had 51 interceptions, including five for touchdowns. However, stats do not do Lott justice.
He was a fearsome hitter and sure tackler. So devastating were his hits that opposing receivers hated going into his territory. They knew they would be hit and hit hard.
What set Lott apart from many of the other top defensive backs in the league was his intensity and leadership. He played all out in every game and his teammates saw his dedication.
The mark of a true leader is that they can get others to raise themselves up and do better. Lott was that type of person and player.
Lott is a 10-time Pro Bowl selection and six-time first team All Pro. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.
Bill Walsh coached the San Francisco 49ers from 1979 through 1988. During that time, Walsh's 49ers won three of their five Super Bowl titles.
Walsh is credited with developing and installing the west coast offense in San Francisco. His nickname of " The Genius" seemed appropriate, as the 49ers' precision offense was, at times, unstoppable.
His career record of 92-59-1 is outstanding, as is his playoff record of 10-4. In seven of Walsh's 10 years as head coach of the 49ers, they made the playoffs.
There are several very successful head coaches that worked under Walsh in San Francisco. These include Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, George Seifert, Jon Gruden and Sam Wyche.
Simply put, Bill Walsh built the 49er dynasty.
Jerry Rice was the Greatest Wide Receiver Ever
Jerry Rice came to the 49ers from little Mississippi Valley State. Bill Walsh drafted Rice in 1985, and he played 16 of his 21 NFL seasons with the 49ers.
During his 16 years in San Francisco, Rice caught 1,281 passes for 19,247 yards and 176 touchdowns. He also rushed for 10 more touchdowns. His career touchdown mark of 207 and 22,895 receiving yards are records that still stand today.
Rice also holds several other NFL records, far too many to name here. In addition, his training and workout regimen were legendary, and his work ethic was unparalleled.
Rice was a 13-time Pro Bowler and 10-time first-team All-Pro selection. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.
Rice was the greatest wide receiver to ever play the game and arguably the greatest football player ever.
Joe Montana, Legendary Quarterback of the 49ers
Joe Montana is the quarterback who made Bill Walsh's intricate passing game work. His accuracy and precise timing with his receivers enabled the west coast offense of the 49ers to thrive.
Montana played for the 49ers from 1979-1992. He led the team to four Super Bowl championships and along with Terry Bradshaw of the Steelers, is the only quarterback to win that many without ever losing one.
Montana was known for his cool, calm demeanor and his ability to execute under the most pressure packed situations. His nicknames of "Joe Cool" or "Golden Joe" fit perfectly. Montana was a great leader and like Ronnie Lott on defense, inspired the offense to greatness.
While with the 49ers, Montana threw for 35,124 yards and 244 touchdowns. His completion percentage of 63.7 shows how accurate a passer he was.
Montana was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time first-team All-Pro. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.
5 World Championships
The two greatest things about being a fan of the San Francisco 49ers are the incredible run of success the team had in the '80s and '90s and the great players we had the pleasure of watching.
The 49ers won five Super Bowls and are the only team in history to win that many without suffering defeat in that game.
Super Bowl XVI Jan. 24, 1982 San Francisco 49ers 26 - Cincinnati Bengals 21 Super Bowl XIX Jan. 20, 1985 San Francisco 49ers 38 - Miami Dolphins 16 Super Bowl XXIII Jan. 22, 1989 San Francisco 49ers 20 - Cincinnati Bengals 16 Super Bowl XXIV Jan. 28, 1990 San Francisco 49ers 55 - Denver Broncos 10 Super Bowl XXIX Jan. 29, 1995 San Francisco 49ers 49 - San Diego Chargers 26
As a lifelong 49er fan, I will always have the memories of these great championship teams, and the outstanding players, coaches and executives that made it all possible.
Here's hoping that the 49ers will climb that mountain again and reclaim their rightful place among the NFL elite.