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The San Francisco 49ers have had several players named as the NFL Most Valuable Player, NFL Player of the Year, NFL Offensive Player of the Year, NFL Defensive Player of the Year and NFL Rookie Defensive Player of the Year. These are all very prestigious honors that have been given to 49er players over the years. I would like to review the seasons and the player performances in which these honors were awarded.
Starting in 1985, with Roger Craig’s incredible season. Although, Roger was not awarded with any of the prestigious honors mentioned above, his performance does deserve some recognition.
In 1985 Roger Craig became the first running back in the history of the NFL to finish the season with over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving. He had 214 carries for 1,050 yards, a 4.9 average and 9 touchdowns. He also had 92 catches for 1,016 yards and 6 touchdowns. His 92 catches were a NFL record for a running back.
Of his accomplishment, Roger said, “I’m very proud of it, because it says you’re not just a one-dimensional back. That you’re good at your craft and diversified as a runner. It takes a lot of toughness and concentration. You’ve got to have that Tasmanian Devil attitude. To say, I’m going to be recognized.” He realized that it took his sheer determination and great skill to accomplish what he had.
To this day the only other running back in the NFL to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in a season is Marshall Faulk. Faulk did it in 1999. Larry Centers is the only running back to have more than Craig’s 92 catches.
Roger Craig was known as the NFL’s most dangerous all-purpose back after this season. He was known as a classic leader-by-example, with his great running and pass catching skills as well as his work ethic. Roger had the speed to turn the corner on a sweep and a slashing powerful style that made him an effective inside runner. Roger Craig is one of my all-time favorite players.
The 49ers had a 10 and 6 regular season record and lost to the New York Giants in the first round of the playoffs. Joining Roger Craig in the Pro Bowl, from the 49ers, were Michael Carter, Joe Montana, Fred Quillan, Carlton Williamson and Eric Wright. Also, Jerry Rice was named the NFC Rookie of the Year with 49 catches for 927 yards and 3 touchdowns.
In 1987, Jerry Rice was named the NFL Player of the Year. He finished the season with 65 catches for 1,078 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also added a touchdown on a reverse. His 22 touchdowns were an NFL record for a wide receiver. Jerry scored a touchdown in 13 consecutive games during the season. His performance helped the 49ers to a 13 and 2 record and to lead the NFL in total yards. The 49er defense allowed a league low 4,095 total yards. The 49ers lost to the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs to end their season. Rice’s performance earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl along with Michael Carter, Roger Craig, Ronnie Lott, and Joe Montana.
1988 brought another Super Bowl victory to the 49ers as well as a Most Valuable Player Award to Roger Craig. During the off-season Craig lost 15 pounds to help increase his speed and endurance in order to play at his natural position – half back instead of full back. It seemed to pay off as he finished the season with a 49er record 1,502 yards rushing. He had a 4.8 average and 9 touchdowns rushing. He added 76 catches for 534 yards and one touchdown receiving. At this point in his career I believe that Roger Craig was the best running back in the NFL.
His best game of the season was in week 7 against the Los Angeles Rams. He ran for 190 yards and 3 touchdowns.
He had 162 yards against the Phoenix Cardinals on November 6th.
In the first playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings he rushed for 135 yards and 2 touchdowns leading the 49ers to a 34 to 9 victory.
In the Super Bowl Roger rushed for 74 yards and had 101 yards receiving helping the 49ers to a 20 to 16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Joining him in the Pro Bowl, from the 49ers, were Michael Carter, Charles Haley, Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice and John Taylor. The 49ers were only 10 and 6 in the regular season, but dominated in the playoffs and won their third Super Bowl.
In 1989 Joe Montana was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. He led the 49ers to a 14 and 2 regular season record and to their 4th Super Bowl victory.
During the regular season Joe completed 271 out of 386 passes for 3,521 yards, 26 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He added 227 yards and 3 touchdowns rushing. He finished with the highest ever QB rating in the NFL with a rating of 112.4. Montana was really unstoppable all season. Following are some highlights from his best games.
In week 3 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Joe completed 25 of 34 passes for 428 yards and 5 touchdowns bringing the 49ers back from a 28 to 10 4th quarter deficit. Four of his touchdowns came in the 4th quarter.
In week 5 against the New Orleans Saints he threw for 3 touchdowns, in the second half, to overcome a 17 to 3 deficit and lead the 49ers to a 24 to 20 victory.
In week 10, returning from a knee injury, Montana threw 3 touchdowns in the first half giving the 49ers a 31 to 13 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
In week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams, Montana completed 30 out of 42 passes for 458 yards and 3 touchdowns. The 49ers were losing 27 to 10 when Montana and John Taylor connected on two touchdowns of over 90 yards each. Two plays which will remain in the highlight films forever.
In the playoffs, Montana continued his dominating play. Against the Minnesota Vikings, he completed 17 of 24 passes for 241 yards and 4 touchdowns. All 4 touchdowns came in the first half.
In the NFC Championship game against the Los Angeles Rams Montana was nearly perfect, completing 26 out of 30 passes for 262 yards and 2 touchdowns.
It was, in a MVP performance, in the Super Bowl that Joe Montana showed that he really was the best QB in the game. He completed 22 out of 29 passes for 297 yards and a record 5 touchdown passes. Joining him in the Pro Bowl were Roger Craig, Ronnie Lott, Guy McIntyre, Jerry Rice and John Taylor.
In 1990 the 49ers had the NFL’s Most Valuable Player as well as the Player of the Year in Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. The 49ers finished the regular season with a 14 and 2 record and lost to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game 15 to 13.
Montana finished the season completing 321 out of 520 passes for 3,944 yards, 26 touchdowns and 16 interceptions for a rating of 89.0. He had four consecutive games of over 300 yards. Rice finished with 100 catches for 1,502 yards and 13 touchdowns. Montana to Rice was once again the theme for the 49ers throughout the season.
On September 16th Joe Montana completed 29 of 44 passes for 390 yards.
The following week, against the Atlanta Falcons, Montana threw for 398 yards and Jerry caught 8 passes for 171 yards.
On October 14th Montana and Rice combined to have their greatest game ever. Montana threw for 476 yards and 5 touchdowns and Rice caught 13 passes for 225 yards and all 5 of Montana’s touchdown passes.
Against the Green Bay Packers, on the 4th of November, Montana threw for 411 yards and Rice caught 6 passes for 187 yards.
In the playoffs, Montana threw for 274 yards and 2 touchdowns against Washington and for 190 yards and one touchdown against New York. Rice was very quiet in the playoffs catching a touchdown against Washington and only 5 catches for 54 yards against New York. The 49ers just fell short of their third consecutive trip to the Super Bowl.
In 1992 it was, new starting Quarterback, Steve Young that was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. Steve became the first Quarterback ever to finish back-to-back seasons with a QB rating over 100.0. He completed 268 out of 402 passes for 3,465 yards, 25 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions for a rating of 107.0. He also had 537 yards and 4 touchdowns with a 7.1 average rushing. He led the 49ers to a 14 and 2 regular season record and to the NFC Championship in only his second season as the starting Quarterback.
On September 13th in a loss to the Buffalo Bills, Young completed 26 of 37 passes for 449 yards.
On October 18th he completed 18 of 28 passes for 399 yards against the Atlanta Falcons.
After throwing for 2 touchdowns and running for another, against the New Orleans Saints on November 15th he was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
In a game against the Philadelphia Eagles, on November 29th, Young threw for 342 yards.
He was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for November.
Against Washington, in the playoffs, he completed 20 of 30 passes for 227 yards, 2 touchdowns, one interception and added 73 rushing yards.
In a 30 to 20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, in the NFC Championship Game, Young completed 25 out of 35 passes for 313 yards, one touchdown, 2 interceptions, 33 yards and one touchdown rushing.
In his second season, after taking over for Joe Montana, Steve Young had become the new leader of the 49er offense. Young impressed everyone with his statistics and his ability to run the 49er offense.
In his first Pro Bowl start he completed 18 of 32 passes for 196 yards and one touchdown. Joining him in the Pro Bowl were Pierce Holt, Brent Jones, Guy McIntyre, Steve Wallace, Jerry Rice and Ricky Watters.
In 1993 the 49ers led the league in scoring and total offense. This was in large part to the NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Jerry Rice. Jerry was voted to his 7th straight Pro Bowl and had his 8th consecutive 1,000-yard season. He finished with 98 catches for 1,503 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also had one touchdown rushing. The 49ers finished the regular season with a 10 and 6 record and lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game for the second year in a row.
Jerry’s best games came in November against Tampa Bay and the Rams. He caught 8 passes for 172 yards and 8 passes for 166 yards respectively.
The 49ers beat the New York Giants 44 to 3 in the first round of the playoffs. Ricky Watters and his 5 touchdowns dominated the game.
They lost 38 to 21 to Dallas in the NFC Championship Game.
In the Pro Bowl, from the 49ers were Rice, Steve Young, Ricky Watters, Jesse Sapolu, Guy McIntyre, Harris Barton, Brent Jones and Tim McDonald.
Also in 1993, the 49ers had the NFL Rookie Defensive Player of the Year, Dana Stubblefield. Dana had 10.5 sacks in his first season. He had 3 games with more than one sack and added 2 sacks against the Giants, in the playoffs. Stubblefield was a key addition to the 49er defense. His strength and quickness in getting to opposing Quarterbacks was very impressive.
1994 was a season dominated by the San Francisco 49ers. They had the NFL Most Valuable Player, The Coach of the Year, The NFL Defensive Player of the Year and the NFL Rookie Defensive Player of the Year. The MVP was Steve Young. George Seifert was the coach. Deion Sanders was the Defensive Player of the Year and Bryant Young was the Rookie Defensive Player of the Year. The 49ers had a 13 and 3 regular season record and went on to win their 5th Super Bowl.
Steve Young finished the season with the highest QB rating ever at 112.8. It was his 4th consecutive passing title. He was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month for November and NFC Offensive Player of the Week twice during the season. He completed 324 out of 461 passes for 3,969 yards, 35 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, a 5.1 average and 7 touchdowns rushing. He was, not only the regular season MVP, but the Super Bowl MVP as well.
He started the season off by throwing 4 touchdown passes against the Raiders on Monday night.
Against the Rams, in week 3, he completed 31 of 39 passes for 355 yards and 2 touchdowns and added 2 additional rushing touchdowns.
In week 7, against Atlanta, he only played in the first half completing 15 out of 16 passes for 143 yards and 4 touchdowns.
In week 10, against Dallas, he threw for 2 touchdowns and ran for another.
In a 31-27 victory against the Rams, in week 11, he threw for 325 yards and 4 touchdowns.
In week 12 he also threw 4 touchdowns in a 35-14 victory over the Saints.
In a 50-14 blowout against Atlanta in week 13, Young threw for 2 touchdowns and ran for another.
Against San Diego, in week 14, he completed 25 of 32 passes for 304 yards and 2 touchdowns.
In week 15, against Denver, he threw for 350 yards and 3 touchdowns.
He finished the season completing 12 of 13 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown in the first half against Minnesota.
In the playoffs Steve Young continued to be the most dominant player in the NFL. In the 44-15 rout of Chicago, Young completed 16 of 22 passes for 143 yards and one touchdown while rushing for 33 yards and another touchdown.
In the NFC Championship Game, which the 49ers won 38 to 28 against Dallas, he threw for 2 touchdowns and ran for another.
Saving his best performance for the biggest game of his life, Steve Young threw for 325 yards and 6 touchdowns in the Super Bowl. The 49ers won the game 49 to 26 against the San Diego Chargers. Young had finally stepped out of the shadow of Joe Montana.
Deion Sanders signed with the 49ers after the third game of the season and went on to become the Defensive Player of the Year. He finished the season with 6 interceptions and 303 return yards. He had touchdown returns covering 93, 90 and 74 yards. He added interceptions in both, the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl. Deion only played this one season with the 49ers, but it was a season that will be long remembered by the fans and his teammates.
Bryant Young finished his first season with 49 tackles, 6 sacks, a forced fumble and 3 passes defended earning him Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Joining Steve Young and Deion, in the Pro Bowl, were Jerry Rice, Ricky Watters, Brent Jones, Bart Oates, Jesse Sapolu, Merton Hanks, Tim McDonald and Dana Stubblefield.
In 1997 Dana Stubblefield was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He finished the season with 46 solo tackles and 15 sacks.
In the second week of the season he had a sack and forced and recovered a fumble against the Rams.
In week 4, against the Falcons, he had 7 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery.
He became the first player to be named NFC Defensive Player of the Week in back-to-back games for his performances against Dallas and Philadelphia on November 2nd and 10th. He had 2 sacks against Dallas and 4 against Philadelphia.
He was also named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for November.
Joining him in the Pro Bowl were Chris Doleman, Merton Hanks, Lee Woodall, Ken Norton, Kevin Gogan and Steve Young.
The next few performances I will be mentioning did not earn the players any of the prestigious awards, mentioned before, but I believe deserve some recognition in any case.
In 1998 the 49ers had two players that had their best seasons, in Steve Young and Garrison Hearst, and in Bryant Young, another player having a great season before it ended in a devastating injury.
Steve Young finished the 1998 season completing 322 out of 517 passes for 4,170 yards, 36 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 454 yards and 6 touchdowns rushing. He was voted to his 7th consecutive Pro Bowl. He had 7 games in which he threw for over 300 yards. He started the season with 6 consecutive 300-yard games. His best performances during the season are following.
In week one, in a wild 36 to 30-overtime victory against the New York Jets, Steve threw for 363 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Week 2, against Washington, he threw for 303 yards and 3 touchdowns while rushing for another touchdown.
Against Atlanta, in week 4, he threw for 387 yards and 3 touchdowns.
In a loss to Buffalo in week 5 he threw for over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns.
In week 6 in a 31-0 rout of New Orleans he completed 21 of 40 passes for 309 yards and 3 touchdowns.
In one of the best performances of his career, against Indianapolis in week 7, he brought the 49ers back from a 21-0 deficit to a 34-31 victory by throwing for 331 yards and 2 touchdowns and running for another 2 touchdowns.
In week 12, against New Orleans he threw for 4 touchdowns in a 31-20 victory.
He ended the season by throwing for 2 touchdowns and running for another against the Rams.
In a wild card playoff game, against the Green Bay Packers, Young threw for 3 touchdowns. This was a very exciting game with many lead changes that ended with a 25-yard touchdown throw from Steve Young to Terrell Owens on 4th down with 8 seconds left in the game. This play is being referred to as “The Catch II” by 49er fans. This catch ended a 5 game losing streak to Green Bay.
The following week, the 49ers ended their season in a 20-18 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Young threw for one touchdown and ran for another in the disappointing loss.
Garrison Hearst set a 49ers record with 1,570 yards rushing in 1998. He broke the old record set by Roger Craig in 1988.
In the first week of the season, in the overtime victory against the Jets, it was Hearst that was the hero. He rushed for 187 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 96-yard touchdown run in overtime. It was the longest run in 49er history as well as the longest game winning run in overtime in the NFL ever. Some are calling it the best run in the NFL ever.
In week 2, against Washington, Hearst ran for 138 yards.
In a 36-22 loss against Green Bay in week 9 he rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown.
In week 13 he rushed for 166 yards and a touchdown.
In week 14 in another overtime victory, he rushed for 139 yards and one touchdown.
The following week against Detroit he set another 49er record with 198 yards and one touchdown rushing.
In the playoff game against Green Bay, he rushed for 128 yards in the first half, before leaving with a sore hamstring.
On the first play against Atlanta he went down with a broken leg that has kept him off the field ever since.
Also in 1998, Bryant Young was having a great season, before going down with a devastating injury against the Giants in week 13. In only 12 games he had 42 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 19 QB pressures, 8 tackles for loss and 2 forced fumbles. He had at least a half sack in 6 consecutive games. Even with a season ending injury he was a 2nd team All-Pro. He had become the NFL’s best Defensive Tackle.
On September 14th, against Washington he had 4 tackles, 2 sacks and a forced fumble.
On September 27th, against Atlanta he had 3 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble.
October 11th against New Orleans, he had 6 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 4 QB pressures.
October 25th, against the Rams he had 8 tackles, a sack and 3 QB pressures.
November 22nd against New Orleans, he had 4 tackles and 2 sacks.
The 49ers sent Steve Young, Garrison Hearst, Jerry Rice, Kevin Gogan and Winfred Tubbs to the Pro Bowl in 1998.
In the year 2000, the 49ers had two players that had outstanding seasons, Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens.
In his first full year as the starting QB, Garcia completed 355 out of 561 passes for a 49er record 4,278 yards, 31 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 414 yards and 4 touchdowns rushing for a rating of 97.6. He had 6 games in which he threw for over 300 yards.
In week 1, against Atlanta, he threw for 253 yards and 3 touchdowns.
In week 3, against St. Louis, he threw for 290 yards and 3 touchdowns.
In week 4, against Dallas, he threw for 178 yards and 4 touchdowns.
In week 6, against Oakland, he also threw for 4 touchdowns.
In week 7, against Green Bay, he threw for 336 yards and 4 touchdowns.
In week 8, against Carolina, he completed 25 of 39 passes for 309 yards and 2 touchdowns.
In week 14, against San Diego, he threw for 323 yards and 2 touchdowns.
In week 15, against New Orleans, he threw for 305 yards and 2 touchdowns and ran for 2 touchdowns.
Finally, in week 16, against Chicago, he threw for 402 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Jeff Garcia proved to everyone that he is worthy of following in the footsteps of Steve Young and Joe Montana. With his performance this season, I believe that Jeff has become one of the premier Quarterbacks in the game.
Terrell Owens, in his first season as the 49ers #1 wide receiver, caught 97 passes for 1,451 yards and 13 touchdowns. He had 5 games with over 100 yards this and 5 more with just fewer than 100 yards.
In week 3 he had 6 catches for 108 yards and a touchdown.
In week 6 he had 12 catches for 176 yards and 2 touchdowns.
In week 9 he had 8 catches for 115 yards and 2 touchdowns.
In week 15 he had 129 yards and one touchdown.
In week 16, against the Chicago Bears, Owens caught 20 passes for 283 yards and one touchdown. His 20 catches broke a 50-year-old record for the most catches in one game.
Both Owens and Garcia are replacing legends. Owens has taken over for Jerry Rice and Garcia for Steve Young. It is never easy to follow a legend, but both of these players have done so in a remarkable fashion, earning their first invitation to the Pro Bowl.
I think, with the players the 49ers have and the additional players to come in the draft and free agency, we will be seeing many more M.V.P. performances from the 49ers in the near future.