Randy Cross was a four time All-Pro and three time Super Bowl Champion for Bill Walsh's legendary San Francisco 49ers teams. He embodied the style of linemen in which Walsh and offensive line coach Bobb McKittrick preferred in controlling the line of scrimmage while perfecting the West Coast offense.
Recently, Randy, now one of football's top analysts, took the time to answer some questions for 49ers Webzone. I'd like to thank Randy immensely for his time.
Do you get the feeling the 49ers are finally about to get over that hump and return to the playoffs?
The team that is currently in place has the potential to be a 10 to 11 win team in my opinion. Returning to a consistent winning football team will take a while, but I believe Mike Singletary has the vision and ability to spread that message.
What advice would you have for players that have been here for so much losing, since your 49er teams experienced some bad seasons before turning it around?
It's rather simple actually. As player, you have a choice to make. Are you going to part of the solution to the problem or will you be remembered as symptom of the disease that is losing? This roster is full of problem solvers in my view.
Was there one defining moment early on under Coach Walsh when you knew that the 49ers were going to be a special team?
Every milestone you achieve becomes a chip in your bank if you will. Defeat divisional rival twice in a year, goes in the bucket. Make a comeback in a game that previously that margin was too great to overcome, goes in the bucket. The examples go on and on, but the bottom line is getting all those experiences takes time. For our era, a game against the Saints in '80 where we came back back from a 35-7 halftime deficit stands out. Going on the road in '81 and beating Pittsburgh and Washington meant the world to a young team that had known only losing.
What was it like playing for Bill Walsh?
It was a constant challenge mentally and physically to keep up with his expectations and standards. Eventually he built an organization and team that set their own standards and came to expect and accept only championships as a fitting conclusion to a season. In my lifetime I believe Bill had as large a footprint on this game as anyone else you could mention.
Do you feel that his (deserved) label as an offensive genius sometimes overshadows how great of an overall head coach he truly was?
It took his death and the usual reflection afterwards for most football fans and NFL types to truly value his impact. His ability as a head coach, play caller, team-builder through the draft, maker of trades and organizational architect just scratch the surface of his impact.
When people talk of the greatest single season team, you rarely hear the 1984 49ers thrown into the conversation. Why do you think that is, and does it bother you?
Yes it does bother me, and here's why: The greatest three year period in the modern era of the NFL was 84-86 with the three Super Bowl Champs losing a combined four games during that run (SF: 1 in 84, Chicago: 1 in 85 and NY: 2 in 86). The '84 team isn't recognized purely because of ignorance and the condescending nature of respect paid to teams on the West Coast. The explosion of media around the NFL coincides with the Niners rise, which had so called "NFL experts" labeling the Niners a finesse team or just a product of a passing scheme. I guess most couldn't deal with how harshly we dispatched the beloved Dolphins and curly headed little Danny Marino in Super Bowl XIX. It took a World Championship in '81 and then four more Super Bowl titles, plus 16 years of 10 or more wins between 83-98 to make them respect this team and organization.
When I hear the name Bobb McKittrick, I can't help but smile and remember what a great coach he was and what a great run the 49ers had with him, and I never played for him. What can you say about your former position coach?
Bobb was the best teacher I was ever around in this game. His emphasis on scheme, fundamentals, quickness and movement are still winning championships today. He was one of the most disliked coaches in the NFL by defensive players, even some of ours, because of his insistence on cut blocking. There were several rule changes made during Bobb's time in the NFL regarding blocking because of the techniques he taught but he never asked to do anything that was against the rules. As a 49er lineman, I had a choice to make in my opinion, I could worry about the health of my teammates who handled the ball or worry about the health of my opponents across the line who were so intent on hammering my friends. It really wasn't a hard choice.
Joe Montana. I don't think there's a particular question I can ask, because that would take up an entire q&a in itself, but just tell me what you think about when you look back on your ten seasons as Joe's teammate?
I was lucky enough to play a decade with the greatest quarterback to ever play the game and that is something I will always treasure.
Of all the 1980s 49ers not in the Hall of Fame yet, who do you think is the most deserved to be there?
There is one egregious error as we speak and that is that Edward DeBartolo Jr. is not in the Hall of Fame.
Do you ever dream about getting that call yourself and putting on that yellow jacket?
My father told me a long time ago not to worry about things out of your control. That is way out of my control, so no.
You got an illegal man downfield penalty on the final drive on Super Bowl XXIII, your final game. When that happened, what was going through your head, and did you think there was any way the team could overcome it?
I just moved on to the next play knowing I was playing with some amazing players who could make up for my mistake. Thank God they did!!
Back to the current 49ers...as a former offensive lineman, how big of a move do you think it was for the 49ers to draft two offensive lineman in the first round of this year's draft?
It helps to further cement the attitude and indentity that this team is establishing of a tough hardnosed group of really talented young players.
You played against Mike Singletary. Do you see any of that passion he had as a player being passed onto his players on the 49ers?
I really believe that as great of a player that Mike was, that eventually the world would find out how special a person he is. It's taken a lot of hard work by him in this game as a coach but the standards he sets, on and off the field, I think play a big part in forming who his team is.
What is your gut feeling on Alex Smith? Can this team win a Super Bowl with him under center?
Alex has the talent around him to be a big time QB in this league. Contrary to popular opinion there are zero one-man teams or offenses for that matter in the NFL. 2009 was the start for Alex Smith and this offense, if his teammates believe in him there is no limit to what they can do.
Did you ever think your broadcasting career would span longer than your playing career?
Not really no. I got into it thinking a couple of years would be nice. I have no delusions, this job is like a fantasy sports camp for adults.
As a broadcaster, who are some of the players that have stood out to you in the way that Joe Montana and Jerry Rice used to as being on top of their game?
Barry Sanders, Brett Favre, Reggie White, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith come to mind for a few.
Your son Brendan is beginning his college career this season as a QB with Wake Forest. How excited are you for him?
I'm very excited for him because he has grown up around this game and has come to love it much like I do. Brendan's 6'2" and 205 lbs so right off I must say thanks to my wife Patrice because he missed my "horizontal" gene and he can throw and run well. He was born at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, as were our daughters Kelly and Crystal. Brendan and Wake Forest play at Stanford on September 18th so we hope many of our Bay Area friends get a chance to see him then.