The pride of San Francisco

The logic was undeniable. Run the tight end up the middle, have the wide receiver clear out and send the tailback into the flat, covered only by a slow-footed linebacker. It was the birth of the West Coast offense.

Using that single play as a building block, Bill Walsh transformed a chronically underachieving franchise into the NFL's winningest. San Franciscans no longer left their hearts just in the city, but also in the confines of Candlestick Park.

Unlike other NFL dynasties, the 49ers did not collapse. They merely reloaded.
But being a champion and great finisher wasn't always a 49ers trait. The team's early years were marked by talent-ladden teams that always underachieved. Y.A. Tittle, Hugh "The King" McElhenny, Bob St. Clair and Joe "The Jet" Perry all wore the 49ers colors in the 1950s, but the team never made it to an NFL Championship Game.

The most notable event of the 1950s was also one of the darkest days in team history. On a rather pleasant October afternoon in 1957, team owner Tony Morabito dropped dead in the stands during a San Francisco-Chicago Bears contest at Kezar Stadium.

Trailing 17-7 at halftime, the team heard of Morabito's death and rallied for a 21-17 victory.

In the 1960s the 49ers went into a long slumber. The team was 4-11-1 against the Green Packers and a miserable 3-15 in head-to-head battles against the powerful Baltimore Colts.

San Francisco continued to torture its fans in the 1970s. Early in the decade they dominated the NFL West, winning three straight titles behind the passing of John Brodie and the talents of Dave Wilcox, John David Crow, Ken Willard and Dave Parks.

But when it came to post-season play, the 49ers were a blowout. The Dallas Cowboys beat San Francisco three straight years. The embers of those defeats would smolder for years.

Beat the Cowboys! Beat the Cowboys! Beat the Cowboys! Beat the Cowboys! Beat the Cowboys!

In 1976, the 49ers awoke to claim an 8-6 record after a 6-1 start. But injuries crushed the team's hopes and then it happened - The Trade. Every team makes one, a deal so bad it becomes a bookmark in history for its fans.

General Manager Joe Thomas traded away the team's future to Buffalo for O.J. Simpson, who was so far into the twilight of his career that he played in only a handful of games for the 49ers over two seasons.

Finally, owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. had had enough of losing, and in almost a desperation move, plucked Walsh from the local coaching ranks. While Walsh has generally been credited with all the 49ers success in the 1980s and to some extent the 1990s, it was a scouting staff headed up by Tony Razzano that deserved most of the credit for placing talent on the San Francisco roster.

In the 1981 draft, the 49ers selected Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright and Carlton Williamson in the first three rounds. Toss in a free agent named Dwight Hicks and the 49ers fashioned an All-Pro defensive backfield in one off-season.

Other gems included Joe Montana in the third round in 1979, Pete Kugler in the 6th round in 1981, Jesse Sapolu in the 11th round in 1983 and Michael Carter in the 5th round in 1984.

Success came quickly in the 1980s. Late on a winter's day in the NFC Championship Game, Montana attempted to evade a sack by the hard-rushing Dallas Cowboys line by tossing a ball high in the end zone, too high, he believed, for anyone to catch.

The mantra now exploded-Beat the Cowboys!!!!

Clark leaped in the corner of the end zone and ... THE CATCH. The 49ers won 28-27 and two weeks later clinched their first Super Bowl crown with a 26-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Led by a living wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the 49ers would challenge for the league title nearly every season. The opponent didn't seem to matter. In 1984, Dan Marino came off one of the best passing seasons ever with the Miami Dolphins only to be crushed by the 49ers, 38-16, in Super Bowl XIX.

In 1988, Cincinnati was again dispatched, this time by a 20-16 score, but the real drama came after the game. Walsh tearfully bade farewell to the pro coaching ranks. Defensive coordinator George Seifert was given the task of replacing a legend.

But the system proved to be more powerful than any individual. Unlike other NFL dynasties, the 49ers did not collapse. They merely reloaded.

Seifert went on to win two Super Bowls and became the coach with the highest winning percentage in NFL history. But he never could find his way out of Walsh's shadow or the 49ers system's reputation. Steve Mariucci took over for 1997, becoming the first head coach in two decades not to be Walsh or a member of Walsh's staff. After that, the team went through a number of head coaches that included Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary and finally, Jim Harbaugh.


49ers Facts
 
Franchise Granted June 4, 1944 as Charter Member of AAFC
First Season  1946
Merged to NFL 1950
Stadium Candlestick Park (68,497)
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Superbowl Championships XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV, XXIX
NFC Championships 1981, 1984, 1988, 1989, 1994, 2012
NFC West Championships 1970, 1971, 1972, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, 2002, 2011, 2012

Retired Jerseys
 
Number
Player
Year Retired
8
Steve Young
2008
12
John Brodie
1973
16
Joe Montana
1997
34
Joe Perry
1971
37
Jimmy Johnson
1977
39
Hugh McElheny
1971
42
Ronnie Lott
2003
70
Charlie Krueger
1974
73
Leo Nomellini
1971
79
Bob St. Clair
2001
80
Jerry Rice
2010
87
Dwight Clark
1988