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Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports


49ers: The Great Protectors

James LeBreton
Jul 10, 2017 at 7:18 PM


It's time to give credit where credit is due. Too often in history we forget the important players who do the dirty work inside the trenches. How many times have you heard a fan compliment the offensive line after the offense scored a touchdown? Sure there's recognition when someone pulls off a magnificent block that absolutely levels a defender in pursuit. But overall, nobody credits the offensive line for the six points that just happened. Where would your Pro Bowl quarterback be without his blindside protector? More importantly, how would he get the ball down the field if it wasn't for the interior guys absolutely trashing the defensive line for ten seconds? What you don't know is that those ten seconds can feel like hours for the linemen. And the five guys in front of your 25-million-dollar quarterback are taking the biggest hits on the field. Today that failure to recognize talent is over. It's time to break out the pen and thank you cards. Here are six of the greatest offensive linemen to ever step onto the grass at Candlestick Park.

Joe Staley LT


John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports


Joe Staley is one of the greatest offensive lineman the sport has ever seen. He's also one of the greatest players on his roster year after year. Granted over the past couple of seasons that may not seem like much, but Joe has played with some talented 49ers. Most notably among them, the team's all-time leading rusher and one of the greatest middle linebacker duos the franchise has ever seen. In 2012, arguably his finest year, Staley was graded as the second-best offensive tackle in the league and the absolute best in terms of run blocking. Against the pass, he allowed the fewest number of pressures (20) among tackles who started all 16 games. In that same season, Staley anchored an offensive line that produced 2,200 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns, 115 first downs and a league high 20 rushes for more than 20 yards apiece. He blocks well against the pass and the run and is equally effective in executing blocks whether the quarterback stays in the pocket or ventures outside of it. He's earned five consecutive Pro Bowl nominations and is one of only ten offensive lineman to start more than 140 games for his franchise. Staley has been voted into the NFL's top 100 players three times and is a positive voice both on and off the field. There's no denying his ability, and in the future when he retires, Canton will be waiting. You don't replace someone like Joe Staley, you draft someone and hope for the best.

Randy Cross LG


Greg Trott-AP


For over a decade, Randy Cross brought stability to a team that celebrated many years of success. With the ability to play guard or center, Cross was the best interior lineman to suit up for San Francisco. His specialties included pass protection, but where he excelled was pulling running backs down the field. Throughout his career, the 13-year veteran achieved many accolades. He's a three-time Super Bowl champion, had three Pro Bowl nominations and started 180 games on the interior front. He played heads up, operated with finesse and was as dominating as they come. Because of his championship play on the field he received All-Pro honors six times. For his big heart off the field, in 1985, Cross was named San Francisco's Man of the Year. For his longevity on the field he was blessed with a decade of dominance. For his loyalty to the franchise, he was inducted into the team's Ten Year Club, which was an honor brought to the team by Bill Walsh himself for all members who played in San Francisco for over a decade. Cross retired in 1989 after the 49ers won their third Super Bowl. His final moments as a team member: a 92-yard drive capped off by the Montana to Taylor touchdown with 34 seconds remaining in Super Bowl XXIII. The final moments of his career were spent much like the rest of it was: competitive and second-to-none.

Jesse Sapolu C


David Madison-Getty Images


Jesse Sapolu is Samoan bred, but a San Francisco 49er through and through. For 15 seasons he anchored an interior line that was a proven safe haven for quarterbacks. His versatility was by far his greatest attribute, but his loyalty to the franchise was truly remarkable. For 182 professional games, Sapolu put in All-Pro work for two of the greatest signal callers of all time. He is one of six 49ers to win four championships, but the only 49er among them to acquire a ring in 1995. Thankful for his time on the field, Sapolu has spent the bulk of his retirement giving back. Currently he's heavily involved in the Sapolu Youth Foundation and functions such as the Superior Lineman Challenge. Sapolu is also a co-founder of the Polynesian Hall of Fame. Selected in Round 11 with pick number 289 in 1983, Sapolu is the prime example of value found late in the draft and the best example of how giving back is the greatest form of gratitude.

Guy McIntyre RG


NFL Photo


In 13 NFL seasons, McIntyre played guard for three separate franchises. With 186 career games spent at the position, he certainly had a knack for protecting the quarterback. In the peak of his career he was selected to five consecutive Pro Bowls and was named an All-Pro three times. While with the 49ers, he help anchor an offensive line that produced more than 5,800 total yards each season. The offense also exceeded the 400 point total seven times in the 10 years he spent with the team. McIntyre was not only durable, he was versatile. He was one of the first linemen in history to see time as a fullback in the Angus short-yardage system, a system tailored by head coach Bill Walsh to improve the running game. The scheme did more than prove effective, it inspired others to use it as well.

Bob St. Clair RT


Neil Leifer-Getty Images


No great offensive line would be complete without Hall of Famer Bob St. Clair. Nicknamed "The Geek" by his teammates for his quirkiness, St. Clair locked down the right tackle position for 11 strong seasons. Standing at a dominating 6-foot-9, the Geek finessed his way to five Pro Bowls and was selected for the 1950s All-Decade team. Although his tenure yielded no championships and had more than one losing season, St. Clair was a master of his craft. He turned 119 games into nine total All-Pro nominations and recovered an incredible seven fumbles along the offensive line. St. Clair is one of the few players to spend his entire playing career in the same city and was a member of USF's undefeated 1951 collegiate roster. He passed away in 2015 at the age of 84, but his number 79 hangs proudly in the 49ers Ring of Honor.

Harris Barton/Depth


NFL Photo


At a young age, Barton was sought after for his outstanding ability. When high school ended he was scouted by more than 100 colleges, but in the end decided to play for North Carolina. Barton was a four-year starter, earned All-America honors and was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Outstanding Offensive Lineman as a senior. In 1986, he and the Tar Heels led the ACC in total offense, a mark that was good enough for sixth in the nation. Versatile enough to play center and tackle, Barton placed second in voting for Rookie of the Year following the 1987 season. During his career, the team captured three Super Bowl trophies and Barton took All-Pro honors twice. Barton suffered a tricep injury during the 1994 home opener and he retired as a 49er after the 1998 season. Without the injury, he would have played many more productive seasons, but the time he spent in San Francisco was nothing short of dominant.

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