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Defense Wins Championships -- Do the 49ers Measure Up?

Gary Mialocq
Sep 27, 2019 at 6:02 PM


The old saying goes, "Defense Wins Championships." I first learned the true importance of defense not from football, but from basketball. That happened in 1955 and 1956 when my Uncle Al ("Big Frenchy"), a sports nut, took me to every one of Bill Russell's home games at USF. Bill just didn't guard the opposing center, he was so quick he would terrorize opposing forwards as well. In fact, the NCAA had seen this coming and had widened the lanes to try to stop it in advance, to no avail. Over that two-year period, Bill averaged 20 points and 20 rebounds per game, and USF won every game but one and back-to-back NCAA titles.

It really left an impression upon me that a supposedly honest organization in charge of supervising school championships would resort to changing the rules of the game in order to stop a defense. Bill Russell had proven their fear was correct. His defense stopped the offense -- period.

At this time, the defense didn't seem anywhere near as important in football. Uncle Al, and my Italian uncles, Bruno and Mondo, took me to 49ers games starting in 1947, just before I turned five. My initial introduction to football was influenced by the fabulous offenses that were regular features of the 49ers. For instance, in 1955, we had Tittle, McElhenny, Perry, (all in the Hall of Fame) and Joe Arenas in the backfield, and the great receiver Billy Wilson. The offensive line featured two Hall of Fame legends at the tackles, Leo Nomellini, and Bob St. Clair.

It was one little guy on defense, however, who woke me up to its importance. Leo "The Lion" Nomellini, the 10X Pro Bowler and Hall of Fame offensive/defensive tackle led the defense, but it was 6' 180 lb linebacker Hardy Brown who was easily the hardest hitter EVER to play for the 49ers, a group that includes my favorite, Ronnie Lott -- and by a long-shot.

Hardy was unfortunate enough to have seen his father murdered in front of him and his sister at age four. He grew up an angry young man in an orphanage and focused on football to release his rage. In one season, it was documented by the NFL that Hardy had scored 22 "knockouts," as in out cold. He did it with a vicious shoulder block under the chin, and the opponent was out (legal in those days). The Rams placed a $500 bounty on his head, and the 49ers banned him from practice to protect his teammates. They just rolled him out on Sundays. Hardy recalled with a smile that he had knocked out 75-80 players over his career.

Now back to DEFENSE. Some fans post on social media that the 49ers should go 15-1 with no problem. I decided to draw comparisons between the 2019 49ers and the best defensive team of all-time, including the 1985 Bears -- the 1984 SF 49ers. They finished the season 18-1, defeating the Bears 23-0 in the NFC Championship game, then Dan Marino's favored Dolphins in a ruthless Super Bowl smack-down, 38-16.

Their defensive coordinator at the time was George Seifert, who rotated his defensive line among names that will be very familiar to the Faithful: (1984 stats, time with 49ers, career stats with the team)

  • Dwaine Board, 10 sacks, 1 FR. 6th of 9 yrs with 49ers. Career: 45 sacks, 10 FR.
  • Michael Carter, 4 sacks. Rookie season of 9. *Hall-of-Fame* 1x All-Pro. Career: 22.5 sacks.
  • Fred Dean, 5 sacks, 3 FR. *Hall-of-Fame* 2x All-Pro. 4x Pro Bowl. 49er Career: 2.5 years, 28 sacks.
  • Gary "Big Hands" Johnson, 5 sacks, 3 FR. 4x Pro Bowl. 2x All-Pro. Career: 2 yrs/9 sacks/3 FR.
  • Jeff Stover, 1.5 sacks. 7 years with 49ers. Career: 30 sacks.
  • Jim Stuckey, 7 years with 49ers. Career: 7.5 sacks.
  • Manu Tuiasosopo, 4 sacks. Career: 3 years, 7 sacks.
  • Lawrence Pillers, 2 sacks, 1 FR. 5 years with 49ers. Career: 9 sacks, 2 FR.

A big, fast, and aggressive bunch.

LINEBACKERS: The 1984 team featured linebackers Keena Turner, Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds, Riki Ellison, and Super Bowl #16 hero, Dan Bunz, as well as Todd Shell, Jim Fahnhorst, and Milt McColl.

Seven outstanding players rotated by the mad defensive genius of George Seifert. This is quite a bunch for the new linebacking unit of Alexander, Warner, and team to emulate.

SECONDARY? The 1984 secondary featured four defensive backs in the Pro Bowl, Ronnie Lott, Dwight Hicks, Eric Wright, and Carlton Williamson.

Richard Sherman has quite a task ahead of him, perhaps more as a mentor than as a performer. The 49ers secondary is capable, but to be great, it has to focus on the standards that Dwight Hicks and his Hot Licks set for it and they are the highest. The responsibility it now carries is huge. I hope the group treasures it.

The hardest thing to do when momentum is sudden and exciting is to avoid overconfidence, and this inevitably occurs with young players. If this team is truly bound for greatness, we will see its maturity start to reveal itself after the bye. Cleveland will provide a tough test for the defense, and will be a great preview to the showdown with the Rams the following week and how realistic these lofty predictions truly are.

PREDICTION:
49ers - 34
Browns - 24
  • Gary Mialocq
  • Written by:
    Native of SF. Attended Washington HIgh, CCSF and SF State University. Investor & Startup Business Consultant, Former Juvenile Detention Counselor, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, Self-employment Specialist, Real Estate Investor, Genealogist. Senior Pro Golfer.


Poll

  • Will this 2019 49er Defense Be Remembered as a Great One?
  • Yes --
    76%
  • No --
    24%
  • 433 votes
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


3 Comments

  • BW
    Nice article. According to my research, the 49ers were favored -3 over the Dolphins in SBXIX. Offense and defense were stellar in the game. Leading rusher was Joe Montana. Top that Brady!
    Sep 28, 2019 at 1:08 PM
    0
    Response: That's true, but you would never have known Miami was the underdog as the Eastern press was all over Marino and how he was the greatest while they pooh-poohed Joe Montana and the 49ers as simply a "finesse team". The 49ers held the Dolphins to 25 yards rushing for the entire game, and shut them out in the second half with a dominating performance.
  • NinerTy
    There's a reason why the defense was emphasized in getting really good players on that side of the ball. And looking at what is there now, a very good job has been done. That front four is very formidable. And we haven't even seen their best yet! With Jimmy GQ back there pitching, and Coach Shanahan creating, I see at least two Lombardi Trophies added to the case very soon! And Mr. Mialocq, sometime in the near future I'd like to share with you my first game at Kezar when liquor bottles started flying right before the half of a Colts - 49ers game!
    Sep 28, 2019 at 8:58 AM
    0
    Response: You must have been seated at the West end. That's where the seagulls invaded in the second half of every game as fans hit the deck, and beer bottles flew if the 49ers were losing. It was a fun, crazy time...
  • mbniner
    I remember Hardy Brown and how hard he drove his shoulder into a ball carrier's chin. He called a "shoulder tackle" but it was a kill shot. Even the home crowd would shudder at some of the hits. Helmets were primitive and face guards were minimal. I'm glad that was outlawed even though it got the team fired up. Also, I think that Dwaine Board was one of the most underrated players in the NFL. He was great against the run and as a pass rusher. Too many famous names on the team so that his steady greatness was overlooked.
    Sep 27, 2019 at 8:13 PM
    0
    Response: I agree on the hits of Hardy Brown. I remember Kezar would go dead silent as the ambulance came out of the tunnel and loaded the prone opponent into it. I also remember that many 49er fans would be chanting "Hardy" "Hardy" as it left the stadium. You're exactly correct on Dwaine Board. The 1984 team placed 10 men on the Pro Bowl team and several more could have made the squad. This was the closest to an All-Star team that I have ever seen. Only a blown pass interference call (which the official admitted after the game) against Eric Wright at the goal line against the Steelers, prevented an undefeated season

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