I’m not sure if people agree on exactly when the 49ers dynasty began: I think the best candidates are either the 38-35 comeback win over the Saints in December 1980 or the win over Dallas during the 1981 season or, if we go back to first principles, the January 1979 day when Eddie DeBartolo hired Bill Walsh. But I’m pretty sure it’s agreed that the 49ers dynasty ended at the same time Steve Young’s career ended: September 27, 1999, when Young suffered a concussion during a Monday night game vs. the Arizona Cardinals. Since I’ve looked at the start of the dynasty, I thought it appropriate to cover the end as well. So, here’s some of how the San Jose Mercury News described what happened:

Eight days after suffering a dreadful beating in a 28-21 win over New Orleans, a game in which Young absorbed 21 hits, the 49ers quarterback bowed out of a 24-10 win over Arizona because of a concussion late in the first half. It was the first time in two years that Young, who turns 38 in two weeks, missed part of a game because of a head injury, and it raised the question the 49ers fear most: What happens when Young isn’t around?

The 49ers found out in the second half, relying on their defense and a last-minutes 68-yard touchdown run by Lawrence Phillips to hold off sputtering Arizona.

“Yeah, I worry,” Young said. “I’m much more sober about it than ever before. I’m going to deal with it realistically.”

Young, who last suffered a concussion in the 1997 season opener at Tampa Bay, is expected to be examined today before a determination is made about his future. Mariucci said the concussion was not as severe as Young’s previous one, but team doctors cautioned against terming the concussion “mild” until Young is examined again.

“He was woozy initially,” Mariucci said. “It’s clearing up. It was clearing up very quickly. He is hopeful to play in the next game and feels that maybe he could have played in this game, but I was on the conservative side and made the decision to keep him out.”

Young, who paced the sideline in the second half, asked to return to the game, but Mariucci would not let him. Mariucci said he and team doctors agreed Young should sit the second half out.

“I told him I love him too much to put him back in there,” Mariucci said.

Hit several times in the first half, Young finally caved in with 30 seconds left in the first half when he was sandwiched in a high-low blitz by Arizona cornerbacks J.J. McCleskey and Aeneas Williams on a pass attempt.

McCleskey belted Young from behind just before Williams, blitzing from Young’s right, hammered Young in the chest. Young toppled as he did one game earlier when New Orleans safety Chris Hewitt belted him in the helmet, but this time he did not get up.

Concern for Young was immediate as Mariucci ran onto the field to stand over Young. Young did not budge, and TV close-ups showed his eyes closed.

“Usually, if he’s hit and he’s hurt, he’s moving around,” wide receiver Terrell Owens said. “But he was motionless. I went over, and he was out cold.”

Young said he blacked out “for a few seconds” before Mariucci arrived.

“When I went out there, he wanted to get up right away,” Mariucci said. “He was stunned at first, as maybe a boxer would be, but then got back in his corner and shook it off.”
Asked if he saw the future of Young — and the team — flash before his eyes, Mariucci paused.

“No . . . yes . . . of course,” he said. “You just hope he’s OK.”

After several minutes, Young stood up and walked off the field. Once he reached the sideline, he paced up and down once, returned to the bench where doctors and trainers surrounded him, then jogged off the field at halftime. Young’s only appearance after that was on the sideline.

Before leaving, he was 13 of 23 passing for 92 yards and a touchdown with one interception, but the most important number is one that never showed up on the stat sheet — it was head injury No. 1 this year for a quarterback whose family two years ago urged him to retire.

There will be similar calls now that the 49ers have shown little ability to keep opponents off him. Despite rushing for 210 yards — more than the team gained in its first two games combined — the 49ers could not keep the heat off Young, who several times was forced into hurried throws and dumped six of his 13 completions to running backs.

Young was lost on what some teammates described as “a freak play.” Hammered by Williams from the front, Young fell backward and appeared to strike his helmet against the knee of left tackle Dave Fiore before hitting the ground. Fiore didn’t remember Young striking him, and Young, well, it’s unclear how much he remembered.

“That was a tough call,” said strong safety Tim McDonald, who had an interception and a fumble recovery. “I like our chances a lot better with Steve.”

A month later, in late October 1999, the Mercury News took a look at Young’s other known concussions:

Even after 16 years, memories of Steve Young’s first known concussion on a football field are as vivid to one witness as memories of the one suffered by the 49ers quarterback last month.

“He could barely make it off the field,” said Robbie Bosco, who temporarily replaced Young as Brigham Young University’s quarterback in a 1983 game against Utah State. “He needed help to get to the sidelines.”

At the time, no one could know that this concussion would be the start of a string of at least eight during Young’s career, a series of head injuries that threatens to make his Sept. 27 game against the Arizona Cardinals his last.

There are anecdotal reports from players, including some who played in the Sept. 20 49ers-New Orleans Saints game, who suspected from Young’s behavior in the huddle that he had sustained additional concussions. Ralph Zobell, BYU’s sports information director, said he had been requested by Young ‘s agent, Leigh Steinberg, not to release information on his college injury history.

In light of the way Young has played during his career, it’s surprising that he has had only eight concussions.

“He was an option/roll-out quarterback in high school,” said his coach in Greenwich, Conn., Mike Onorato, who is now retired. “He ran the ball on almost every down and got whacked a lot.”

But Young’s only high school injury, Onorato said, was a slight shoulder separation that kept him out of the last two quarters of a game in his junior year.

Young went to Brigham Young not as a quarterback but as a defensive back. It wasn’t until spring practice before his sophomore season that he switched back to offense, said Dick Rosetta, a sports columnist for the Salt Lake City Tribune who was the paper’s BYU beat writer at the time.

“Steve had the toughest mindset I’ve ever been around,” Rosetta said. “I just know the guy is going to go down fighting.”

Young’s reaction to the concussion in his senior season at BYU was typical of what would follow.

“He wanted to get back in the game,” said Marv Roberson, who has retired as the university’s football trainer.

Roberson described Young on the sideline as “just woozy, so I sat him out. But he answered the questions, the usual protocol. He did all the right stuff, and I let him back in.”

With the Cougars trailing 34-31, Young directed a winning drive in which he ran twice, the second time for a 5-yard touchdown that gave BYU a 38-34 victory.

BYU Coach LaVell Edwards said he didn’t remember the severity of Young’s concussion, but he remembers the game and Young’s part in it.

“He couldn’t remember the game when it was over,” Edwards said.

Bosco, now quarterbacks coach under Edwards, said he never expected Young to re-enter the game.

” ‘There’s no way he should be playing,’ ” Bosco said he was thinking. “With him healthy, I don’t think it would have been as close. We used to joke about that game all the time. I asked him, ‘Why did you come back in? It was my chance to play.’ He would have to be hit by a truck dead before he would be taken out of a game.”

He suffered the first of seven reported NFL concussions in a 1986 exhibition game as he played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Young’s injury was described in press reports as “mild,” and he completed only 6 of 18 passes for 54 yards in that game, a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Young’s three most recent concussions stand out because they are the first to result in his sitting out games. Young didn’t play in the game after his 1987 concussion with the 49ers, but that was because Joe Montana returned as the starter.

Young’s fifth known concussion came during a 1996 game against the Houston Oilers, and he returned to action the next week. Two weeks after the injury, however, he suffered a concussion against Dallas, which kept him out of the next game.

The effects of the concussions since appear to have taken longer to clear, which many physicians view as an ominous sign. Young missed one game after his 1997 concussion and has missed four this season because of the concussion he suffered against Arizona.”

Here’s the Mercury News’s summary of the concussions:

1983: Missed one series of Brigham Young -Utah State game, but returned to lead team to a come-from-behind victory in Young’s senior season.
1986: Suffered “mild” concussion in Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ exhibition loss to St. Louis Cardinals but missed no games.
1987: Started for 49ers against New Orleans in place of injured Joe Montana and was injured during a first-quarter scoring drive. Questioned by a suspicious team doctor after the score, Young was benched for the remainder of the game, and Montana returned.
1992: Replaced by Steve Bono after suffering a concussion early in a game against New York Giants, but he returned to start the next week.
1996: Hurt on the third play of a game against the Houston Oilers and was benched.
1996: Two weeks after the injury in Houston, he suffered a second concussion in a game against the Dallas Cowboys. He sat out the next game.
1997: Suffered a concussion on the fifth play of the season-opening game against the Buccaneers and missed the next game.
1999: Knocked unconscious late in the first half of a Sept. 27 game against the Arizona Cardinals and has not played since.”

Finally here’s a long quote from Young in mid-October of ’99: “This is the third game (I’ve missed). This is not the end of the world. . . . Hopefully, I can get back. I think more than anyone who hasn’t been to med school I think I understand concussions now. I’m the resident expert at it. . . . I know I can’t risk the future. I have a full life ahead of me, and I don’t want to miss any of that. So I know that’s very important, and the risks you face playing football have to be weighed in. But to the extent that I’m capable of handling those risks I really want to play football. I really intend to have a full life, and I really intend not to risk things that should not be risked.”

Here is the cover:


A picture of Bill Walsh:

And a picture of Joe Montana, with an inset picture of Joe DiMaggio, from an article comparing the two San Francisco sports icons:

This is the most dominant 49ers’ Super Bowl win; a good precedent for the team to follow in the 2013 Super Bowl. Here are parts of two articles covering the thrashing of the Broncos.
Mark Blaudschun of the Boston Globe wrote:

It was the most one-sided victory in Super Bowl history, as the 49ers dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s on a championship season with a 55-10 romp over the Denver Broncos yesterday at the Superdome.

All Montana did was complete 22 of 29 passes for 297 yards and throw a Super Bowl-record five touchdown passes in placing himself on the same plateau as former Pittsburgh Steeler Terry Bradshaw as the only QBs to win four Super Bowls. Montana also became the Super Bowl’s first three-time Most Valuable Player award winner.

All the 49ers did was become the first team since the Steelers in 1978 and ’79 to repeat as NFL champs, tie the Steelers as the only team to win four Super Bowls and breeze through this year’s playoffs by outscoring the Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams and Broncos, 126-26.

“If we can play any better than this, I hope to see it next year,” said Montana, who threw for three of his five TDs in the first half as the 49ers rolled to a 27-3 lead.

Two of those throws were to Jerry Rice, who finished with seven catches for 148 yards and three scores.

“We are the best,” said Rice, who will not receive any argument there. Certainly, no one among the Superdome crowd of 72,919 was about to dispute it.

The 49ers established themselves quickly, scoring on their first drive as Montana completed a 66-yard, 10-play march by zipping a 20-yarder to Rice.

That drive set the tempo of the game. “We knew we could control this game, dominate it,” said offensive tackle Bubba Paris. That they did.

Denver scored a token field goal following Montana’s first touchdown pass, but all that did was make the 49ers more determined to gain control. . . . For Denver, losers in three of the last four Super Bowls, frustration was evident in every phase of its game. The Broncos couldn’t stop Montana or Rice. Nor could they mount any kind of offense.

Most of the burden fell on the shoulders of Denver quarterback John Elway. Elway, who had one of the best days of his career in the Broncos’ 37-21 AFC championship victory over the Browns two weeks ago, had one of his worst against the 49ers.

“The idea was to keep Elway contained, make him run up the middle,” said 49ers free safety Ronnie Lott.

The strategy worked perfectly. Elway connected on only 10 of 26 passes for 108 yards. He was sacked four times and was intercepted twice.

Both interceptions came in the third quarter and both were almost instantly turned into scoring strikes by Montana.

Trailing by so much at the half, Denver had little choice but to air it out. The only problem was that Elway had no place to throw. The first interception, by linebacker Michael Walter, gave the 49ers a first down at the Bronco 24.

Montana wasted little time, finding Rice on a post pattern for 28 yards and the TD.

Elway came out and tried again. This time strong safety Chet Brooks picked off the attempt and rumbled to the Denver 37. Two plays later, Montana went to John Taylor over the middle and he worked his way into the end zone.

With more than nine minutes left in the third quarter, San Francisco had a 41-3 lead and was looking like the team of the century instead of the decade.

“There’s not much you can say,” said Broncos coach Dan Reeves. “We made a lot of experts who said that we didn’t deserve to be on the same field with the 49ers look good.”

“There’s not a whole lot you can say about something like this,” said Reeves. “We just made a whole lot of mistakes and you can’t do that against a team like the 49ers.”

The 49ers did make a few mistakes. Kicker Mike Cofer missed an extra point on their second touchdown, which made it 13-3. And the defense suffered a lapse after it was 41-3, allowing the Broncos to score their only touchdown on a 3-yard run by Elway. But that did little to ease the Broncos’ pain. Nor did it do much to hide the obvious. The 49ers were far superior.

“I don’t know if anyone in the NFL is on their level right now,” said Reeves.

And a few lines from an article by Leonard Shapiro of the Washington Post:

Coach Dan Reeves probably put it best when he said, “They’re playing at a level that no team in the NFL can match right now.

“I’m proud of this team, we’ve come a long way to get here. I’m disappointed; there are a lot of people we let down. We made a lot of experts look real smart. Life is cruel . . . I’m not angry. It’s one of those deals in life you know will happen but you just hope it doesn’t happen to you. Life is tough.”

And so were the 49ers. The Broncos came into the game hoping to keep San Francisco off the field with ball-control offense, and defensively were hoping to avoid yielding big plays. Instead it was just the opposite.

No one was quite prepared to single out a turning point in a 55-10 game, but most of the Broncos felt that Bobby Humphrey’s fumble at midfield with his team trailing by 7-3 but moving nicely in the first quarter changed the tone of the game. The 49ers went on to score a touchdown and take a 13-3 lead, and the Broncos were facing the beginning of the end.

“I really don’t know exactly what happened,” Humphrey said. “The ball hit my leg and it popped up and then I didn’t know where the ball went.”

“When we fumbled, we were moving the ball,” said quarterback John Elway. “Then they took it in and scored, and that hurt us. . . . I’m not happy with the way I played. We had to answer the bell when they did score, and we couldn’t. When {Joe} Montana got going, we couldn’t do it.”

Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said that his defense did not react well when the 49ers began to pile up the points early.

“Once or twice we might have gone into a panic but it wasn’t over something we hadn’t seen,” he said. “But look at their game films. They didn’t make mistakes against the Rams or the Vikings {in their previous playoff games} and they didn’t do it today. You’d think they won’t do the same thing against us, but they did.
“Once we got in trouble, we tried to press and do things we shouldn’t have done. Youthful mistakes. We didn’t make mistakes during the season, but we sure did today.”

Reeves said he tried to convince his team at halftime that they were still in the game. “You tell them that anything can happen, that you have to play hard. If we could have done something right away {in the third quarter}, you never know.”

The message did no good. Elway’s first pass of the second half was intercepted, and one play later Montana found Jerry Rice for a 28-yard touchdown pass and a 34-3 lead. On his third throw of the half, Elway was picked off again, and two plays later it was Montana to John Taylor for 35 yards and a touchdown, making it 49ers 41, Denver 3. End of story.

Like everyone else, the Broncos were in awe of Montana.

“I was on the sideline where I wasn’t enjoying it,” Reeves said. “I mean, what can you say? We did a very poor job of getting any pressure on him. . . . He’s the key. Even when you rush him, he’s a great quarterback who makes great throws. If you give him all day, it’s impossible. Nobody is going to cover Rice, Taylor, Craig and Rathman all day. We couldn’t get enough pressure on him to make him hurry his throws.”

Said Kragen: “Give Joe a lot of credit and his receivers credit. They caught a lot of balls and he threw a lot of balls. They are virtually unstoppable. They throw it short, they throw it long. You think you can put together a game plan to stop them, but nobody’s done it yet. They just keep making the plays and making the plays.”

The 49ers played their most significant game vs. the Atlanta Falcons ever in the 2013 NFC title game. The two teams were in the NFC West from 1970 through 2001, but in the years of the 49ers dynasty, the Falcons were rarely much of a rival: in the ’80s and ’90s, with the Saints and Falcons both far away and usually not very good, the 49ers’ main divisional rivalry was with the L.A. Rams. This post covers a few dramatic points in the three decades when the 49ers and Falcons were in the same division.

1983: In Atlanta, Steve Bartkowski threw a 47-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to Billy “White Shoes” Johnson on the final play of the game to give the Falcons a 28-24 win over the 49ers. Video at NFL.com.

1988: The 49ers were stunned by the Falcons in the third game of the season, losing 34-17 at Candlestick. Montana threw three interceptions, one of them returned for a touchdown. The 49ers, after winning the season’s first two games on the road, began a nine-game stretch in which they went 4-5, nearly keeping them out of the playoffs.

1991: The Falcons beat the 49ers in both games, helping keep S.F. out of the playoffs despite a 10-6 record. The Falcons also went 10-6, but made the playoffs instead of the 49ers because of a tie-breaker. Deion Sanders got into a brief fight with, I believe, Jerry Rice in the game at Atlanta (but I could be wrong). The Falcons, with Sanders and Andre Rison, had a new attitude and cockiness, and briefly it looked like the two teams might be rivals well into the ’90s, but the rivalry sputtered because Atlanta went back to sub-.500 seasons in following years.

1998: The two teams played their only playoff game before 2013 after this regular season. A week after Steve Young’s last-second touchdown to Terrell Owens to beat the Packers at Candlestick, the 49ers lost in Atlanta, 20-18, on January 9, 1999. In the next few years, both teams did poorly, and after 2002, when the 49ers and Falcons lost on the road in the division round, it would take until 2011 and 2012 for both of them to make the playoffs.

All of these games are 49er losses, which reflects them usually beating the Falcons during the ’80s and ’90s: the losses are more memorable because they were less frequent. Perhaps the most memorable 49er win over the Falcons before 2013 is the 1990 game in which Jerry Rice caught five touchdowns from Joe Montana, tying the NFL record.

Here are some lists showing the cumulative scoring by quarter for the 49ers 15 playoff games in the 5 seasons in which they’ve won the Super Bowl.

For all three 1981 playoff games:

1st: 21
2nd: 37
3rd: 7
4th: 27

1st: 17
2nd: 10
3rd: 21
4th: 24

The 49ers scored 92 points in the 3 games, and their opponents scored 72 points.

For all three 1984 playoff games:

1st: 24
2nd: 31
3rd: 17
4th: 10

1st: 10
2nd: 16
3rd: 0
4th: 0

The 49ers scored 82 points in the 3 games, and their opponents scored 26 points, none of them in the second half.

For all three 1988 playoff games:
1st: 17
2nd: 21
3rd: 10
3rd: 34

1st: 3
2nd: 6
3rd: 16
5th: 3

The 49ers scored 82 points in the 3 games, and their opponents scored 28, including only 12 in the 1st, 2nd, and 4th quarter combined.

For all three 1989 playoff games:

1st: 20
2nd: 55
3rd: 17
4th: 34

1st: 9
2nd: 0
3rd: 10
4th: 7

The 49ers scored 126 points in the 3 games, and their opponents scored 26 points.

For all 3 1994 playoff games:

1st: 42
2nd: 47
3rd: 28
4th: 14

1st: 17
2nd: 10
3rd: 15
4th: 27

The 49ers scored 131 points in the 3 games, and their opponents scored 69 points.

Here’s the cumulative scoring by quarter for all 15 playoff games:

1st: 124
2nd: 191
3rd: 79
4th: 119

1st: 56
2nd: 42
3rd: 62
4th: 61

The 49ers scored 513 points in the 15 playoff games, and their opponents scored 221 points.

After the Loma Prieta earthquake closed down Candlestick Park, the 49ers went to Stanford Stadium the next Sunday, October 22, 1989, to play the Patriots. Here’s a game preview in the Sacramento Bee:

Once the ball is kicked off and the first block or tackle is made, normalcy might return to the minds of the 49ers and their fans at today’s game with the New England Patriots at Stanford Stadium.

At least that’s the theory and hope advanced by 49ers safety Tom Holmoe.

But does he honestly believe it? Who knows? he said with a sigh. No one here has ever really gone through anything like this before.

This is the earthquake that devastated parts of the Bay Area on Tuesday, killing scores of people and giving athletes pause for thought. How important is a sports event World Series or NFL game in the aftermath of a catastrophe?

The answer, from the 49ers’ perspective, wasn’t much different from that of the A’s and Giants. The event itself doesn’t mean much, really, but if it provides even a brief diversion for the people in the Bay Area, perhaps it’s worthwhile. Theaters continue to operate, and restaurants and night spots remain open.

“We want to portray to the nation that the people of the Bay Area are back together and trying to go forward,” 49ers vice president John McVay said.

Several players, however, admit they’ve been in something of a daze most of the week.

“When I came to practice Wednesday, I didn’t care whether I threw a pass or not, and that’s not normal,” backup quarterback Steve Young said.

“We’ve won the Super Bowl three times, but that doesn’t mean anything to the people laying under that freeway right now,” said tackle Bubba Paris, whose south San Jose home sustained extensive damage. “It makes you stop and think about what’s really important.”

By moving the game to Stanford Stadium from Candlestick Park, where an inspection for structural damage is still under way, the 49ers might wind up playing in front of a record regular-season crowd.

Stanford’s seating capacity of 86,000 is about 20,000 greater than Candlestick’s, and 15,000 additional tickets were put on sale. McVay said the reports he received Friday indicate a turnout of 80,000 is likely, even though refunds were offered to season-ticket holders unable to attend the game.

Then again, some fans might be kept away by the 4.9 aftershock that rolled through the Bay Area Saturday and was felt at Stanford Stadium.
“It’s a terrible tragedy and we all know that, McVay said, referring to the events of Tuesday. But under the circumstances, our owner (Ed DeBartolo Jr.) wanted to stay in the Bay Area and play this game before our home fans, instead of moving the game to New England . The seating will be open and that’s unfortunate, but I think everybody understands this is the best we can do right now.”

The game is remembered not for the 37-20 victory over New England but for Jeff Fuller’s injury. Here’s a San Jose Mercury News day-after report on the injury:

Safety Jeff Fuller’s career with the 49ers could be in jeopardy as the result of a neck injury suffered during a 37-20 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Fuller was hurt on the game’s second play from scrimmage when he made a headfirst tackle of New England running back John Stephens. Fuller lay motionless on the Stanford Stadium turf for several minutes after the play and was taken by ambulance to Stanford Hospital.

Fuller, 27, who started at free safety, was listed in serious condition in the hospital’s intensive-care unit, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Fuller’s life is not threatened by the injury, said Michael Dillingham, a team physician. Another team physician, James Klint, described the neck injury as fractures of three transverse processes, bones projecting laterally from the spine area.

Fuller also suffered a concussion and nerve damage, Dillingham said. He said some of the nerves running from Fuller’s neck to his right arm may have been pulled apart. If they were, Dillingham said, Fuller may not regain full use of the arm.

”He may or may not regain use of some of the muscles in his right arm,” Dillingham said. “When those nerves are pulled apart, they normally will not regenerate.”

”We’re pleased that we won the game, but our thoughts in the locker room were with Jeff,” Seifert said. “Our concerns now are with him.”

Dillingham said Fuller was unconscious momentarily after the hit, but he never stopped breathing. Fuller was not coherent when he left the stadium, Dillingham said.

Niners wide receiver Mike Wilson, who suffered a neck injury during the 1986 season, said the play was frightening.

”I almost cried on the sideline when we thought for a minute that he might have broken his neck,” Wilson said. “It’s the most scary thing in football when you see guys go helmet to helmet, head to head.”

Niners cornerback Eric Wright said trying to make a head-to- head tackle of the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Stephens may have been a mistake on Fuller’s part.

”With a big guy like that, you’ve got to take him low,” Wright said. “But sometimes you get in a position where you just want to get the guy down and you do whatever you have to do.”

After the play, Wilson said, players simply were hoping Fuller would move.

”We were hoping he’d move and wishing he’d get up,” Wilson said.
Niners strong safety Chet Brooks said Fuller did move slightly but seemed to know he was badly injured.

”Yes, he moved a little,” Brooks said. “He was talking to the doctors, but he was scared. You could see it in his eyes. He was hurt and he knew it.”

Stephens described Fuller’s tackle as clean and hard.

”We just hit helmets,” Stephens said. “I don’t know what happened. I thought he delivered a clean blow. It was a good hit.”

There’s another post elsewhere on the blog on 49ers responding to the quake. Also, here’s a look at Fuller’s status in May 2007, almost 18 years after his career-ending injury, from the San Francisco Chronicle.

More than 17 years later, Jeff Fuller still cannot use his right arm the way he once did — so he signs autographs left-handed. Fuller cannot throw passes to his 16-year-old son, a star wide receiver — so he helps Jeff Jr. navigate the daunting waters of big-time college recruiting.

Fuller cannot return to that fateful day at Stanford Stadium — so he has come to accept the life-changing price of one wrenching tackle.

“I’m doing as well as you can with an injury of this magnitude,” Fuller said recently. “I’ve met quite a few people with injuries more serious than mine. That makes it a little easier to deal with.”

Fuller, 44, now lives in McKinney, Texas, about 30 miles north of Dallas. The collision with Stephens left Fuller with two fractured vertebrae and torn nerves near his shoulder and neck. His paralysis affects his right shoulder, arm and elbow, and he’s also significantly limited in the use of his wrist and hand.

But any sense of bitterness or anger has evaporated with the passage of nearly two decades. Fuller mostly struck an upbeat tone during two recent telephone conversations, as he recalled his shortened 49ers career and described his life today.

It is a life, physically, unlike anything the once-sculpted defensive back envisioned when he was a rising NFL star. He usually wears a brace from his shoulder to just above his wrist (to keep his arm from flopping), according to longtime friend Chet Brooks, and Fuller has said he often struggles to find a comfortable position to sleep, given the pain in his arm.

Then again, he goes to the gym and keeps himself in shape, mostly through cardiovascular exercise. He can wear a jacket over his brace and strangers have no idea about the lingering impact of that long-ago tackle. Fuller’s injury did not affect his left side at all, which makes regular activities — such as signing his name at a San Jose autograph show in March — manageable.

“Most of the things I get done, I do with my left side,” he said.

There was a point when Fuller did not know if he could adapt so dramatically. He and his now-wife, Leslie, bounced around the country in the four-plus years after Fuller sustained his injury, consulting doctors from Stanford to Duke.

Fuller said “it was almost like we were on tour, looking for a miracle cure,” but the cure never came. His fifth and final surgery, a nerve transplant in 1994, was his “last best shot” to regain movement in his arm. When that didn’t work, Fuller realized he had no choice but to accept his new life.

“From where he was to where he is now, he’s very self sufficient,” said Brooks, one of Fuller’s teammates with the 49ers and a resident of nearby Frisco, Texas. “He’s made tremendous strides. It makes me proud to see it. Some people with that type of injury would have gone into the tank. He found strength in his family.”

As Fuller threw himself into raising his kids — he and Leslie have three daughters in addition to Jeff Jr. — the generosity of former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. helped. DeBartolo paid Fuller’s contract in full in 1990, the season after the injury, even though he was legally obligated for only a small portion. DeBartolo also contributed to an annuity that pays Fuller about $100,000 annually for the rest of his life.

That was important because of the modest disability benefits available through the NFL in 1989. Fuller received a line-of-duty benefit that paid an amount he called “not substantial” for 7 1/2 years. He appreciates what DeBartolo and former coach Bill Walsh did for him in the wake of his injury, but count Fuller among the many former NFL players disenchanted with how the league treats them after retirement.

“A lot more could be done,” he said.

According to a formula provided by the NFL Players Association, Fuller is eligible to receive about $18,000 per year in pension benefits, starting at age 55. He’s also trying to obtain additional benefits through the “total and permanent disability” category.

Fuller had been a training-camp holdout that year, so he wondered, in retrospect, if his timing was off from the relative lack of game experience. Early in the first quarter, Stephens, a 220-pound running back who had made the Pro Bowl the previous season, burst into the secondary, where Fuller brought him down with a resounding and dangerous helmet-to-helmet tackle.

Fuller went down, too, and he didn’t try to get back up. “Immediately after I hit him, I knew I was injured,” he said. “I remember Chet congratulating me and saying, ‘Get up.’ And I couldn’t move. That’s basically all I can remember.”

Said Brooks, who estimated he was three steps behind Fuller at the moment of impact: “I saw his eyes and knew something was wrong. Normally after a big hit, you might be dazed but you’d be trying to get up. His eyes were as big as quarters. Fear came over me.”

As it turned out, playing the game at Stanford worked in Fuller’s favor — it was a short ride to Stanford Hospital in the pivotal moments after the injury. Fuller initially lost all movement in his arms and legs, though movement returned everywhere but his right arm within the first few days.

So now he lives in the Dallas area, where he was born and raised, and spends his time taking care of his family (and living off earlier investments, he said). Fuller misses competing as he once did, but he finds an outlet in the sporting exploits of his son, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound receiver at Boyd High School.

Jeff Jr. will begin his senior season in the fall and has attracted interest from numerous high-profile schools — one recruiting Web site lists LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State, USC and Texas A&M among those he’s considering. Jeff Sr., who played at A&M before joining the 49ers, supervises the recruiting madness.

He obviously will do so with some insight into the process — but without any special concern for his son’s safety on the football field, despite what befell him.

“This may sound strange, but I really don’t worry at all,” Fuller said. “I just let him get out there and compete and enjoy the game. There wasn’t a day I didn’t enjoy the game until the day I got injured. What happened to me was very unique.”

With the 49ers apparently in another quarterback controversy, I wanted to take a look at how Steve Young and Joe Montana did in the six years they were both 49ers: 1987 through 1992. Of course, Montana was the regular starter in the first four seasons, Young the starter in the last two. For passing by the two:

Young started 36 games and played in 62, with a 26-10 record as starter. He had 641 completions on 1005 attempts, 63.8%, for 8660 yards and 65 touchdowns. He threw 21 interceptions, had 8.6 yards per attempt and 13.5 yards per completion, and had a 104 QB rating.

Montana started 52 games and played in 56, with a 43-9 record as starter. He had 1111 completions on 1722 attempts, 64.5%, for 13626 yards and 103 touchdowns. He threw 47 interceptions, had 7.9 yards per attempt and 12.3 yards per completion, and had a 97.4 QB rating.

For rushing from ’87 through ’92, Young ran 248 times for 1611 yards, 12 tds, a long of 49 yards, and 6.5 yards per attempt. Young’s rushing yards per game were 26; he had 20 fumbles.

Montana ran 165 times for 690 yards, 8 tds, a long of 20 yards, and 4.2 yards per attempt. Montana’s rushing yards per game were 12.3; he had 19 fumbles.

In terms of regular season record for a six-year span, the ’87 through ’92 49ers might be unmatched in NFL history (I haven’t checked to be sure of that, but they’re at least close). They were clearly capable of winning four Super Bowls in those years, maybe five, and having two great quarterbacks available for most of their games was a big part of their success. The 49ers had an amazing luxury of talent in the six seasons.