Archive for the ‘Players’ Category

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.”


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Steve Young’s first professional contract was with the Los Angeles Express of the USFL. He made his debut with the Express on April 1, 1984 at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, against the New Jersey Generals. New Jersey’s most recognizable player was Herschel Walker; Jojo Townsell was probably the best Express player besides Young. The Generals won, 26-10, before just 19,853 at Memorial Coliseum. The Express went to 2-4.

Here’s how one newspaper reported Young’s performance: “He completed 19 of 29 passes for 163 yards and at times ran the offense as if he had been a part of it for years. . . . Young, who signed a contract in early March worth more than $40 million over 43 years, took advantage of a breakdown in coverage to pass 9 yards for a touchdown to Jojo Townsell, a former draft choice of the Jets. During one stretch over the second and third quarters, he completed 9 consecutive passes before Kerry Justin, the Generals’ cornerback, made a good play to break up a pass intended for Anthony Allen.”

Steve said: ”I think it’s just a matter of time. I felt pretty comfortable out there. I was throwing the ball pretty well. We just have to get the continuity going. I feel comfortable with what I’ve done, but I’ve got to get better.”

His coach, John Hadl, made an accurate prediction: “Steve is going to be a great quarterback. He went up against one of the best defenses in the league and performed well. I like his leadership. He saw some things on the field that another quarterback wouldn’t see for a year.”

By the way, Brian Sipe, longtime quarterback with the Browns, led the Generals to victory in his fourth start of the USFL season. He said: “This was probably my best game. I felt more comfortable than I have felt so far. And it was nice to see us do a lot of different things. My knee injury was a real setback to me, but each week, I seem to feel more and more comfortable.”

As a service to 49er fans, Steve Young fans, and USFL fans, I’ve hunted down the stats for this game from the L.A. Times archives. Here’s a rundown of the scoring:


And here’s the team box score:


And, here’s the individual stats:


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By Jerry Rice’s senior year at Mississippi Valley State, coach Archie Cooley had refined his no-huddle offense into a machine that dominated most opponents. The Delta Devils went 9-1 in 1984, scored 60.9 points per game, and had nearly 500 yards passing per game. In the playoffs though, they lost 66-19 to Louisiana Tech in their first game.

Alcorn State defensive coordinator Theo Danzy, whose team beat the Devils, 42-28, said: “When you’re trying to stop them, you start by saying, ‘Our Father who art in Heaven.'”

Cooley said: “I give my coaches money out of my pocket to go see kids. We got no money. But we got a dream, and so do these kids.

“They’re from sharecropper families. They just been living day to day. They don’t know disappointment because they never had anything.

“Eighty percent of them are the first child in their family who’ll ever graduate from college. I tell ’em all success is about work. Not eight hours, not no nine-to-five. It’s about work – 16, 18 hours a day. It’s about getting up in the middle of the night because you got an idea.”

Cooley also said: “We had a little cafe down in Laurel in the ’50s. Back then, if you were black, you couldn’t go downtown with shades on because someone might say you were looking at a white girl.

“One day, this white guy came in and ordered coffee. My Momma made it. He said it was too sweet, and he poured it on my Momma’s hand. She screamed. Daddy came out of the kitchen and turned him over.

“You didn’t do that to a white man then if you didn’t want trouble, but he hit that white man over my Momma. Right then he became the greatest man that ever walked to me.

“From that day on, if I knew I was right, I didn’t fear no man. If we’re all equal, than say what you believe.”

Cooley typically used formations that had five wideouts, and he used them to beat Kentucky State, 86-0, in the first game of the season. Rice caught 24 passes for 294 yards, and Willie Totten threw 9 touchdown passes. The 716 total yards, including 699 passing yards, set a new Division I-AA record, by a full 113 yards. The next game, MVSU beat Washburn College, 77-15. In October, they beat Prairie View, 71-6. This time, they had 761 total yards for a new record, and Willie Totten threw for 599 yards, setting a new single-game record. In their last game of the regular season, they were up 41-3 at the end of the first quarter.

Rice said: “This has turned into something I could never have dreamed of. This has turned into a future. I’ve had it hard. Hard as it could get. My father tried to help, but there were so many of us.

“I got a chance now, but I wasn’t even a player until the 10th grade. I was skipping a class, and an instructor slipped behind me and scared me. I took off running.

“I ran so fast that he couldn’t catch me, so he ran to the football coach and told him he’d just seen the fastest class skipper ever. That’s how it started.”

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Montana in October 1991

Joe Montana had in-season surgery for the second time in October 1991, to reattach the common flexor tendon of his right elbow bone. The tendon was partially torn in training camp, then fully torn in early October when Montana was testing it after seven weeks of rest. He came back for one last 49ers game at the end of the 1992 season, against the Lions at home, but Montana’s 49er career was effectively over. During that October, one of his old teammates said Montana had already had at least 50 pain-killing injections in his right elbow.

Still, he did make a comeback. Mike Holmgren, the 49ers’ offensive coordinator in 1991, said: “I got here in 1986, and the first game in my first year, Joe went down with the back injury. I thought, I’ll never have a chance to coach Joe Montana now. Two months later he was back, and he’s given me five years. So there’s not a doubt in my mind he’ll be back.”

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Montana in Retirement

Joe Montana’s retirement followed a very hard hit in the Kansas City Chiefs’ 30-13 loss to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC championship game after the 1993 season, when he was knocked out by three charging defenders. Montana said it “felt like a lightning bolt went right through my head.”

He grabbed his face mask to make sure it hadn’t gone into his skull, and, even though he played for the Chiefs in 1994 and beat the 49ers early that season in the one re-match of Young and Montana after Joe left the team, he said: “For the first time in my life, football began to feel like a job. All of a sudden I was dreading getting up in the morning. When that feeling takes over, you know it’s time, because, chances are, that’s when you’re going to get hurt. You’re not thinking about the game; you’re just thinking about making it through the week, making it through the game. I always thought I’d end up quitting because my skills were deteriorating. But physically, I felt better going into last season than at any time in recent years.”

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Harris Barton

Barton was a key part of the 49ers’ offensive line in the later ’80s and early ’90s, playing right tackle from 1987 through 1996. He said: “I was fortunate to have played in a great, great city, on a great team, for a great coach and for a great owner. It couldn’t have been better. So, maybe I played two years too long,”

Along with having his HRJ Capital hedge fund collapse, Harris Barton’s 2008 involved other problems tied up with our general economic problems. Back in 2007, he said of the venture capital business: “It’ll definitely keep you awake at night. Sometimes it’s worse than looking at William Perry across the line.”

On June 27, the Wall Street Journal reported that he got a specially approved loan worth $5.1 million for a Palo Alto house from Countrywide Financial, the infamous home lender. One source called it a Friend-of-Angelo [Mozillo] loan after Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozillo’s lax lending standards and Mozillo’s power to personally approve certain loans. Barton got that loan early in 2007. In May 208, he was named to the board of JPM Group, an investment banking and alternative asset management firm.

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Ricky Watters

Watters took over for Roger Craig as the 49ers’ feature back in the early ’90s, getting to the Pro Bowl in 1992 through 1994. But the 49ers’ top brass wasn’t all that satisfied with him, and offered a relatively low contract when he became a free agent after the Super Bowl vs. the Chargers, so he left for the Eagles. Team President Carmen Policy said: “We’re not comfortable allocating millions of dollars to a player not 100 percent committed to our long-range goals, our game plan and our offensive system.” Watters countered: “I learned I didn’t mean as much to them as I thought.”

Ricky was adopted by Jim and Marie Watters in 1969, after Marie had met a woman who said her daughter was pregnant and couldn’t take care of the kids she already had, so she was going to have her put the baby up for adoption. Marie arranged for the adoption that April, in a Trailways bus depot on Chestnut Street in Hattiesburg, Pennsylvania. Watter’s now an advocate for adoption, and he has his own website.

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