Archive for the ‘Seasons’ Category

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.”

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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:

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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.”

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The game summary below is taken from my e-book chronicling the 10 Bill Walsh 49ers teams, especially the championship ’81, ’84, and ’88 teams. If you’re interested, that project is available for about $10, and smaller e-books are also available covering, for example, just the ’84 season and the 1982 NFC title game. Well, here is my summary of what at the time was the 49ers’ most memorable win in many years, and a game that set the stage for the start of the franchise’s long dynasty.

The 1980 Niners’ 3-0 start had turned into a 5-8 record, but one might have expected a win at home, against an 0-13 Saints team, on Sunday, December 7, the Pearl Harbor anniversary. It isn’t at all promising early in the game: the Saints, led by Archie Manning, get 324 yards in the first half, have the ball two-thirds of the time, and score five touchdowns on 20 first downs. While the Niners gain 21 yards and get two first downs in the half, the Saints are compiling five lengthy, productive drives. Freddie Solomon provides the one saving grace with a 57-yard punt return for a touchdown halfway through the second quarter. Montana, who had begun starting games after a 59-14 debacle at Dallas in the fifth game, goes 8-12 but is sacked three times, with seven net passing yards. It’s 35-7 at the half. Walsh rallies the troops in the locker room, telling his players to keep themselves in the game even though it’s probably out of reach.

After the half, James Owens fumbles the opening kickoff and recovers it, but only gets to the 49er 12. Nonetheless, the Niners go 88 yards in nine plays, featuring a 48-yard pass to Clark, and Montana runs in the ball from a yard out. Just a few minutes later, the Niners start from their 18. After getting a first down, Montana throws a crossing pattern pass to Clark, who keeps running after the catch, gets past Dave Waymer, and runs it in for a 71-yard score. The Saints come back with a strong drive, but Jimmy Rogers fumbles the ball at the Niner 17, Gerard Williams recovers, and the Niners keep their comeback going. An 83-yard drive ends with a 14-yard throw to Solomon, and it’s 35-28. One last fourth quarter drive takes the ball 78 yards in eight plays after a second Saints fumble, and Lenvil Elliott pushes the Niners to a tie with 1:50 left on his 7-yard run into the end zone.

The Saints get the ball to begin overtime, but are stopped after getting one first down: Dwight Hicks intercepts a deep throw down near his goal line. After the exchange of a couple punts, the Niners take over at their 26, and are stopped on third down at their 39. But a late hit penalty on Steve Parker hands them a first down and the ball at the Saints 46. From there, the Niners move the ball enough to set up Ray Wersching for the game winner, a 36-yard field goal with 7:40 gone in the period.

In the second half, aside from the Jimmy Rogers fumble, the Saints have Henry Childs fumble at the Niner 13 after a 30-yard catch, and, at the end of the third quarter, with the wind at their back, the Saints fail to call timeout on fourth down at the SF 28 to kick a field goal. When the fourth quarter started, they decide to punt. Those three lost opportunities cost New Orleans the game. The Niners’ 409 yards after halftime compares to the Saints’ 195, and they have a 22-7 advantage in first downs. Elliott gains 111 yards after the half, and 125 for the game, in his best NFL performance. Ninety-one of his yards come on the Niners’ last two touchdown drives. The 38 points are the 49ers’ most since 1973, in a 40-0 defeat of the Saints.

John Brodie: “I’ve never enjoyed a football game that much.”
Saints safety Tom Myers: “This was the worst ever—worse than the Monday night last year when we blew a 35-14 lead. It was worse because that wasn’t Kenny Stabler and the Oakland Raiders out there.”
Walsh, looking back on his coaching career: “There were only two games that produced absolute euphoria—this one and the 1987 game at Cincinnati, when we scored on the very last play.”
Cross on the reason for the poor opening: “What do you think? I’ve never seen us so flat.”

Tackle Ron Singleton: “After we got those two quick touchdowns, I think they started questioning themselves. Once you get into that losing syndrome, you start doing that. You could see it on the field.”
And, on the opening of the game: “We came out thinking we were just gonna line up and do it to them. Offensively, we got surprised, and defensively, they just started taking it to us. They shocked us.”

Walsh: “I think that was an experience for all of us. I’ve never been associated with a game where a team came back so strong.”

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In February I talked with long-time 49ers reporter Kevin Lynch, now with the San Francisco Chronicle, about the 49ers’ dynasty, especially the 1988 49ers. The full interview is in the appendix to my e-book about the ’88 49ers. You can buy that e-book through Lulu.com here. In these excerpts, we talked about Bill Walsh and George Seifert:

Arne: Seifert was hired to replace Walsh very soon after that Super Bowl against the Bengals.
Kevin: He was flying to an interview in Cleveland, they caught him in Dallas waiting for his connecting flight. The record of coaches succeeding Super Bowl coaches is very poor, and Seifert doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves. His teams had something like a 75% winning percentage. One of the big reasons Seifert was successful right away was that he told the players they were the reason for the wins. He didn’t have the personality of Walsh, he was quieter, low-key, very humble. He always thought it was the players’ team. Seifert felt a lot of people were trying to undermine him as coach. Later on, in ’94, when Young was screaming at him on the sidelines during the Eagles game, he liked that. Seifert said it showed how much the team had developed, for Young to be so passionate about the team.

Arne: Walsh has that whole image of “The Genius,” but do you think he made some mistakes as a coach, had some weaknesses?
Kevin: He was often very, very unpopular. He had a huge ego. But as a coach he was pretty flawless. Mostly his style worked. That thing he’d say about trying to get rid of players before they hit their downside, it did work, usually. Of course it created a lot of insecurity. But with Montana in ’88, he was motivated, wanted to prove he could fill that starting role still. He’d won the two Super Bowls, but he still had motivation. The flaw in Walsh maybe was that he really believed his system was so good, he could throw in almost any player and it would work. He didn’t give the players their due. He could be distant. Toward the end of his life he really connected with the players, he reversed all that distance.

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The 49ers’ 28-3 win over the Chicago Bears at a frigid Soldier Field in January 1989 was one of the great games in 49ers history, and it set up the memorable Super Bowl XXIII vs. Cincinnati to close out Bill Walsh’s career as coach with a triumph. Here, Jerry Rice runs by Bears cornerback Vestee Jackson on his way to the end zone for a 61-yard touchdown in the first quarter:


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1990: Super Bowl XXIV

The San Francisco Chronicle’s cover page for the 49ers’ 55-10 win over the Denver Broncos to win Super Bowl 24 in New Orleans:


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