"The Only Yardstick for Success is Being a Champion" - Bill Walsh

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Time Has Come!

49er Football is Back!

Head Coach Mike Singletary

Last season 49er fans listened to all the hype. The 49ers were going to come back and take the NFC West. Unfortunately, Mike Nolan was still at the controls. Like his dad, former 49er coach Dick Nolan, he was a defensive specialist, and also like his dad, he was a stubborn and unbending man. He played defense not to lose, with a very conservative loose scheme that resulted in few sacks and little pressure on the opposing offense.

Offensively, Mike Nolan just didn't get it. He inevitably made the wrong call in crucial situations, and even relied upon guard Larry Allen in a game the previous season, to determine whether or not to kick a field goal in a crucial situation at game's end. Mike just didn't have it and everyone knew it.

At the same time, the offense relied upon a relic, Mike Martz. a man who stubbornly relied upon the 7-step drop, no matter how often his quarterback was sacked. In the fourth quarter of most games Martz rarely called a running play. His rigid system didn't allow for the quarterback to call audibles.
Then, in one bonehead moment, the 49ers had a chance to derail the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football. With time running out, Martz called for Michael Robinson to run a dive play that is only designed to gain a yard. Unfortunately, the ball had been placed at the 2 1/2 yard line. Robinson gained the yard as the play was designed, but it was Martz' not knowing where the ball was, plus his system which didn't allow for Shaun Hill to call an audible, and that was the season. Despite having to deal with Martz and J.T. O'Sullivan, Singletary was able to finish the season with a 5-4 record.

Jimmy Raye is an upgrade over Martz. He develops his offense around the talents of his players, and features a power running game between the tackles and quick slant and play action passes.

COACHING: Big improvement


Much has been made about the competition between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith for the starting quarterback position. Unless Hill takes a complete nosedive, the job will be his to start the season. Singletary can thank Hill for saving his job last season. Shaun came aboard and played with poise and toughness and his dive for a first down without his helmet in a crucial game will leave pleasant memories in the minds of Niner fans for a long time.

The only sensible move is to start Shaun Hill this season. He has earned it and it will take unnecessary pressure off of Alex Smith, who needs to sit and watch a quarterback with game management skills, quick decision making ability, and poise and coolness in the pocket. To throw him out there at the start and have him flop may well be the end of Alex Smith in San Francisco. Instead, giving him time to learn the new system and watch would be the best move Singletary can make.

Backup Damon Huard is a proven veteran who could easily step into the #2 spot without hesitation. He has a strong, accurate arm and plenty of experience. Rookie Nate Davis is a guy with a whole lot of potential and little in the way of experience. He is a project and perhaps a worthwhile one. The Niners will have to make a decision as to whether they want to keep four (4) quarterbacks.

Compared to last season, we have lost O'Sullivan and added an experienced backup. In addition, we now have a more experienced and confident Shaun Hill, and an Alex Smith with far greater upside potential than the kid with the damaged shoulder of 2008. Add Nate Davis to the mix.

QUARTERBACK: Big Improvement


Last season we had Isaac Bruce, Bryant Johnson, and inexperienced wideouts in Josh Morgan and Jason Hill, as well as the injured Arnaz Battle and newcomer, pencil-thin Dominique Zeigler. This season we have Bruce returning as well as Morgan and Hill back, both of whom could have breakout seasons. We have Brandon Jones, a solid receiver with strong hands from the Tennessee Titans, Zeigler and Battle return to battle for the #6 receiver position, and we have the dynamic and explosive Michael Crabtree from Texas Tech, who the Niners unexpectedly snagged at the #10 pick in this year's draft. Here's a video that says it all:

Wide Receiver: Huge Improvement


Vernon Davis is looking forward to working with the Offensive Coordinator who developed Tony Gonzales. Unlike Mike Martz, who considered the tight end an afterthought as a receiver, Jimmy Raye features passes to his tight end and may occasionally go to a two-TE formation. This should please the dangerous Delanie Walker and huge rookie, Bear Pascoe from Fresno State. The Niners also have tough JJ Finley, who unfortunately has no room on this deep roster.

Tight End: Big improvement.


Starting with fullback, the fact that Mike Martz didn't even want Moran Norris and now he's back at the request of Frank Gore in a Jimmy Raye power running offense speaks volumes about the positive direction in which this team is headed. Singletary and Raye have a plan and getting the best at each position is a good way to start. Norris is a great run blocker and may be backed up by Zak Keasey, depending upon whether the 49ers decide to keep four (4) or five (5) backs.

At the halfback position, Frank Gore is ready for bear and has a new backup to replace Deshaun Foster in Glenn Coffee, a rather small but tough back out of Alabama. Coffee is a hard runner who must overcome his tendency to fumble. The third running back spot will be held by Michael Robinson, a talented back who was horribly mismanaged under Mike Nolan. He has never been given an opportunity to learn the position and has had very few touches from scrimmage. However, last season Singletary found a way to use him as a receiver out of the backfield. Michael responded with 17 catches for 201 yards, and an 11.9 average per catch which ranked #3 in the NFL among RBs with 15 catches or more.

Robinson's value to the team is illustrated not only in his outstanding special teams play, but by the fact that the 49ers have the luxury of counting MRob as the #3 RB and #2 FB, thereby allowing the team to carry either four (4) QBs or six (6) WRs.

Kory Sheets of Purdue, a speed burner with fumble problems and a mouth that got him in a lot of trouble, will very likely make the Practice Squad where he will replace notorious underachiever Thomas Clayton who will be released.

Running Back: Improved.


Last season the 49er Offensive line showed signs of becoming decent, but suffered from numerous breakdowns, including the swan song for Jonas Jennings. Eric Heitman returns at center where he had a very good season and should only get better. He is one of the young vets the 49ers have been developing that is starting to come into his prime. He is backed up by Cody Wallace.

Guard should be a bright spot as Chilo Rachal could well have a breakout season. The tough, physical USC grad will be one of two guards who are expected to do very well this season. 330 lb. David Baas is in the final year of his contract and you can bet his play will reflect his desire for a big contract next year. Tony Wragge is a tough, solid backup.

Joe Staley is expected to improve upon his good performance of last year and former Pittsburgh Steelers vet Marvel Smith, a two-time All Pro, moves in at right tackle which should be a huge upgrade over last season.

Adam Snyder is an able backup, Barry Sims is unacceptable and I expect him to be cut. The most intriguing of the backup linemen is 6'8", 328 lb. Alex Boone of Ohio State, a two-time All Big Ten performer who must overcome his weakness for alcohol. If he is able to do that, he may well be the sleeper of the season for the 49ers.


There you have it. There is plenty of reason for optimism this season and as I begin my 64th season as a fan, I simply say: Go 49ers. We will address the defense and special teams in upcoming issues.

Gary Mialocq
The SF 49er Observer

Copyright @ 2009
All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 20, 2009

SF – Santa Clara 49er Connections Run Deep...

It is ironic that San Francisco and Santa Clara are involved in a tug of war over the 49ers, and over Bay Area football dominance. I was looking through my old 49er programs from the AAFC and early days of the NFL and I came across one that I didn't remember. It was because this game was played almost four (4) years before I was born. My dad had attended that game.

The year was 1938. Santa Clara was a major college football power, two-time Sugar Bowl champions in 1936 and 1937, and had just seen a string of sixteen (16) straight wins end when they were upset the week before by St. Marys. The game ended in a 7-0 Bronco victory.

Over the next few years, Santa Clara continued to dominate Bay Area football and in 1941 they were called the “Notre Dame of the West”. However, by the end of 1942, Santa Clara was forced to disband football due to World War II.
Santa Clara Head Coach Buck Shaw, and assistance coaches Phil Bengston and Al Ruffo would therefore be available at the end of 1945, to sign with the newly formed San Francisco 49ers of the All-American Football Conference for the premier season of the league in 1946. Santa Clara resumed football the same year without their former coaching staff.

Now, some 64 years later, Santa Clara and San Francisco continue to be embroiled in the race for Bay Area football superiority, this time over a stadium. San Francisco took their coaches, now they want the 49ers. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Gary Mialocq

SF 49ers Observer

Copyright @ 2009
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Do Big Bad Boys Provide Hope for the Future?

As many fans know, the draft is a crapshoot. Many projected stars never make it while gems are sometimes found in the far reaches of the draft. #87, Dwight Clark, a tenth (10) round draft pick comes immediately to mind. Without his miraculous Catch against Dallas, we may be looking back on a different history.

This season is no different and the 49ers showed their willingness to take a shot at two young men with tremendous upsides, as well as some behavioral problems.

Alex Boone

The first is Alex Boone, a 6'8" 328 giant offensive tackle from Ohio State who admits to having an alcohol problem since the age of eight (8), and whose DUI arrest in 2006 (blood alcohol double the legal limit) and recent arrest in Southern California where he had to be tasered twice by police to subdue him, resulted in his being overlooked completely in this year's draft.

At Ohio State Boone exhibited steady play, durability and a willingness to work. He was a four-year starter who was named All-Big Ten the past two seasons. Boone is ideally suited to play right tackle in the pros.

Combine Results:
40 Yard Dash : 5.16 seconds
Bench Press : 33.0 reps
Vertical Jump : 27.5 inches
Broad Jump : 103.0 inches
3 Cone Drill : 7.83 seconds
20 Yard Shuttle : 4.69 seconds

Here is a video of Alex Boone's performance at Ohio State:

Ricky Jean-Francois (Frenchy)
"The Freak"

The second is a 6'5" 295 lb. defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois (Frenchy), who seems to have a knack for saying the wrong things at the wrong time. His "threat" to Tim Tebow along with his getting caught cheating on a test cost him a lot of money as he dropped to the seventh (7th) round before being selected by the 49ers.

Ricky was an outstanding shot putter for the track team at LSU with a best throw of 59' 1 3/4", as well as a top-rated defensive lineman.

Played in 25 games for LSU, starting nine times ... Drafted in seventh round of 2009 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers ... Opted to leave LSU following his junior season ... Capped career with 56 tackles, 10 tackles for losses and 5.5 sacks ... Named defensive MVP of 2007 BCS National Championship Game.

Here is a video of Frenchy at LSU:

Each of these players possesses the athletic ability and potential to become established NFL stars and presents the kind of challenge that Mike Singletary looks forward to as he develops his team. Boone will learn behind Marvel Smith and provides an intriguing presences for the future.

Frenchy is a high-energy defensive lineman who will very likely contest Ray McDonald for the last available spot on the defensive line. He comes up big in big games and his size, strength and speed bode well for his future as part of the 49er defense.

These two will bear close watching as training camp nears.

Gary Mialocq
The SF 49er Observer

Copyright @ 2009
All Rights Reserved

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Chasing the Dream

Jimmy Raye, 49ers Offensive Coordinator

Our article on Michael Robinson evoked an interesting response from a reader:
"You make some very loose connections to give credibility to your opinion. Jimmy Raye having won a Big 10 Title has nothing to do with Michael Robinson."
Actually, there are many similarities between new 49ers Offensive Coordinator Jimmy Raye, and multi-talented Michael Robinson, many of them having to do more with life than football. Jimmy Raye, long before he became the black double for Uncle Fester from the Addams Family, was an exciting young quarterback who played for Michigan State from 1965-67.

In 1965, his team was undefeated at 10-0 and won the Big 10 title, only to lose in the Rose Bowl to UCLA in a surprising upset.
Undaunted, J.R. came back the next season and led his team to another undefeated record and faced equally undefeated Notre Dame in the final game of the season. That game ended in a 10-10 tie, with both teams being considered co-National champions.

This was a great accomplishment for a young quarterback, especially given the fact that he was black at a time when it was a very rare sight to see a black quarterback. In fact, once drafted by the NFL, they were inevitably switched to the "skill positions", either wide receiver or the defensive secondary. So, upon being drafted by the Los Angeles Rams, and then traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, J.R. saw any hopes of his being an NFL quarterback dashed by the political climate of the times.
Jimmy played a couple of seasons out of position, then his career ended.

We now flash forward to the year 2009. Jimmy is now 62 years old, and has been coaching in the NFL for 32 years. His first job as an assistant coach in the NFL was with the 49ers in 1977. Just as his opportunities were limited as a quarterback, plum jobs for black assistant coaches in the NFL were few and far between. Over the years, he was hired by rebuilding teams, and teams with very little chance of success. His best team was working with the Rams during the days of Eric Dickerson.

Over the years he gained valuable experience working under Marty Schottenheimer, and also gained experience working for Norv Turner, John Robinson, Herm Edwards and Eric Mangini. Now, as his career winds down, he finds himself returning home with a tremendous opportunity to develop and create an offensive machine under San Francisco 49er coach Mike Singletary. THIS is his plum job.

"Nothing to Do with Robinson"?

Like his new Offensive Coordinator, Michael Robinson, led his team to the Big 10 Championship. MRob as he is affectionately called, is a 6-1, 228 lb. powerhouse whom Penn State coach Joe Paterno referred to as "the greatest athlete I have coached in my 55 years at Penn State".

Michael was a standout on a losing team. He was used mostly as a wide receiver, but also played a little halfback and a short time at quarterback. It was then that Paterno made Michael his quarterback for his senior year.

Robinson responded by leading his team to an 11-1 record, winning the Big 10 title and a victory in the Orange Bowl, and being named Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year. He threw for 17 TDs and ran for eight (8) more.
Throughout his career in college, he ran for 1,637 yards, caught 52 passes for 629 yards, threw for 3,575 yards and accounted, either by passing, throwing or running for 46 touchdowns. He was also their best player on special teams.

Like his new Offensive Coordinator, Michael Robinson's dream was to play quarterback in the NFL, and like Jimmy Raye, his hopes were dashed without being given any opportunity to prove his worth at that position. Michael pleaded with Nolan to give him a chance to no avail. So, upon being drafted by the 49ers and despite his plea to be given an opportunity to at least try out for quarterback, Michael was put on ice by Mike Nolan who expressed his unwillingness to allow most rookies to even play with the classic statement: "Young players play young".

No, Michael's chances were not curtailed by his race like his coach, but by the stubbornness of a coach who was clueless as to how to utilize his players. No matter the reason, both Jimmy and Michael had his dreams of performing as an NFL quarterback denied without being given an opportunity.

Michael Robinson has never publicly complained about his being denied his dream. In fact, he has simply gone out and played with reckless abandon demonstrating the same kind of 100% effort for which Mike Singletary became famous. Michael has been a standout whenever he steps on the field.

The Connection

But now back to quarterback. Since the Miami Dolphins introduced the Wildcat offense with some success last season, many teams experimented with it including the 49ers. Michael, at 6'1" and 228 lbs., has the passing and running ability that is perfect for this formation, and it is our bet that Jimmy Raye is already designing plays using the Wildcat formation with Michael in mind. As he does so, he may be thinking back to what might have been had he himself been given the opportunity to take the snap from center in the pros.

To say there is no connection between Jimmy Raye and Michael Robinson is to deny the importance of a dream to a young player. If Jimmy's dreams were curtailed by politics, that must have cut very deeply although he never complained. I can't see him denying those same dreams of Michael Robinson, even if it only means playing QB in the Wildcat formation on rare occasions. It will be very interesting to watch this situation develop.

Gary Mialocq
The SF 49er Observer

Copyright @ 2009
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Frankie Albert - the Little General

Over the years the Niners have had some sensational quarterbacks. Names like Montana, Young, Tittle, Brodie, Garcia, etc. The least known but one of the absolute best was a little left-hander who started it all -- Frankie Albert. He was the first QB in Niner history and played from 1946-1949 in the old AAFC, then from 1950 -1952 in the NFL.

Frankie was 5-10, 166. He was a great ballhandler who often mystified the defense who on occasion didn't know who had the ball. He was also very quick and mobile, and a very accurate passer with a rifle arm for a little man.

In 1939, Albert was Stanford's starting single-wing tailback. When Clark Shaughnessy became the school's coach in 1940, he installed the T-formation and moved Albert to quarterback. The new formation called for skilled ball-handling and faking, as well as accurate passing.

Albert not only was skilled at all three, he was also a great kicker. He had a 79-yard punt against Oregon State in 1940. Stanford was undefeated that season, and Albert kicked all three extra points in a 21-13 win over Nebraska in the Rose Bowl. He was named All-American quarterback and finished third in Heisman Trophy voting.

Frank made All-American again in 1941, and was drafted #1 in 1942 by the Chicago Bears. After serving in the Navy in World War II, he signed with the 49ers of the newly formed All-America Football Conference (AAFC).
In 1948 he led the AAFC with 29 touchdown passes and shared the Most Valuable Player award with Otto Graham. He was also named Pro Football Player of the Year by Sport magazine.

The following season, he threw 5 touchdown passes in a 56-28 win over Cleveland, had an
82-yard punt against Buffalo and led the AAFC with a 48.2 yard punting average. He had to be named to the All-AAFC team but Otto Graham was the Bill Russell of football. so rather than leave the deserving Albert off the All-Pro team, they named him to the team as a halfback, a position he hadn't played since his sophomore year at Stanford.

In his career with the Niners, he passed for 10,795 yards and 115 TDs. He rushed for 1,272 yards and 27 TDs, and even caught a TD pass. He punted 70 times for a 43.0 average with a long of 82 yards, and even kicked an extra point. He also returned 5 kickoffs for a 19.0 average.

Albert returned to the 49ers as head coach in 1956 and had a 19-16-1 record in three seasons.

Frankie set the tone for all Niner quarterbacks to follow. He was small, but feisty and tough. I salute the Father of our Quarterbacks, Frankie Albert -- a great player.

Gary Mialocq
The SF 49er Observer

Copyright @ 2009
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fickle 49er Fans Flaunt Foolishness

#24 - Michael Robinson

It is well known that sports fans often favor the underdog and become impatient with the status quo, wishing to replace their players with others, often lesser known or even less talented. This is apparently the case with some 49er fans, especially the young ones. In browsing through various forums and blogs I came across an interesting situation that will impact the coming season.

We know that Mike Martz often ignored the running game in favor of his outdated 7-step drop philosophy. Much has been made about the fact that Mike Singletary favors a "power running" game. Many wrongly believe that this means the 49ers will be a run-first team and nothing could be further from the truth. The difference will be that Jimmy Raye will direct a power running game that goes between the tackles, rather than outside the tackles like the "finesse" running game advocated by Martz.

Frank Gore will again be the featured back and will have his personal bodyguard, Moran Norris, back at fullback leading him through the line. It is expected that Glenn Coffee will be his backup at the #2 RB position as long as he can overcome the fumbling tendencies that hampered his college career.
That leaves Michael Robinson, rookie Kory Sheets from Purdue, and the long dormant Thomas Clayton as the other backs. Sheets is a speed burner who was plagued with fumbles throughout his college career. He also plays special teams as a kick returner and may well be headed for the practice squad.

The point of this article is the rather bizarre opinions of some fans that Thomas Clayton should remain and Michael Robinson should be cut. That, my friends, is insanity and demonstrates how little many fans know or understand about the game of professional football. I often ask these fans what it is about Thomas Clayton that excites them enough to cut one of our most valuable players. The answers are usually "he has led the league in preseason for two years". It is my firm belief that they are infatuated with his body. The man looks like Tarzan, but plays like Jane. No mention of the fact that Clayton sat on the practice squad the last two seasons and any of the other NFL teams could have picked him up for a loaf of bread and none did.

Let's compare their records. Clayton runs a 4.63 40, the slowest of all the 49er RBs with the exception of Norris. During his four-year college career, he gained just over 1000 yards and scored only 7 TDs. His senior year at Kansas State, he gained only 330 yards as the 3rd string running back. In his first two seasons with the Niners he has yet to impress the coaches enough to even set foot on the field. It is one thing to be a classic underachiever, but quite another to never have achieved success at all.

Michael Robinson was horribly mismanaged by Mike Nolan for two years. Nolan didn't like to play rookies and Michael was no exception. Like his new Offensive Coordinator, Jimmy Raye, Michael Robinson, led his team to the Big 10 Championship. MRob as he is affectionately called, is a 6-1, 228 lb. powerhouse whom Penn State coach Joe Paterno referred to as "
the greatest athlete I have coached in my 55 years at Penn State".

At Penn State, MRob was a standout on a losing team. He was used mostly as a wide receiver, but also played a little halfback and a short time at quarterback prior to his senior year. It was then that Paterno inserted Michael, who had never played the position full-time before, as his quarterback for his senior year. Robinson responded by leading his team to an 11-1 record, winning the Big 10 title and a victory in the Orange Bowl, and being named Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year. He threw for 17 TDs and ran for 8 more.
Throughout his career in college, he ran for 1,637 yards, caught 52 passes for 629 yards, threw for 3,575 yards and accounted, either by passing, throwing or running for 46 touchdowns. He was also their best player on special teams.

In direct contrast to Clayton's college career, Robinson achieved and then some.
So, upon being drafted by the 49ers and despite his plea to be given an opportunity to at least try out for quarterback, Michael was put on ice by Mike Nolan who expressed his unwillingness to allow most rookies to even play with the classic statement: "Young players play young".

So, Michael has been a standout on special teams and has made a few memorable plays, despite being overlooked and woefully mishandled.
Since coming to the 49ers, Robinson has established himself as their premier special teams player. He has been the leading tackler and his blocking resulted in two kickoff returns for TDs, the first for Delanie Walker in a preseason game, the second,a great block that led to Alan Rossum's opening kickoff return for a TD against the Arizona Cardinals. In fact, Robinson threw two blocks to spring him.

In addition, Robinson is the Captain of the 49er special teams and his inspirational play and leadership are well known. Some fans complain that he is "not a real RB". Well, he came to the Niners as a quarterback and has only averaged about 2 carries per game. It is well known that a running back needs several carries to develop a rhythym and Robinson has never been afforded that opportunity. He has, however, made several impressive runs in his short stint at that position. Here are just a couple. In the first, he breaks off a 20 yard gain with a swing pass breaking five (5) tackles.

It is important to note that once Mike Singletary took over as coach last season, Robinson became a weapon receiving out of the backfield from the backup FB position, catching 17 passes for 201 yards, an 11.9 average per catch.

Robinson also took a few snaps last season from the Wildcat formation and is expected to be the man behind center if and when Jimmy Raye utilizes that formation this season. It is important to remember that the new running backs coach is Tom Rathman, who played with another #24 in the early 1980s, Harry Sydney, also a former QB who was instrumental in a playoff victor by throwing an option pass to Brent Jones. Tom has a long memory and Robinson possesses similar skills to Sydney.

Because he is such an excellent receiver, blocker, runner and passer, as well as the best special teams performer, his versatility is important not only to Mike Singletary but to the front office as well. He is under contract, long-term and his versatility will allow 49er management to get creative if necessary. Let's say the team decides to keep all four (4) QBs or 6 WRs. This is where Robinson's value comes through. He can be carried as both the #3 RB and #2 FB, thereby enabling the 49ers to fill five (5) roster spots with only four (4) players. They can then retain a Nate Davis or an Arnaz Battle thanks to Robinson.

Clayton offers no such options. He will be gone after the preseason.

Gary Mialocq
The SF 49er Observer

Copyright @ 2009
All Rights Reserved

Defense Saves First Super Bowl Victory

Dwight Clark's incredible catch of a Joe Montana pass in the NFC Championship game against Dallas eventually led to a Super Bowl matchup in Pontiac, Michigan agaist the Cincinnati Bengal. Dan Bunz and the 49ers defense made an incredible goal line stand to propel them to victory in Super Bowl XVI! Watch the defense step up and seal the deal for the first of five 49er Super Bowl victories.

Copyright @ 2009
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Memorable Moments: Steve Young's Great Escape

In a 1988 game against the Minnesota Vikings at Candlestick Park, the 49ers were in trouble. Quarterback Steve Young faded back to pass under heavy pressure and the rest is history. Enjoy Lon Simmons' description of this run which will go down as one of the greatest in team history. Enjoy the excitement.

Copyright @ 2009
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The Drive that Started it All

The 49ers waited thirty-five years to win their first championship and nobody really expected it. Coming off a less than successful 1980 season, Bill Walsh went heavily for defensive secondary players in the draft, landing Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright, and Carlton Williamson to go along with free agent pickup, Dwight Hicks. The Niners started off the season at 3-2, then faced the heavily favored Dallas Cowboys at Candlestick Park. The Niners made a statement that day with a 45-14 shellacking of the 'Boys to the delight of a raucus sold-out Stick.

Later that season, the Niners faced the Cowboys again in the NFC Championship Game. Trailing 27-21 with a little over three minutes remaining. The drive that ends with The Catch. Originally aired on CBS January 10, 1982. Vin Scully doing play by play with Hank Stram doing color commentary. Enjoy the excitement of the greatest single moment in 49er history.

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The San Francisco 49er Hall of Fame - Early Years

The Early Years

In 1969, the 49ers placed their first two players into the Hall of Fame, defensive tackle Leo Nomellini, and fullback Joe Perry. All told, there were six (6) players from the Golden Era who earned their way into the Hall of Fame.

Leo "The Lion" Nomellini
Defensive Tackle 1950-63

Leo was the first-ever draft choice after the 49ers joined the NFL. Played every 49ers game for 14 seasons. Altogether he played in 174 consecutive regular season games, and counting ten trips to the Pro Bowl, Nomellini played in 266 contests. "The Lion" became one of the few to be named to an all-NFL team on both offense and defense. Retired at age 39. Played college ball at the University of Minnesota. Born June 19,1924, in Lucca, Italy.

Joe "The Jet" Perry
(49ers: 1948-60, 63, NFL: 1948-63.)

Joe was the first player in NFL history to gain 1,000 yards two consecutive seasons. His 9,723 rushing yards placed him second only to Jim Brown when he retired. Finished career with 12,505 combined yards. Nicknamed "The Jet" because of his quick starts. Joe was one of the four members of the famous Million Dollar Backfield of 1954. Also played for the Baltimore Colts (1961-62). Attended Compton Junior College. Born January 22, 1927, in Stevens, Arkansas.

In 1970, the 49ers placed probably their greatest broken field runner of all-time deservedly in the Hall of Fame, "Hurrying Hugh" McElhenny.

Hugh McElhenny
(49ers 1952-60; NFL: 1952-64)

Mac was one of only three players to gain over 11,000 yards carrying the ball. Scored 60 career touchdowns, 38 rushing, including a 42-yard touchdown run on his first pro play in preseason. In 1952, McElhenny had the longest punt return (94) and longest play from scrimmage (89). Scored two touchdowns in first Pro Bowl after his rookie year. Hugh was also a member of the Million Dollar Backfield. Also played for Minnesota Vikings (1961-62), New York Giants (1963), and Detroit Lions (1964). Played college football at University of Washington. Born December 31, 1928, in Los Angeles, CA.

Y.A. Tittle
(49ers 1951-60; NFL 1948-64

Yelberton Abraham Tittle played 17 years in the NFL, finishing his career with 33,070 passing yards and 281 touchdowns (39 rushing). Won NFL Most Valuable Player Award in 1961 and '63. Threw 33 touchdown passes and a career-high 3,224 yards in 1962. In '63 he threw 36 touchdowns, completing 60.2 percent of his passes. Y.A. filled the QB slot in the Million Dollar Backfield. Also played for the Baltimore Colts (1948-50) and the New York Giants (1961-64). Played college ball at Lousiana State University. Born October 24, 1926, in Marshall, Texas.

It took until 1987 for the next 49er to be named to the Hall, the fourth and final member of the Million Dollar Backfield, running back John Henry Johnson.

John Henry Johnson
(49ers 1954-56; NFL 1954-1966)

John Henry Johnson was a member of what's been noted as the finest backfield in NFL history. The foursome known as "The Million Dollar Backfield" and "The Fabulous Foursome" included three other Hall of Famers-QB Y.A. Tittle and RBs Joe Perry and Hugh McElhenny. Gained 6,803 yards rushing, including 48 touchdowns. Also played for the Detroit Lions (1957-59), Pittsburgh Steelers (1960-65), and Houston Oilers (1966). Attended St. Mary's College and Arizona State University. Born November 24, 1929, in Waterproof, LA.

The sixth and final member of the 49ers of the Early Years to gain entrance into the Hall of Fame is the biggest, 6'9" Bob St. Clair, an offensive tackle and tower of strength for the Niners for many years. Bob was famous for eating raw meat and I experienced it first hand when he spoke at our Athletic Awards Banquet at City College of San Francisco. I had the dubious pleasure of sitting next to him while he devoured a 16-oz raw steak, a fun tactic he used to use to scare rookie recruits at training camp. He would pull the steak apart with blood dripping down his chin and more than once, a rookie prospect left camp.

Bob St. Clair
(49ers 1953-63)

St. Clair was an exceptional offensive lineman who also played goal line defense. He blocked ten (10) field goals in 1956, and also lost five teeth blocking a punt.
He earned all-NFL honors three times and made five Pro Bowl appearances. Attended San Francisco and Tulsa. Born February 18, 1931, in San Francisco, CA.

Note: These were the six 49er stars of the early years who gained entry into the
Hall of Fame. There were a couple of players who may well have deserved their inclusion in the Hall, but missed out. First and foremost of these was the great Frankie Albert. We will do a separate article on this exciting little left-handed quarterback.

Others who deserve mention were guard and 8-time Pro Bowl participant, Bruno Banducci, and four-time All-Pro wide receiver Alyn Beals.

Copyright @ 2009
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

1952 - A Crazy Year

Victorious over the Bears, 40-16.

The year was 1952. The San Francisco 49ers were now starting their third season in the NFL after a very successful run in the All-American Football Conference under Head Coach Lawrence T. "Buck" Shaw, also known as the "Silver Fox". Pictured above descending the stairs (and skipping over the stewardesses) are from top to bottom:

Frankie Albert - the 49ers first QB and a brilliant All-Pro performer;

Joe "the Jet" Perry - All-Pro fullback and the first in NFL history to record back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. A stronger Frank Gore.

Hardy Brown - All-Pro linebacker widely known as the hardest hitter and dirtiest player in NFL history. Brown knocked 21 players unconscious in a single 12 game season as documented by the NFL with his vicious shoulder tackle.  The only 49er fans who believe Ronnie Lott was the hardest hitter never saw Brown play.  He is the only player in NFL  history to be banned from practicing with his own team for the players' safety!

Gordy Soltau - All-Pro wide receiver and a great field goal and extra point kicker.

Leo "the Lion" Nomellini - All-Pro defensive tackle who also played on offense if needed. One of all-time 49er greats.

The 49ers were coming home from blasting the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field, 40-16 to start out this season 4-0. Just the week before, this team had defeated the favored Detroit Lions, also on the road in a history-making game. 49er rookie defensive end Charlie Powell, was signed and asked by the Niners to start in his first NFL game at the age of nineteen (19), which is still the youngest player ever to start an NFL game. Charlie responded by sacking All-Pro QB Bobby Layne ten (10) times for -61 yards. This would be the all-time NFL record but they didn't keep track of sacks in 1952.

The Niners would win their next game to go to 5-0, but it all came tumbling down in Kezar on Nov. 2, 1952. Noted Chicago Bear hit-man, Ed Sprinkle, tackled Hugh McElhenny on the sidelines and intentionally and obviously twisted his ankle, forcing Mac out for the game. The Niners lost their lead and the game. A near-riot ensued after the tackle but the damage was done.  They never recovered and failed to make the playoffs.

The 1952 was a team of colorful characters. Powell was an amazing athlete that had signed a Major League baseball contract immediately after high school. The Harlem Globetrotters had tried to sign him while he was still in high school. He ran the 100 yard dash in 9.6 at 220 lbs which at the time was only 0.3 seconds off the world record. He also high jumped and set a shot put record that lasted over 50 years. His passion, however, was boxing and it was the reason he never achieved his deserved greatness in other sports. He stopped every morning before high school to spar with World Heavyweight Champion Archie Moore and eventually knocked out #2 challenger, Nino Valdez, which earned him a title shot against Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) for the World Heavyweight Championship. He lost, but so did everyone else.

Leo "The Lion" Nomellini was a world class wrestler who later competed against Lou Thesz for the World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship.

Hardy Brown was banned from practice by Buck Shaw to protect the other players, the only player in history to have that distinction.

It was a crazy year.

Gary Mialocq
The 49er Observer

Copyright @ 2009
All Rights Reserved

How it All Started

The Early Years -- The All-American Football Conference (AAFC)

When World War II ended in 1945, the Bay Area was booming. Thousands of veterans were returning and opportunity was in the air. The vegetable gardens south of the city were bought up by Henry Doelger, whose thousands of side-by-side homes at Westlake Village inspired Malvina Reynolds to later write Pete Seeger's song, "Little Boxes."

People were hungry for football as many of the local colleges had disbanded their football programs during the war. The All-American Football Conference was formed the next year, 1946, with eight teams. They wisely placed teams in or near cities where the NFL already had teams to give them competition. The AAFC consisted of the Baltimore Colts, Brooklyn Dodgers, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Rockets, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Dons, New York Yankees, and San Francisco 49ers.

49ers fans affectionately regard Bill Walsh as the king of coaches. Well, fans, we had a guy in 1946 who had silver hair like Bill. In fact, his nickname was the Silver Fox. He was a brilliant coach who featured some of the most explosive offenses in football history. His name was Lawrence T. "Buck" Shaw. Like Walsh, he came to the Niners after a very successful career as a college coach at Santa Clara. Buck spent six years there and amassed a 47-10-4 record that included two Sugar Bowl victories for the Broncos. The fact that they had disbanded their football program during the war made Buck available to the Niners.

1946: In their inaugural season, Buck led the Niners to a 9-5 record, with Frankie Albert running the T-formation and passing to Alyn Beals, a great wide receiver who made All-Pro all four years the team played in the AAFC.

1946 Niners in Golden Gate Park

1947: The following season the Niners were also successful, posting an 8-4-2 record. Cleveland won the title for the second consecutive season and fielded a team that featured Otto Graham and Marion Motley. This was the year I attended my first 49er game against the New York Yankees on Sept. 21, 1947. Unfortunately, we lost 21-16 as you can see I wrote on the top of my 25-cent program:

Needing to improve in 1948 in order to compete with Cleveland, Buck brought in Joe Perry and Veryl Lillywhite to complement his running back tandem of All-Pro Johnny Strzykalski, and the tough running Len Eshmont. It worked. Lillywhite ran for a 59-yard TD in his first carry from scrimmage.

1948 - A Season to Remember

The Niners started out the season at 10-0, destroying most of their opponents. In those ten games, the 49ers outscored their opponents by 376 to 142. The Niners averaged 37.6 points per game, scoring over 40 twice and over 50 once. They allowed 14.2 points per game.

The only problem: Cleveland also started out 10-0. In Week 11, the Niners faced the Browns in Cleveland. In a close and hard-fought game, the Niners made a couple of critical mistakes that resulted in a 14-7 loss. Beals dropped a wide open TD pass, and a fumble at the one-yard-line ended our chances.

The Niners took it out on the Brooklyn Dodgers the next week on the road to the tune of 63-14, and returned home to face Cleveland again, this time in the friendly confines of Kezar. The game was sold out two weeks in advance and the Bay Area was bristling with excitement in anticipation of the upcoming battle between the two top teams in the AAFC. I attended that game at the age of six. In one of the greatest games ever played in Kezar, the Browns squeaked out a 31-28 win. They won the next week to finish the season undefeated, then defeated the Yankees in the championship game to become the only team besides the Miami Dolphins to play an entire season undefeated.

1949: The Niners continued to be an outstanding team, finishing the season at 9-3. They swamped the Yankees in the playoff game and lost to the Browns and Otto Graham again in the Championship Game, 21-7.

The 49er finished their AAFC experience with a record of 39-15-2.

The next season the league merged with the NFL. Three teams from the AAFC were accepted into the senior league—the Baltimore Colts, the Niners, and the Cleveland Browns. The Browns immediately won the NFL title in their first season—1950. Since Cleveland already had a team, the Rams were relocated to Los Angeles.

Buck Shaw continued to coach the 49ers through the 1954 season. His record as a Niner coach was 72-40-4. His teams scored 3003 points and allowed just 2167 points. Buck was later hired by the Philadelphia Eagles and led them to the NFL title.

We salute the man who started it all out right. His explosive offensive teams brought excitement to fans throughout the league and helped the 49ers create an aura of excitement and explosiveness.

Gary Mialocq
The 49er Observer

Copyright @ 2009
All Rights Reserved

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