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

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

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.

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