The San Francisco 49ers are a professional American football team. The team plays its home games in , while the club's headquarters and practice facility are located in Santa Clara. The 49ers are currently a member of the Western Division of the National Football Conference (NFC) in the National Football League (NFL).
The 49ers began play in 1946 as a charter member of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) and joined the NFL in 1950 after the AAFC merged into the older league. Though the team currently shares the record for most Super Bowl victories (five) with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys, the 49ers were the first team ever to win 5 Super Bowls. They are also the only team with multiple appearances in the Super Bowl who remain undefeated, with a record of 5-0. The 49ers teams of the 1980s and early 1990s are considered by many to be among the greatest teams in NFL history, particularly the 1984 and 1989 teams.
Three-time Super Bowl MVP Joe Montana, perennial Pro Bowler Ronnie Lott, all-time highest career quarterback rating holder Steve Young, and career touchdown leader Jerry Rice played for the 49ers during this period. Additionally, some of the most memorable plays (including "The Catch") and games (such as Super Bowl XXIII) were played by this team.
The team's name came from the California Gold Rush gold-seekers who came to the San Francisco area during 1849. It is the only name the team has been affiliated with and San Francisco is the only city in which it has resided; however, a move to Santa Clara, California is currently being considered.
The 49ers struggled in their first several seasons in the NFL, unlike their AAFC counterparts the Browns, who won the NFL championship in their first season in the NFL in 1950.
In 1957 the 49ers would enjoy their first sustained success as members of the NFL. After losing the opening game of the season, the 49ers won their next three against the Rams, Bears, and Packers before returning home to Kezar Stadium for a game against the Chicago Bears. The 49ers fell behind the Bears 17-7. Tragically, 49ers owner Tony Morabito collapsed of a heart attack and died during the game. The 49ers players learned of his death at halftime when coach Frankie Albert was handed a note with two words: "Tony's gone." With tears running down their faces, and motivated to win for their departed owner, the 49ers scored 14 unanswered points to win the game, 21—17. Dicky Moegle's late-game interception in the endzone sealed the victory.
On Nov. 3, 1957, the 49ers hosted the Detroit Lions, a game which has gone down in local lore as featuring arguably the greatest pass play (along with Dwight Clark's "The Catch" in 1981). With 10 seconds remaining, 49ers ball on the Lions 41, Detroit leading 31—28, Y. A. Tittle threw a desperation pass into the end zone, right into the arms of high-leaping R. C. Owens. The play became famously known as the "Alley Oop". Ironically, the two men covering Owens would later become 49ers coaches: Jack Christiansen (Head Coach), and Jim David.
The 49ers would end that season with three straight victories and an 8—4 record, tying the Detroit Lions for the NFL Western Division title, and setting up a one-game divisional playoff in San Francisco. The 49ers got off to a fast start, and in the third quarter led 27—7. The Lions, led by quarterback Tobin Rote, who earlier in the season had replaced an injured Bobby Layne, would mount one of the biggest comebacks in NFL history and defeat the 49ers, 31—27. Had they won the game, the 49ers would have hosted the NFL Championship game the following weekend against the Cleveland Browns. As it happened, the Lions wound up beating the Browns 59—14.
For most of the next thirteen years the 49ers would hover around .500, except for 1963 and 1964 when they went 2—12 and 4—10 respectively. Key players for these 49ers included running back Ken Willard, quarterback John Brodie, and offensive lineman Bruce Bosley.
During this time the 49ers became the first NFL team to use the shotgun formation. It was named by the man who actually devised the formation, San Francisco 49ers' coach Red Hickey, in 1960. The formation, where the quarterback lines up seven yards behind the center, was designed to allow the quarterback extra time to throw. The formation was used for the first time in 1960 and enabled the 49ers to beat the Baltimore Colts, who were not familiar with the formation.
In 1961, primarily using the shotgun the 49ers got off to a fast 4—1 start, including two shutouts in back-to-back weeks. In their sixth game they faced the Chicago Bears, who, by moving players closer to the line of scrimmage and rushing the quarterback were able to defeat the shotgun and in fact shut out the 49ers, 31—0. Though the 49ers would go only 3—5—1 the rest of the way, the shotgun would eventually become a component of most team's offenses and is a formation used by football teams at all levels.
In 1961 the 49ers had a frustrating season as they won only 6 games that year. They won only 1 game at Kezar Stadium while on the road they won 5 of 7 games.
After posting losing records in the next two years, the 1965 49ers rebounded nicely to finish with a 7-6-1 record. They were led that year by John Brodie, who after being plagued by injuries came back to become one of the NFL's best passers by throwing for 3,112 yards and 30 touchdowns.
For the 1968 season the 49ers hired Dick Nolan as their head coach, who had been Tom Landry's defensive coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys. Nolan's first two seasons with the 49ers had gone much the same as the previous decade, with the 49ers going 7-6-1 and 4-8-2.
In the early game the Giants were crushed by the Rams 30-3, thus forcing the 49ers to win their game to clinch the division. In wet, rainy conditions in Oakland, the 49ers dominated the Raiders, 38-7, giving the 49ers their first divisional championship, becoming champions of the NFC West.
The 49ers won their divisional playoff game 17-14 against the defending conference champion Minnesota Vikings, thus setting up a matchup against the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC Championship. In what would be the final home game for the 49ers at Kezar Stadium the 49ers kept up with the Cowboys before losing, 17-10, thus giving the Cowboys their first conference championship.
The 49ers sent five players to the Pro Bowl that season, including MVP veteran quarterback John Brodie, wide receiver Gene Washington, and linebacker Dave Wilcox. Nolan was also named NFL Coach of the Year for 1970.
Following the 1970 season the 49ers moved from Kezar Stadium to Candlestick Park. Despite being located on the outskirts of the city, Candlestick Park gave the 49ers a much more modern facility with more amenities that was easier for fans to access by highway.
The 49ers won their second straight divisional title in 1971 with a 9-5 record. The 49ers again won their divisional playoff game against the Washington Redskins by a 24-20 final score. This set up a rematch against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game, this time to be played in Dallas. Though the defense again held the Cowboys in check, the 49ers offense was ineffective and the eventual Super Bowl champion Cowboys beat the 49ers again, 14-3.
In 1971, eight 49ers made the Pro Bowl, including defensive back Jimmy Johnson and Gene Washington, both for the second year in a row, as well as defensive end Cedric Hardman, running back Vic Washington, and offensive lineman Forest Blue.
The 49ers won their third consecutive NFC West championship in 1972 with five wins in their last six games, making them the only franchise to win their first three divisional titles after the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Their opponents in the divisional playoffs would once again be the Dallas Cowboys, making it the third consecutive year the teams faced each other in the playoffs.
Vic Washington took the opening kickoff 97 yards for a score, and the 49ers took a 21-6 lead in the second quarter. After the 49ers took a 28-13 lead in the 4th quarter, Tom Landry sent quarterback Roger Staubach, who was backing up Craig Morton, into the game. Staubach quickly led the Cowboys on a drive to a field goal, bringing the score to within 28-16, and as the game wound down it appeared that that would be all the Cowboys would get. However, the Cowboys would complete the comeback all in the last two minutes. Just after the two minute warning Staubach found Billy Parks for a touchdown to bring the score to 28-23. Needing an onside kick to have a realistic chance at a game-winning touchdown, Cowboys kicker Toni Fritsch executed a successful onside kick, with the ball going back to the Cowboys. With the 49ers on the ropes, Staubach completed the comeback with a touchdown pass to Ron Sellers giving the Cowboys a dramatic 30-28 victory and sending the 49ers to yet another crushing playoff defeat.
The defeat would have a chilling effect on the 49ers, as they failed to make the playoffs for the next eight seasons.
In 1974 the 49ers drafted Wilbur Jackson from the University of Alabama to be the team's primary back. Jackson enjoyed a fine rookie year, leading the 49ers with 705 yards rushing. He and fellow running back Larry Schreiber combined for over 1300 yards rushing. With Steve Spurrier injured and missing nearly the entire year, the 49ers did not have a regular quarterback but did put together a respectable 6-8 record. Following the season, longtime tight end Ted Kwalick left the 49ers to join the World Football League (he would join the Oakland Raiders upon the WFL's dissolution.)
The 49ers dropped back down to 5-9 in what would be Dick Nolan's final season as coach in 1975, the 49ers losing their final four games of the season. Wilbur Jackson was hurt much of the year and Delvin Williams led the 49ers in rushing with 631 yards rushing.
Following the 1975 season the 49ers traded for New England Patriots quarterback Jim Plunkett, former Heisman Trophy winner from nearby Stanford University (which was also the alma mater of John Brodie). Though Plunkett had shown promise with the Patriots, he had not won there and it was thought that he needed a change of scenery. Monte Clark was also brought on as 49ers head coach.
The 49ers were led by one of the best running games in the NFL in 1976. Delvin Williams emerged as an elite back, gaining over 1200 yards rushing and would make the Pro Bowl. Wilbur Jackson also enjoyed a resurgence, rushing for 792 yards. Once again Gene Washington was the teams leading receiver with 457 yards receiving and six scores.
The 49ers started the season 6-1 for their best start since 1970. Most of the wins were against second-tier teams, although the 49ers did shut out the Rams 16-0, in Los Angeles on Monday Night Football. In that game the 49ers recorded 10 sacks, including 6 by Tommy Hart. However, the 49ers lost four games in a row, including two against divisional rivals Los Angeles and Atlanta that proved fatal to their playoff hopes. Despite finishing the season with a winning record of 8-6, Clark was fired after just one season by general manager Joe Thomas, who would oversee the worst stretch of football in the team's history.
Under coach Ken Meyer the 49ers would lose their first five games of the 1977 season, including being shut out twice. Though they would win five of their next six they would lose their last three games to finish the season 5-9. Playing in San Francisco proved not to revive Plunkett's career as he had another disappointing season, throwing only 9 touchdown passes. Bright spots for the 49ers included defensive linemen Tommy Hart and Cleveland Elam, who made the Pro Bowl, and running backs Wilbur Jackson and Delvin Williams, who combined for over 1600 yards rushing. Gene Washington again led the team in receiving in 1977, which would be his final year with the 49ers.
The 1977 offseason was marked by a number of questionable moves by Joe Thomas that backfired badly. Thomas's big offseason acquisition was running back O.J. Simpson from the Buffalo Bills. As with Plunkett two years previously, it was thought that rescuing Simpson from a bad situation and bringing him to the area of the country he had been raised would rejuvenate his career. To create playing time for Simpson, Thomas traded Delvin Williams to the Miami Dolphins for wide receiver Freddie Solomon. Thomas also released Jim Plunkett, giving up on him after two seasons. Finally, Thomas fired Meyer after only one season, and replaced him with Pete McCulley, his third coach in three seasons.
The 1978 season was a disaster for the 49ers, as they finished 2-14, their only wins coming against the Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Simpson indeed led the team in rushing, but with less than 600 yards. It had become apparent that Simpson's knees and body were shot, and he was clearly near the end of his career. Wilbur Jackson also missed the entire season due to injury. Even worse for the franchise was that the first pick of the 1979 draft that they would have had was traded to the Bills as part of the O.J. Simpson deal. Thomas was fired following the season.
However some of the key players that would be part of the 49ers stunning rise to emergence would begin their 49ers career in 1978. Rookie quarterback Steve DeBerg, who would be Joe Montana's first mentor, was the 49ers starting quarterback. Running back Paul Hofer and center/guard Randy Cross also started with the 49ers in 1978.
Bill Walsh was hired to be the 49ers head coach in the 1978 off-season. Walsh was a disciple of Paul Brown, and served as Brown's offensive coordinator with the Cincinnati Bengals from 1968 to 1975. However, Brown did not appoint him as his successor upon his retirement, ironically choosing another assistant, former 49ers center Bill "Tiger" Johnson. Desiring head coach experience, Walsh looked to Stanford University in 1977. He had had some success there before the 49ers tapped him to be their replacement.
Walsh is given credit for popularizing the 'West Coast offense', which is not entirely true. The Bill Walsh offense was actually created and refined while he was an assistant coach with Bengals. The offense utilizes a short, precise, timed passing game as a replacement/augmentation of the running game. The offense is extremely difficult to defend against as it is content to consistently make 6-8 yard gains all the way down the field. (The true West Coast offense -- more focused on the vertical, or downfield, passing game -- was actually created by 1960s L.A. / San Diego coach Sid Gillman, and San Diego State coach Don Coryell, who also employed a version of it as head coach of the San Diego Chargers.)
In Walsh's first draft, the 49ers had targeted Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana as an early round pick. Montana had enjoyed a storied college career, leading the Fighting Irish to the 1977 national title and a number of dramatic comeback victories, the most stunning of all being his final game, at the 1979 Cotton Bowl. Playing the University of Houston in an ice storm, and with Montana suffering from a bad flu, Notre Dame was down 34-13 in the third quarter. However, Montana led a magnificent rally that culminated with him throwing a touchdown pass on the game's final play to give Notre Dame the 35-34 win.
Despite this, most scouts did not peg Montana as a top prospect. In addition to being relatively small for a quarterback (just over six feet) and slow, Montana's arm strength was considered suspect. Though he did get credit for his moxie and intangibles, most thought of him as a system player surrounded by a great team.
In the 1979 draft, the Dallas Cowboys were placed just ahead of the 49ers. The Cowboys' draft strategy through that time was to take the highest-ranked player on their draft board at the time of their selection, regardless of position. When the Cowboys' turn came up in the third round, the highest rated player on their board was Montana. However, feeling that the quarterback position was in excellent long-term shape with Roger Staubach and Danny White, and desperately needing a tight end, the Cowboys went off their strategy and drafted Doug Cosbie. The 49ers, and Walsh, took Montana.
As Walsh implemented his strategies and game plan, the 49ers had another year of losing, going 2-14. There were, however, a number of bright spots. Despite throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, Steve DeBerg blossomed under Walsh, throwing for over 3600 yards and completing 60% of his passes. Freddie Solomon also had a good year, with over 800 yards receiving. The running game was patchwork, with Paul Hofer leading the team with 615 yards and O.J. Simpson, in what would be his final season, rushing for only 460 yards and being sidelined with injuries.
The 49ers got off to a strong start in 1980, winning their first three games of the season. However, the team, still not quite ready for the big time, would lose their next eight games in a row, although many of those games were close, and the 49ers acquitted themselves well.
During the 1980 season, Walsh alternated DeBerg and Montana at quarterback. Though DeBerg had played well for the 49ers, Walsh felt the team's best chance to win in the long run was with Montana. He alternated the two QBs, giving Montana some experience while keeping opponents off guard. This strategy of alternating quarterbacks from game to game and during games is rare in football, although it had been employed by other successful teams in the past, specifically the Dallas Cowboys of the early 1970s who alternated Roger Staubach and Craig Morton, and the Los Angeles Rams of the early 1950s alternating Norm Van Brocklin and Bob Waterfield.
The highlight of the 1980 season, and a sign of good things to come, came in Week 14. The 49ers trailed the New Orleans Saints, who at the time were winless at 0-13, 35-7 at halftime. However, led by Joe Montana, the 49ers made (what was then) the greatest comeback in NFL history, coming back to tie the score in regulation and winning the game in overtime with a field goal by Ray Wersching to give the 49ers an incredible 38-35 victory. It was this game, which marked Montana's first big NFL comeback win, that won Montana the quarterback job full time.
A number of key players emerged for the 49ers in 1980. Among them were Dwight Clark, who led the 49ers with 82 receptions and just under 1000 yards receiving, and running back Earl Cooper, who ran for over 700 yards.
These new additions, when added to existing defensive mainstays like Keena Turner, turned the 49ers into a dominant team. After a 1-2 start, the 49ers won all but one of their final games to finish with a 13-3 record which was the best in the team's history at that point. Dean made the Pro Bowl, as did Lott, in his rookie season, and Hicks.
Led by Montana, the unusual offense was centered around the short passing game, which Walsh used as ball control. Both Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon had excellent years receiving; Clark as the possession receiver, and Solomon as more of a deep threat. The 49ers running game, however, was among the weakest for any champion in NFL history. Ricky Patton led the 49ers with only 543 yards rushing. The 49ers' most valuable running back, however, might have been Earl Cooper, whose strength was as a pass-catching back (he had 51 catches during the season.)
The 49ers faced the New York Giants in the divisional playoffs and won, 38-24, in a game that wasn't as close as the score suggests. This set up an NFC Championship Game matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, whom the 49ers could never get past during their earlier successful run in the early 1970s.
As they had earlier in the season (beating the Cowboys 45-14), the 49ers played the Cowboys tough, but the Cowboys forced turnovers and held the lead late. Unlike the playoff games of the '70s, this would end differently. In a scenario not unlike the 1972 divisional playoff, the 49ers were down 27-21 and on their own 11 yard line with 4:54 remaining. As Montana had done for Notre Dame and the 49ers so many times before, he led the 49ers on a sustained drive to the Cowboys' 6-yard line. On a 3rd-and-3 play, with his primary receiver covered, Montana rolled right and threw the ball off balance to Dwight Clark in the end zone, who leaped up and caught the ball to tie the game at 27, with the extra point giving the 49ers the lead.
"The Catch", as the play has since been named by sportscasters, reminded older 49er fans of the "Alley-oop" passes that Y.A. Tittle threw to lanky receiver R.C. Owens back in the 1950s. A picture of Clark's leap in the air appeared on the cover of that week's Sports Illustrated and was also recently featured in an Autumn 2005 commercial for Gatorade.
Despite this, the Cowboys had one last chance to win. And indeed, on the first play of the next possession, Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson caught a pass from Danny White and got to midfield before he was pulled down by the jersey at the 49ers 44 yard line by Cornerback Eric Wright. Had Pearson not have been jersey-tackled, there was a good chance he would have scored a touchdown, as there were no 49ers downfield. On the next play, White was sacked by Lawrence Pillers and fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Jim Stuckey, giving the 49ers the win and a trip to their first ever Super Bowl against the Cincinnati Bengals, who were also in their first Super Bowl.
The 49ers would take a 20-0 halftime lead and hold on to win Super Bowl XVI 26-21 behind kicker Ray Wersching's four field goals and a key defensive stand. Throughout the '81 season, the defense had been a significant reason for the team's success, despite residing in the shadow of the then-innovative offense. Montana won MVP honors mostly on the strength of leading the 49ers on a 92 yard, 12 play drive culminating in a touchdown pass to Earl Cooper. Thus did the 49ers complete one of the most dramatic and complete turnarounds in NFL history, going from back-to-back 2-14 seasons to a Super Bowl championship in just two years.
Montana's success in the playoffs, and his success in leading the 49ers on big comebacks, made him one of the biggest stars in the NFL, and arguably the best quarterback ever to play the game. Not only was he the face of the 49ers, but his easygoing and modest manner enabled his celebrity to transcend football. Additionally, it caused other teams to consider players who, although not physically gifted, nonetheless had certain intangibles and tendencies that made them great players who could come up big in the toughest of situations.
During their first Super Bowl run, the team was known for its short-range passing game and the play-making ability of quarterback Joe Montana. Later, they became proficient in all aspects of the game, featuring a dominant defense (always in the offense's shadow) and a fast-scoring passing attack (with wide-receivers Jerry Rice and John Taylor).
The 1982 season was a bad one for the 49ers, as they lost all five games at Candlestick Park enroute to a 3-6 record in a strike-shortened season. Joe Montana was the one highlight, passing for 2,613 yards in just nine games, highlighted by five straight games in which he broke the 300-yard barrier.
In 1983, the 49ers won their final three games of the season, finishing with a 10-6 record and winning their 2nd NFC Western Divisional Title in three years. Leading the rebound was Joe Montana with another stellar season, passing for 3,910 yards and connecting on 26 touchdowns. In the NFC Divisional Playoffs, they hosted the Detroit Lions. The 49ers jumped out in front early and led 17-9 entering the 4th quarter, but the Lions roared back, scoring two touchdowns to take a 23—17 lead. However, Montana would lead a comeback, hitting wide receiver Freddie Solomon on a game-winning 14-yard touchdown pass with 2:00 left on the clock to put the 49ers ahead 24—23. The game ended when a potential game-winning FG attempt by Lions kicker Eddie Murray missed. The next week, the 49ers came back from a 21—0 deficit against the Washington Redskins in the NFC Championship Game to tie the game, only to lose 24—21 on a Mark Moseley field goal that sent the Redskins to Super Bowl XVIII.
During the 1984 season, fourteen 49ers players came together to record a 45 pop single entitled "We're the 49ers." The song, released as a 45RPM single on Megatone Records, was produced and co-written by Narada Michael Walden. It mixed elements of R&B, funk, and pop. Prominent 49ers who provided vocals include Roger Craig, Dwight Clark and Ronnie Lott (Joe Montana is noticeably absent). While achieving some local airplay in San Francisco on radio stations like KMEL, it did not catch on nationally the way the Bears' Super Bowl Shuffle would a year later.
In the 1985 season, Roger Craig became the first NFL player to gain 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season. The 49ers were not as dominant as in 1984, however, and they settled for a 10-6 record, a wild card berth and a quick elimination from the playoffs when the New York Giants beat them 17—3. In addition, 1985 marked the appearance of newly acquired rookie Jerry Rice who would continue with the 49ers throughout the 1990s.
When the 1986 season began, the 49ers were off and running with a 31—7 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on opening day. But the win was costly; Joe Montana injured his back and was out for two months. Jeff Kemp became the starting quarterback, and the 49ers went 4—3—1 in September and October. Upon Montana's return, the 49ers caught fire, winning 5 of the last 7 games, including a 24-14 win over the Los Angeles Rams, to clinch the NFC West title. However, the New York Giants defeated them again in the playoffs, 49—3. Montana was injured in the first half by a hit from the Giants' Jim Burt.
During the strike-shortened 1987 season, the 49ers led the league with a 13—2 record but fell in their first playoff game to the Minnesota Vikings, 36—24 -- the third year in a row they lost in the first round. The loss to the Vikings was a stunning upset considering the 49ers that year were ranked #1 on both offense and defense, making them the odds-on favorite to go to the Super Bowl. Note that 1987 marked the first of six seasons when the 49ers had two Hall of Fame quarterbacks on the roster: from 1987 through 1992, Montana's backup (and frequent replacement) was Steve Young.
The win over the Bears gave the 49ers their third trip to the Super Bowl: Super Bowl XXIII, in Miami. However, the game was tied 3-3 at halftime, the 49ers having missed a few scoring opportunities. A late Cincinnati field goal seemed to seal the victory, but they left too much time for Joe Montana to work his magic. He drove the team 92 yards for the winning touchdown on a pass to John Taylor with only 34 seconds left. Final score: 20—16 49ers.
The following year, coach Bill Walsh retired, and his defensive coordinator and handpicked successor, George Seifert, took over head coaching duties. The 49ers then steamrolled through the league to finish 14—2 and gain homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Their two losses were by a combined 5 points. In the first round, they crushed the Vikings, 41—13. In the NFC Championship game, they blew out the Los Angeles Rams 30-3 before crushing the Denver Broncos 55—10 in Super Bowl XXIV - setting a record for points scored and widest margin of victory in a Super Bowl, amongst others. Montana himself set many Super Bowl records (some since tied or surpassed) en route to his third Super Bowl MVP. In winning the Super Bowl, the 49ers became the only team to win back-to-back Super Bowls under different head coaches. This 1989 championship squad is often regarded as one of the most dominant teams ever, winning all three playoff games by a combined 100 points.
During their quest for a "three-peat" between 1988 and 1990, the 49ers set a league record with 18 consecutive road victories.
Joe Montana then missed the following two seasons with a recurring elbow injury. Following the 1990 season, the 49ers left team stalwarts Roger Craig and Ronnie Lott unprotected and let them go to the Los Angeles Raiders via Plan B free agency.
In 1991, Steve Young injured the thumb on his throwing hand and later was sidelined with an injured knee. After 10 games, the 49ers had a record of 4—6. Backup quarterback Steve Bono helped the team win five of its next six games with Young sidelined. In the final game of the season, Monday Night versus the NFC's no. 2 seed, Young returned and the 49ers embarrassed the Chicago Bears 52—14, finishing 10—6. However, the team missed qualifying for the playoffs by virtue of losing tiebreakers to the Atlanta Falcons. The 1992 and 1993 seasons saw a resurgent 49er team under the leadership of Steve Young, but a subpar defense could only take them to the NFC Championship game before falling to the Dallas Cowboys each time.
In 1992, Joe Montana came back after missing almost two full seasons due to an elbow injury in his throwing arm, and started the second half of a Monday night game versus Detroit on December 28, 1992. With the 49ers clinging to a 7—6 lead, Montana entred then game and looked as though he hadn't missed a single snap, completing 15-21 for 126 yards and 2 TDs, as the 49ers defeated the Lions 24—6. By the end of the season, partly fueled by media hype, perhaps the biggest quarterback controversy in football history was in full swing. After discussions with the owner and the coach, and after owner Eddie DeBartolo announced that Montana would start the 1993 season, Montana asked for and was granted a trade to the Kansas City Chiefs prior to the 1993 season.
In 1994, the team spent large amounts of money on the addition of several star free agents from other teams, including Ken Norton, Jr., Gary Plummer, Rickey Jackson, and Deion Sanders. Additionally, several rookie players made key contributions to the team, some becoming season-long starters such as defensive tackle Bryant Young, fullback William Floyd, and linebacker Lee Woodall. The 49ers had some tough times early in the season, including a 40—8 home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and a 24—17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, led by former 49ers quarterback Joe Montana. Following the Eagles game, a poll conducted on local sports radio station KNBR showed that an overwhelming majority of 49er fans wanted head coach George Seifert fired.
The game against the Eagles was a turning point for the 49ers despite the lopsided score. Young was benched in the 3rd quarter and was later seen livid on the sidelines, shouting profanities at head coach George Seifert. The following week in Detroit, the 49ers trailed the Lions 14-0. After throwing a pass, Young was hit, picked up, and driven into the ground by three Lions defenders. After the hit, Young was screaming with his face dark red in color. He crawled most of the way off of the field before refusing help from the trainers as he limped the remaining way off the field. He miraculously returned to the field one play later (NFL rules state that after trainers attend to an injured player, that player must leave the field for at least one play) to lead the 49ers to a 27–21 victory. The team rallied around Young to win 10 straight games, including a 21–14 victory over the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys. During that span, the 49ers' average margin of victory was nearly 20 points per game.
Even after those initial rough spots early in the season, the 49ers finished the season 13—3 and with homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. In their first game, they easily defeated the Chicago Bears, 44-15, setting up the third straight 49ers-Cowboys NFC Championship Game. The 49ers took advantage of three early Cowboys turnovers, taking a 21—0 lead in the first quarter. From that point on, the game was much more competitive, but the 49ers held on for a 38—28 victory, qualifying them for their fifth Super Bowl, and the first to be played by two teams from California. The 49ers steamrolled the San Diego Chargers, becoming the first team to win a record five Super Bowls. With a record 6 touchdown passes, Steve Young was named the game's MVP. Their run of 5 Super Bowl wins in 14 seasons (1981—1994) solidified them as one of the all time greatest NFL teams.
The 49ers made the playoffs in 1995, 1996, and 1997, being eliminated each season by the Green Bay Packers, including a 23—10 loss at Candlestick in the 1997 NFC Championship game.
In 1998, Steve Young led the 49ers to a 12—4 record and their 16th straight winning season, all with 10 wins or more. Once again, the 49ers faced the Green Bay Packers in a thrilling NFC Wild Card game that went back and forth for its duration. Things looked bleak when the 49ers trailed 27-23 in the waning seconds. However, in one last moment of glory, Young hit Terrell Owens on a dramatic, game-winning 25-yard touchdown pass that put the Niners ahead at 30-27 with 0:03 left on the game clock. The Niners were lucky, as replays showed that Jerry Rice had clearly fumbled earlier in the drive, but was incorrectly ruled down as the Packers recovered.
Eddie DeBartolo returned from his suspension in 1999, but a series of lawsuits over control of the family's vast holdings led him to surrender controlling interest to the Yorks as part of a 2000 settlement. Denise York is now chairwoman of the board, while John York is CEO.
On the field, the 1999 version of the 49ers got off to a 3—1 start, then in a nationally televised Monday Night Football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Steve Young suffered a blindside hit from cornerback Aeneas Williams that would eventually force him to retire. Without their future Hall of Famer, the 49ers lost 11 of their last 12 games, and suffered their first losing season since 1982. Bobb McKittrick, 49ers offensive line coach since 1979, also died of cancer following the 1999 season.
In 2002 they produced the second-greatest comeback in 49er playoff history when Jeff Garcia lead the team back from a 24-point deficit to win 39-38 against the New York Giants. They lost their subsequent game to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This would be, to date, the last postseason appearance for the 49ers. Following the season, head coach Steve Mariucci -- whose published statements about his degree of power in the organization had frayed already-strained relations with management -- was fired by John York, despite a winning record. York has since said he made the correct decision to fire Mariucci, but could have handled it better; for instance, he admitted he should have made the announcement himself rather than hand that responsibility to general manager Terry Donahue. The replacement, former Seattle Seahawks and Oregon State University head coach Dennis Erickson was signed to a five-year contract. The hiring of Erickson was highly criticized by the fans and the media. During the coaching search, three defensive coordinators emerged as candidates for the job, but the offensive-minded Erickson was chosen despite the fact that Erickson's offensive philosophy was very different from the West Coast Offense.
The period since the 2002 season has been disastrous for the 49ers: injuries, a weak offensive line, and an inconsistent defense. Although they finished the 2003 season with a losing record of 7—9, Erickson was retained as coach for the 2004 season. The 2003 season also marked the end for volatile wide receiver Terrell Owens with the San Francisco 49ers. Owens scored 85 touchdowns in 8 seasons for the 49ers, including 4 in the playoffs. But his on and off-field antics lead to the 49ers trading him to the Philadelphia Eagles during the offseason.
On September 26, 2004, the Niners were shut out 34—0 by the Seattle Seahawks, their first such loss in 420 regular season and 36 playoff games, a league record. The last shutout had been 27 years prior in 1977 — they were defeated 7—0 by Atlanta at what was then known as Candlestick Park. The 49ers had several chances to score in the fourth quarter, but an interception and a fumble recovery sealed their fate in this game.
During the 2004 season, rumors that the Yorks might sell the team began spreading. Larry Ellison and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young have been the names most commonly rumored as potential buyers. The 49ers would finish that season with a record of 2—14, and thus finished last in the NFC West division for the first time since 1979, ending what had been the NFL's longest active streak for not finishing last in a division. It was also the worst record that season among the 32 NFL teams, securing them the right to the first pick in the NFL Draft. Erickson and the man who hired him, General Manager Terry Donahue, were fired.
After an extensive coaching search, the 49ers announced the hiring of Mike Nolan -- defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens -- as their head coach for the 2005 season. He is the son of Dick Nolan, who led the team to three consecutive playoff appearances in the early 1970s. Among many NFL franchises, the general manager makes strategic, player and coaching personnel decisions; the 49ers hired a head coach without hiring a GM, indicating that Nolan will likely exert substantial control in all of these areas. In his inaugural draft as head coach, Mike Nolan selected with the first pick of the draft quarterback Alex Smith of the University of Utah. It was a pick predicted by most, though many predicted the 49ers might select local product Aaron Rodgers of the University of California, Berkeley.
On May 31, 2005, it became public knowledge that a controversial video production, intended to be viewed by the players only, had been made the previous August under the supervision of the team's public relations director, Kirk Reynolds, who also appeared prominently in it. The video contained offensive characterizations of certain ethnic and other groups, including Chinese-Americans, lesbians, strippers and homeless persons. The revelation led to Reynolds being fired, and sparked harsh condemnation from local and national media. An anonymous source leaked the story by sending a copy of the video to the media. Though he has denied the allegation and it may be impossible to know for sure, many believe disgruntled former GM Terry Donahue was the anonymous source.
Tragedy struck the Niners on August 20, 2005, when OL Thomas Herrion died immediately following a preseason loss to the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field. Coach Mike Nolan had just finished addressing the players in the locker room when Herrion collapsed. He was taken to a local Denver hospital, where he died several hours later. An autopsy revealed that Herrion died of a heart disease, which had not been previously diagnosed.
In 2005, the 49ers finished 4th in the NFC West for the second year in a row, but were able to double their win total from 2004, ending the season with a 4–12 record. They ended the season on a high note with two consecutive wins; their first two game winning streak since 2003. Also, they swept their division arch-rival, the St. Louis Rams for the first time since 1998.
At the beginning of the 2006 season, the team made perhaps their most important decision, awarding the top running back spot to second year veteran Frank Gore from Miami. Gore ran for a franchise record of 1,695 rushing yards, which led the NFC, along with 8 TDs. He was awarded his first Pro Bowl appearance as a starter.
The 49ers started 2—0, winning their first two games against the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams. This marked the first time the 49ers started 2—0 since 1998. In the fourth game of the season, against the Seattle Seahawks, QB Alex Smith suffered a separated shoulder on the third play of the game, an injury that would severely hamper his play and ultimately lead to an early end to his 2008 campaign after having shoulder surgery. Chiefly due to QB Trent Dilfer's struggles and Alex Smith's injury, the 49ers lost 8 straight games from week 3 through week 12, ending the year with a disappointing 5—11 record.
The 49ers' original logo was a mustached 49er gold miner from the 1848 California Gold Rush, dressed in overalls and a red shirt, jumping in midair with his hat falling off, and fired pistols in each hand: one nearly shooting his foot, and the other pistol forming the word "Forty-Niners" from its smoke. An alternate logo was designed in the 1960s featuring a shield-shaped crest formed from the number "49", with a football in the upper right quadrant and "SF" in the lower left quadrant. San Francisco's current primary logo, an intertwined white "SF" in the center of a red oval with a black border, debuted in 1962. Black outlining on the intertwined "SF" was added in 1989, and in 1996, a new logo was designed that added a more stylized black border with gold trimming.
From the team's inception in 1946 through the early 1960s, the 49ers usually wore red, white or silver helmets, white or gray pants and either cardinal red or white jerseys. The team's colors then changed in 1964, and the club began to wear gold helmets and beige-gold pants regularly, with scarlet red jerseys for home games and white jerseys away. The design of the jersey was relatively simple: the red home jerseys had white block numbers, three white parallel stripes on the sleeves, and smaller white block "TV" numbers above these stripes on the upper sleeve. The color scheme was reversed for the white road jersey. The 1964 uniform's basic design would be used for virtually the next thirty seasons, with only the following minor changes: a switch from thin to thicker pant striping in 1976 (when white jerseys were worn at home for most of that season), and in 1989, the 49ers' jerseys were slightly altered with the stripes on the sleeves being made less bold and arranged closer together. The last major change to this uniform was a switch from red socks with three white stripes to solid red socks in 1991.
Prior to that 1991 season, the 49ers announced a prototype for a new logo and helmet design. Instead of the traditional "SF" oval, this new logo featured a stylized "49ers" in white with black and red shadows. However, fan reaction was so overwhelmingly negative that the idea was scrapped the next day.
During the 1994 season, many NFL teams wore "throwback uniforms" on occasional games (after week 2 of the season) to celebrate the NFL's 75th anniversary. The 49ers chose to wear a version of their 1955 uniforms as their throwbacks, with block-shadow numbers (and without smaller TV numbers above the shoulder stripes), white pants with thinner red-black-red striping, and the old striped red socks (later replaced back to solid red socks). As they embarked on a winning streak that ultimately culminated in a Super Bowl XXIX victory, the team petitioned the NFL to wear the uniform for the rest of the season, which they were allowed to do. However, the team reverted to their 1964-style uniform (1991 revised design) before the 1995 season.
In 1996, the 49ers celebrated their 50th anniversary by designing a commemorative jersey patch based on the earlier shield-crest logo. The team also debuted a new uniform design, changing the shade of red used in their jerseys from bright scarlet to a deeper, cardinal red. The new modifications to the uniform showed influence from the 1994 throwback uniform: black shading with gold trim were added to the block numbers, the sides of the sleeves, and the hips of the pants. The smaller TV numerals were also moved to the top of the shoulders from the side of the upper sleeve. The team's helmet also underwent a major redesign in 1996, utilizing the new updated oval logo with gold trimming. A shinier, more metallic gold was used for the helmet's color, while the striping was changed from red-white-red to black-cardinal-black. The old gray-colored facemask was also switched to a cardinal red-colored one. As in 1994 the Niners donned white pants full-time for the 1996 and 1997 seasons (and 1998 preseason), this time with black-cardinal red-black striping. For the 1998 regular season opener, the team made a surprise switch back to gold pants, only this time to match the helmet it was a shinier, more metallic gold rather than the previous beige-matte gold of the past. The 1996 helmet and jersey design with the 1998 gold pants remains the club's current uniform.
From the 1980s till 2004, the 49'ers wore their white uniforms at home for their two preseason home games (and thus usually wore white the whole preseason,) and wore red for all eight regular season home games. Since 2005, the 49'ers have worn red jerseys for all home games including preseason. The team also is occasionally compelled to wear red on the road when visiting warm-weather opponents early in the season or if an opponent's established home jersey is white, such as the Dallas Cowboys.
Since 2002, the 49ers have occasionally used their 1980s style scarlet and beige-gold uniform (1989 version) as alternate uniforms for 1 or 2 home games (usually for "Alumni Day" and around Christmas), and have worn them on eight different occasions:
During the 2006 season, the team's 60th anniversary, a corresponding patch was on the jersey for all games. For the 2007 season, the 49ers began wearing black cleats, following a growing trend among many teams in the NFL. The team plans to have new uniforms by either the 2009 or 2010 season which, according to Jed York (son of the 49ers' owners) will be "using the (early 1980s) themes while making sure they’re updated for today’s players.”
On November 8, 2006, reports surfaced that the 49ers ended negotiations with the city of San Francisco about building a new stadium and plan to move to Santa Clara, 30 miles south of San Francisco. The Yorks and San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom had been talking over the last few months about building a privately financed stadium at Candlestick Point that was going to be part of the city's bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The 49ers' decision ended the Olympic bid. San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago were the three cities competing to be the U.S. Olympic Committee's choice to bid on the 2016 games, now with Chicago as the U.S. Olympic Committee's choice.
The team's current lease at Candlestick Park runs through the 2008 season and the team holds three five-year options that could extend it through 2013. The plan to build a stadium also included public housing, retail, and office space. The city was not going to contribute any money to the stadium but was willing to possibly help with some of the infrastructure costs. According to the Mayor's office, John York assured San Francisco officials that he was only negotiating with the city, but the team had talked in recent weeks to Santa Clara officials about the move.
On the 49ers website, owner John York had a letter stating a move to Santa Clara. The team would retain its name according to this letter.
York later confirmed in a press conference on November 9 that the team will move to Santa Clara with plans to build a state of the art facility without a stadium mall in time for the 2012 season.
On November 15, 2006, ESPN reported that U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a former mayor of San Francisco planned to sponsor a bill to prevent the 49ers from retaining any reference to San Francisco in their name, preventing gameday shuttles to Santa Clara and other provisions if the team were to move away from San Francisco.
* Beginning his tenure with the 49ers in 2006, quarterback Trent Dilfer wore #12, unofficially unretiring QB John Brodie's number. A longtime friend of Brodie, Dilfer wore the #12 as a tribute to the former 49er great.
** Following the death of Bill Walsh on July 30, 2007. The 49ers posthumously retired the letters of his initials along with the retired numbers. He is the only coach in NFL history to be retired with such honors.