The San Francisco 49ers are a professional football team in the National Football League (the NFL). The San Francisco 49ers play in the National Football Conference (NFC) West Division with three other teams: the Seattle Seahawks, the St. Louis Rams and the Arizona Cardinals. The San Francisco 49ers have won 5 Super Bowl Championships. Monster Park, located in San Francisco, California, hosts all San Francisco 49ers home games.
In 1946, the San Francisco 49ers joined the All-America Football Conference. The San Francisco 49ers recorded winning records in each of its 4 seasons in the AAFC, but only advanced to the playoffs once, in 1949. In that AAFC Championship game, the Cleveland Browns defeated the San Francisco 49ers, denying the San Francisco 49ers a chance at its first professional football championship. Following the 1949 AAFC season, the AAFC dissolved, and the NFL invited only 3 of its members to join the ranks of the NFL. In 1960, the San Francisco 49ers, the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Colts, former AAFC members, began play in the NFL. And while the San Francisco 49ers struggled in its early NFL competition, the Cleveland Browns actually won the NFL Championship in its first season in the NFL in 1950. For the first seven years of its existence in the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers did not make the playoffs. However, in 1957, the San Francisco 49ers finished 2nd in the NFC West with an 8-4 record and advanced to NFL post-season play for the first time in franchise history. The San Francisco 49ers lost to the Detroit Lions 31-27 in the Western Conference Championship Game, but at least they had their first taste of NFL playoff experience. And while the San Francisco 49ers returned to their mediocre play the next 12 years from 1958 through 1969, the future looked bright for the team by the Bay.
In 1970, the San Francisco 49ers started a run of three straight seasons in which the team advanced to the playoffs. In 1970, the San Francisco 49ers needed a victory on the last game of the season against their cross-city rivals, the Oakland Raiders, in order to win its first NFC West Divisional crown. The San Francisco 49ers were up to the challenge as they defeated the Oakland Raiders 38-7 in Oakland to finish atop the NFC West for the first time in franchise history with a 10-3-1 record. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Minnesota Vikings 17-10 in the Divisional round of the playoffs and advanced to their first ever NFC Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys. San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Dick Nolan, the former defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys under Tom Landry, directed his team through a close battle with the Dallas Cowboys, but the Dallas Cowboys ultimately prevailed with a 17-10 victory in Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. That was the last game that the San Francisco 49ers played in Kezar Stadium.
In 1971, the San Francisco 49ers moved from Kezar Stadium to Candlestick Park, which was located on the outskirts of downtown San Francisco. Candlestick was a much more modern stadium and it offered the players and fans many more amenities than Kezar Stadium. The San Francisco 49ers repeated as NFC West division champs with a 9-5 record and once again advanced to NFL post-season play. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Washington Redskins 24-20 in the Divisional round of the playoffs to set up a repeat NFC Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys. Once again, the Dallas Cowboys proved too much as they defeated the San Francisco 49ers 14-3. The Dallas Cowboys then went on to win their 2nd consecutive Super Bowl. In 1972, the San Francisco 49ers won their 3rd straight NFC West division title with an 8-5-1 record. And for a 3rd straight post-season, the San Francisco 49ers matched up against their nemesis, the defending Super Bowl Champion Dallas Cowboys. And once again, the Dallas Cowboys prevailed by overcoming a 28-13 4th quarter deficit by scoring 2 touchdowns within the last 3 minutes of play to stun the San Francisco 49ers 30-28. So although the San Francisco 49ers won their division 3 straight seasons and advanced to the playoffs 3 consecutive seasons, the San Francisco 49ers could never put together a magical post-season run to take them to their first ever Super Bowl. The San Francisco 49ers would have to wait until the 1980’s and 1990’s with Joe Montana and Steve Young to lead the charge to multiple Super Bowl appearances.
From 1973 through 1980, the San Francisco 49ers recorded only one winning season. Times were rough for the San Francisco 49ers and their loyal fan base. Despite these lean years, the San Francisco 49ers put the right pieces in place in the late 1970’s which would ultimately set up one of the most dominating dynasties in NFL history. Following the 1978 NFL regular season, new owner Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. hired former Stanford University Head Coach Bill Walsh to coach the San Francisco 49ers. In the 1979 draft, Head Coach Walsh selected the highly touted Quarterback Joe Montana from the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Although Joe Montana was not considered a valuable commodity as an NFL quarterback because of his smaller stature and below average arm strength, Head Coach Walsh saw something in Montana that made him believe that Montana was a winner who would be able to lead the San Francisco 49ers to many Super Bowl Championships. Head Coach Walsh also instituted a “west coast” style offense, centered on short passes and ball control, which kept opposing teams’ offenses off the football field for large chunks of the game. While the team recorded losing seasons during Head Coach Walsh’s first 2 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, the building blocks were in place for that long-awaited successful post-season run. At the end of the 1980 season, Joe Montana finally became the San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback for good when he led the team back from a 35-7 halftime deficit against the lowly New Orleans Saints who were 0-13 at the time. Montana led the San Francisco 49ers to 4 second half touchdowns to tie the game at 35 during regulation. In overtime, Montana orchestrated another stellar drive and Kicker Ray Wersching kicked a field goal to give the San Francisco 49ers an improbable 38-35 overtime victory. From that point on, Joe Montana was the starting Quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.
After overhauling the San Francisco 49ers defense following the 1980 regular season, Head Coach Bill Walsh had the team he needed to take the San Francisco 49ers franchise to the next level. In 1981, the San Francisco 49ers started the season by losing 2 of its first 3 games, but then the team went on to lose only one game the rest of the season to finish in 1st place in the NFC West with a 13-3 record - then a franchise record. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the New York Giants 38-24 in the Divisional round of the playoffs and advanced to the NFC Championship game against the Dallas Cowboys again. The NFC Championship Game turned out to be one of the best playoff games in NFL history as the lead changed times many times. The Dallas Cowboys took a 27-21 lead and with just under 5 minutes remaining, Joe Montana needed to lead his team on a drive to the Super Bowl. The San Francisco 49ers marched 89 yards to get to the Dallas Cowboys’ 6 yard line. With time running down, Joe Montana hit Tight End Dwight Clark with an amazing acrobatic pass and catch that Clark caught on the tips of his fingers for the go-ahead touchdown – this would later be called, and is still remembered today as the “Catch”. The San Francisco 49ers had finally beaten the Dallas Cowboys in a meaningful playoff game and advanced to their first ever Super Bowl berth. In Super Bowl XVI, the San Francisco 49ers jumped out to an early 20-0 halftime lead courtesy of 5 Cincinnati Bengals turnovers. The San Francisco 49ers held on for their first Super Bowl Championship with a 26-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals and Joe Montana won his first of three Super Bowl MVP awards. The San Francisco 49ers made one of the dramatic turnarounds in NFL history. After finishing the NFL regular season with 2-14 records in both 1979 and 1980, the San Francisco 49ers became the Super Bowl Champions in 1981.
Although the San Francisco 49ers finished with a losing record in the following year’s strike-shortened season, the San Francisco 49ers were back to their winning ways in 1983. Starting with that 1983 NFL regular season, the San Francisco 49ers recorded 16 straight winning seasons and made the playoffs every season during that span, except for 1991 when the San Francisco 49ers finished 10-6 and were excluded from post-season play because of stiff competition in the NFC. During that 16 year stretch, the San Francisco 49ers finished atop the NFC West 12 times and recorded a 15-1 record once (in 1984), a 14-2 record three times (in 1989, 1990 and 1992) and a 13-3 record twice (in 1994 and 1997). In 1983, the San Francisco 49ers needed another miraculous comeback from Joe Montana in order to defeat the Detroit Lions 24-23 in the Divisional round of the playoffs. In the NFC Championship Game, Joe Montana led the team back from a 21 point deficit, but the San Francisco 49ers ultimately lost when Washington Redskins Kicker Mark Moseley kicked a game winning field goal to give the Washington Redskins a 24-21 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. In 1984, the San Francisco 49ers recorded the best record in franchise history when the team finished atop the NFC West with a 15-1 record. The San Francisco 49ers marched through the playoffs by defeating the New York Giants 21-10 in the Divisional round of the playoffs and by pitching a shut out against the Chicago Bears with a 23-0 victory in the NFC Championship Game. In Super Bowl XIX, the San Francisco 49ers defense rose to the challenge and shut down the Miami Dolphins high-powered offense led by future Hall of Famer Dan Marino. The San Francisco 49ers won their 2nd Super Bowl Championship with a 38-16 victory over the Miami Dolphins. For the first time in NFL history, Ronnie Lott, Dwight Hicks, Carlton Williamson and Eric Wright – the entire defensive backfield of the San Francisco 49ers – were each elected to the NFL’s Pro Bowl. In 1985, the San Francisco 49ers finished with a 10-6 record, but did not have the successful post-season to which the team was accustomed. The San Francisco 49ers lost to the New York Giants 17-3 in the Divisional round of the playoffs. During that 1985 season, however, Running Back Roger Craig became the first player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards and gain 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.
Prior to the 1986 season, the San Francisco 49ers made their bid for entertainment success by recording the “hit” song “We’re the 49ers”. Roger Craig, Ronnie Lott and Dwight Clark were among the players who participated in the song as it incorporated funk, pop and R&B elements with a catchy melody. Although the song received much airplay locally in the Bay area, it did not receive the national attention that the 1985 Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears received for their song “The Super Bowl Shuffle”. During that 1986 season, Joe Montana suffered a back injury which sidelined him for 2 month, but the San Francisco 49ers still survived without their leader to make the playoffs. Montana returned for the playoff game against the New York Giants, but was knocked out early with a concussion as the New York Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers 49-3. The New York Giants went on to win the Super Bowl that season. In the strike-shortened 1987 season, the San Francisco 49ers lost in the first round of the playoffs for the 3rd year in a row. In 1988, the San Francisco 49ers struggled throughout the NFL regular season, but won 4 of their last 5 games to finish with a 10-6 record and still make the playoffs. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Minnesota Vikings 34-9 in the Divisional round of the playoffs and then the San Francisco 49ers upset the Chicago Bears in Soldier Field 28-3 in the NFC Championship Game to advance to another Super Bowl. In Super Bowl XXIII, the San Francisco 49ers trailed the Cincinnati Bengals 16-13 with just over 3 minutes to go in the game. The San Francisco 49ers had the football on their own 8 yard line and marched 92 yards to win the game on a Joe Montana touchdown pass to John Taylor with less than a minute to play. The win was the San Francisco 49ers 3rd Super Bowl victory. In 1989, the San Francisco 49ers dominated NFC play en route to a 14-2 record. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Minnesota Vikings 41-13 in the Divisional round of the playoffs and then the San Francisco 49ers crushed the Los Angeles Rams 30-3 in the NFC Championship Game to advance to their 2nd consecutive Super Bowl. In Super Bowl XXIV, the San Francisco 49ers annihilated the Denver Broncos 55-10 to win their 4th Super Bowl title in the 1980’s. Joe Montana won his 3rd Super Bowl MVP award as he completed over 75% of his passes, including 5 touchdown passes. Super Bowl XXIV is still the most lopsided victory of all-time with the 45-point margin of victory being the largest margin of victory ever. The 55 points scored by the San Francisco 49ers is also the most points ever scored by a team in a Super Bowl in NFL history.
The San Francisco 49ers advanced to and lost in the NFC Championship game in each of 1990, 1992 and 1993. In 1990, as in 1986, the San Francisco 49ers lost to the New York Giants 15-13 on a last second kick by New York Giants kicker Matt Bahr. The New York Giants then went onto win the Super Bowl 2 weeks later. In 1992 and 1993, the San Francisco 49ers lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game. And in each of those years, the Dallas Cowboys went on to win the Super Bowl. In 1994, the San Francisco 49ers finally won their 5th Super Bowl with a 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers. The San Francisco 49ers became the first team in NFL history to win 5 Super Bowl Championships (the Dallas Cowboys would later tie this record with its 5th Super Bowl Championship over the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1995 and the Pittsburgh Steelers would then tie the record with its 5th Super Bowl Championship over the Seattle Seahawks in 2005). In that Super Bowl XXIX, Quarterback Steve Young passed for over 300 yards and a record 6 touchdowns. Young was also the leading rusher in the game with 49 yards, and he won the Super Bowl MVP for his efforts. Steve Young had finally emerged form the shadows of the legendary Joe Montana. From 1995 through 1998, the San Francisco 49ers won the NFC West twice and advanced to the playoffs each year, but could never advance to the Super Bowl to claim that elusive 6th Super Bowl Championship.
In 1998, Owner Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. was involved in a Louisiana/Mississippi corruption scandal and the NFL suspended DeBartolo from participating in NFL activities and he gave temporary control of the San Francisco 49ers to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York, and her husband, Dr. John York. Although DeBartolo returned from his suspension in 1999, he was forced to sell his majority interest in the team to his sister. Currently, the Yorks still own the San Francisco 49ers. The DeBartolo troubles also led to the start of trouble on the field for the San Francisco 49ers. From 1999 through 2005, the San Francisco 49ers recorded only 2 winning seasons, in 2001 and 2002. Although the San Francisco 49ers made the playoffs in those 2 seasons, the team never made it past the Divisional round of the playoffs. During those 2 seasons, the San Francisco 49ers had a lethal passing combination of Quarterback Jeff Garcia and Wide Receiver Terrell Owens. However, the controversial Terrell Owens burned his bridges with the team and was ultimately traded to the Philadelphia Eagles following the 2003 season. The San Francisco 49ers hit an all-time low in 2004 when the team finished with a 2-14 record. The San Francisco 49ers won only 4 games in 2005 as the San Francisco 49ers failed to make the playoffs for the 3rd straight NFL season.
During the 2006-7 NFL season, 2nd-year Head Coach Mike Nolan guided the San Francisco 49ers to a productive 7-9 record. And although the San Francisco 49ers did not qualify for post-season play, things seemed to be moving in the right direction during Nolan's rebuilding process. However, the franchise took a step backward during the 2008-9 NFL season as the team failed to continue to show improvement and won only 5 games. The San Francisco 49ers have reached a critical junction with Head Coach Nolan as the 2008-9 NFL season will provide him with his 4th year to try to secure a winning record and potential playoff berth.
Hall of Famers
Thirteen men associated with the San Francisco 49ers have been inducted into the National Football League Hall of Fame. Most notably, one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks, Joe Montana, was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2000. Montana led the San Francisco 49ers to 4 Super Bowl Championships in the 1980’s and he won the Super Bowl MVP award 3 times. Montana played 14 years of his 16-year NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers. Legendary Head Coach Bill Walsh coached the San Francisco 49ers from 1979 until 1988. During that time, Walsh brought the franchise 3 Super Bowl Championships along the way.
Notable offensive stars who played for the San Francisco 49ers who were inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame include: Fullback John Henry Johnson (1987), Halfback Hugh McElhenny (1970), Offensive Tackle (and Defensive Tackle) Leo Nomellini (1969), Fullback Joe Perry (1967), Offensive Tackle Bob St. Clair (1990), Quarterback Y.A. Tittle (1971), Quarterback Steve Young (2005), and Running Back O.J. Simpson (more noted for his 9-year career with the Buffalo Bills) (1985). Notable defensive stars who played for the San Francisco 49ers who were inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame include: Defensive Back Jimmy Johnson (1994), Defensive Back Ronnie Lott (2000), and Linebacker Dave Wilcox (2000).