One can argue that the San Francisco 49ers is the most storied franchise in NFL history. In their 66-year history the 49ers inducted 14 Hall of Fame players and earned five Super Bowl trophies. In addition to their winning ways, the 49ers organization remains one of the classiest in the NFL. So with so much prestige riding on one organization, how would they stack up amongst themselves? I have identified four people who I feel had the greatest impact on the franchise and made the 49ers who they are today. From players to coaches, these individuals should receive the highest honor if the team was to make their own Mount Rushmore. So without further ado, here are the fantastic four.
1. Eddie DeBartolo Jr.
The greatest NFL owner of all-time was also one of the most generous. Spoiling his players with luxury and love, the owner known as “Mr. D,” took care of his clients as if they were his own. It did not matter if you were the equipment manager or a Pro Bowl player, Mr. D would ensure you were taken care of. It was that kind of attention to detail that guided the 49ers to five Super Bowl rings. A first class-organization, every NFL player wanted to play for the 49ers. However, due to legal troubles with Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, DeBartolo was banned by the NFL for one-year and never returned to football thereafter.
I had the rare opportunity to meet Mr. D at a Monday Night Game on November 17, 2003 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In a game where half-time was dedicated to Hall of Fame DB Ronnie Lott, the chants of “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie!” rained from the crowd. I vividly remember a short conversation I had with him while he was waiting to reveal Lott’s retirement speech. As he was waiting to present, I simply thanked him for all he has done in shaping the franchise and before I could say anything else, he said:
I like your beanie. And no, thank you. I thank you for supporting us over the years.
At 20 years old, I was a little taken back by those comments because I had no idea he knew who I was. But he did. My family has had those front-row season tickets since 1991 and “Mr. D,” still recognized me and my family’s faces after being out the league for three years. Talk about being a people person. I’m not trying to toot my own horn but rather emphasize a point that Mr. D was more than just a successful NFL owner but an even better person. And that’s one of the reasons why his former player’s loyalties lie with him today.
2. Bill Walsh
You can have the best players but without direction and a vision in place it does not mean much. Walsh was not only the greatest NFL coach of all-time but an excellent talent evaluator. The innovator of the West Coast Offense, Walsh founded one of the most effective offenses ever created. An offense that places more emphasize on the pass versus the run, Walsh orchestrated an offensive philosophy that was near unstoppable in the 1980′s. A system widely used today, Walsh not only helped the 49ers win three Super Bowls in 10 seasons but helped transform the game over the years. A true genius, Walsh was the Niners head coach from 1979-1988, VP and GM (1999-2001) and team consultant (2002-2004). During his tenure as coach, Walsh compiled a career record of 102-63-1 record (including the playoffs). In addition to his impressive record, Walsh was named to the 1980′s All-Decade team and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on July 31, 1993.
3. WR Jerry Rice
WR Jerry Rice was simply the GOAT (Greatest of All-Time). Rated as the #1 NFL Player of All-time by NFL.com, Rice was also selected to 13 Pro-Bowls and 12-All-Pro selections. A three-time Super Bowl Champion, Rice would have arguably his greatest performance on the game’s biggest stage, as he lit up the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII. In that game, Rice hauled in 11 receptions for 215 yards and one touchdown en route to a 49ers victory 20-16, and Super Bowl MVP trophy. A two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Rice was also named to the 75th Anniversary team while finishing his career as the all-time leader in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010, Rice would finish his career with 1,549 receptions, 22,895 yards, and 208 touchdowns. The Niners would later retire his number (No. 80) in honor of his efforts.
4. QB Joe Montana
Otto Gruele Jr./Getty Images
The player known as “Joe Cool” was just that, as QB Joe Montana was ice-cold in the game’s most crucial moments. However, it was not until the 1981 NFC Championship against the Dallas Cowboys that Montana would make it big. In the game’s final seconds of regulation, Montana scrambled right and threw an elevated pass on the run to WR Dwight Clark in the back of the endzone. Later known as “The Catch,” that play would live on as not only a memorable moment in 49ers history, but one of the greatest plays in professional sports. Arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, Montana helped guide the 49ers to four Super Bowls while being named the Super Bowl MVP in three of those games (XVI, XIX, XXIV). An 8-time Pro-Bowl selection, and 6-time All-Pro, Montana performed at the highest level year in and year out. Rated as the #4 NFL Player of All-Time by NFL.com, Montana would be named along with Rice to the 75th Anniversary team. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000, Montana’s number (No. 16) would eventually be retired.
What are your thoughts on those four choices above? Who would be your choices if you had to choose four people? Would it be QB Steve Young or DT/OT Leo Nomellini? Please feel free to comment your thoughts below.