49ers Year-by-Year: 1968

What follows is a brief historical recap of the San Francisco 49ers' 1968 season. Read on to see how Dick Nolan's first year with the team turned out. Read on to see the impact that Dave Parks' departure had on the offense, and the price of that departure on quarterback John Brodie. Read on to learn a thing or two about a true 49er great: Charlie Kreuger.

I'd like to publically thank Grumpy Guy for helping me out this week, and in the week's to come. If there is something that you see here that goes unreferenced, that's because I learned it when corresponding with him. I think he's helped to bring about one of the best Year-by-Years to date.

Date:

Opponent:

Score:

Record:

Opponent's Record:

Sept. 15

@ Baltimore Colts

L: 10-27

0-1

1-0

Sept. 22

St. Louis Cardinals

W: 17-35

1-1

0-2

Sept. 29

Atlanta Falcons

W: 13-28

2-1

0-3

Oct. 6

@ Los Angeles Rams

L: 10-24

2-2

4-0

Oct. 13

Baltimore Colts

L: 42-14

2-3

5-0

Oct. 20

@ New York Giants

W: 26-10

3-3

4-2

Oct. 27

@ Detroit Lions

W: 14-7

4-3

3-3-1

Nov. 3

Cleveland Browns

L: 33-21

4-4

5-3

Nov. 10

@ Chicago Bears

L: 19-27

4-5

5-4

Nov. 17

Los Angeles Rams

T: 20-20

4-5-1

8-1-1

Nov. 24

@ Pittsburgh Steelers

W: 45-28

5-5-1

2-8-1

Dec. 1

Green Bay Packers

W: 20-27

6-5-1

5-6-1

Dec. 8

Minnesota Vikings

L: 30-20

6-6-1

7-6

Dec. 15

@ Atlanta Falcons

W: 14-12

7-6-1

2-12

Head Coach: Dick Nolan

Key Losses: HC Jack Christiansen, WR Dave Parks, TE Monty Stickles, LT/LG John Thomas,

Key Additions: C Forrest Blue, LB Skip Vanderbundt, DE Tommy Hart

In 1968, the NFL went through a slight realignment in accordance with the original merger arrangement, the New York Giants switched divisions with the New Orleans Saints. It was a small, but important change.

Meanwhile, the 49ers had seen some important changes in the offseason. Jack Christiansen was fired as head coach after another underwhelming season and was replaced by Dick Nolan, who the team believed could help to turn around what was, at times during the Christiansen Era, one of the worst defenses in the league.

Furthermore, the team lost receiver Dave Parks. Parks had enjoyed a couple of great seasons in his young career, and was expected to be a star for years to come. After the 1967 season, he hoped to land a lucrative extension with the 49ers, and when they didn't give him one he turned around and signed with the New Orleans Saints instead. His career would never recover from the move, and John Brodie has said that Parks leaving the team cost him a Championship. As consolation for losing Parks, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle actually awarded the 49ers with the Saints' first picks in both 1968 and 1969.

To help make up for the loss of Parks in the passing game, the 49ers moved John David Crowe to the TE position for the year, his last with the team, and made a trade with the Browns to acquire Clifton McNeil, which was a move that would pay off that season. They also lost longtime LT/LG John Thomas, who retired. Thomas had started 84 games for the Niners over the previous 8 seasons, including one Pro Bowl appearance.

Almost no changes occurred on the defensive side of the ball, though, and for a team that had been betrayed by its defense more times than not over the last few years, it was unclear how much a simply coaching could do to fix things.

Based on the first game of the season, it wouldn't do much. The new Dick Nolan 49ers looked a lot like some of discouraging incarnations of the Christiansen 49ers against a Don Shula coached Colts team. The defense was eaten alive on the ground, and the offense failed to find any rhythm while turning the ball over three times.

49er fans would get their first first-hand look at the team the next week in their home opener against the St. Louis Cardinals, and the difference was night and day. In a game that they never trailed, the offense was hitting on all cylinders while the defense played what would be one of its best games all season. Behind 3 John Brodie touchdowns on offense, including a 50 yarder to converted TE Crowe, and 4 forced turnovers on defense, the 49ers dominated the Cardinals 35-14.

The next week against the Falcons was a similar story, but nobody would read too much into a victory over the league's defending biggest pushover. Back on the road the next week, the offense disappeared again in a 24-10 loss to the Rams. It was plain to see that the crippling inconsistency of the offense of the past few seasons might not be cured. On the bright side, the defense had put together their third strong performance in a row, and would continue to play well as a unit for the next 3 weeks.

Despite the strength of the defense, it was turnovers that dropped the 49ers back below .500 just a week later, as a great Colts team was just too strong for San Francisco. The same problems wouldn't trip the team up against the Giants or the Lions in the team's upcoming games, though, as the 49ers fought back to be a game over .500.

And then the wheels came off the defense. In two losses to the Browns and the Bears, the 49ers gave up over 800 yards of offense and lost 6 more turnovers than they took away. Even with the continued solid play of stars Charlie Kreuger, Dave Wilcox, and Jimmy Johnson, the defense's weaknesses on the left side of the field came back to haunt them in a brutal way. Susceptible to the run and prone to giving up the big play, the 49ers found themselves being victimized more and more as the season wore on.

Back under .500, the 49ers managed a tie against the very strong Rams to keep from slipping further back, and then moved onto a fortunately forgiving final 4 games. Against 4 opponents with a combined record well below .500, the 49ers more or less cleaned up house to finish off the season, the only blemish being a 30-20 loss to the Vikings in week 13. They finished the year at 7-6-1 and, though the results didn't represent much of an improvement over Jack Christiansen's teams, the offense had gotten no worse while the defense had played visibly better for long stretches of the year than it had for much of Christiansen's reign.

Going into the offseason, there was reason for optimism.

Player Profile: Charlie Krueger

Charlie Krueger played defensive end and defensive tackle for the 49ers from 1959 - 1973, appearing in 198 games and two Pro Bowls during that time. Drafted in the first roundof the 1958 draft by the 49ers out of Texas A&M, the 49ers expected Krueger to start immediately. However, a broken arm that he suffered in the preseason held him out of the lineup all season. Krueger made an impact in his first healthy season in 1959, and never looked back, only missing significant time in two seasons for the rest of his long career.

Krueger distinguished himself early in his career as one of the top young defensive ends in the league. By the end of the 1961 season, he had been converted to a defensive tackle, and went on to establish himself as one of the best in the league at that position, winning the respect of the league and his peers alike. When speaking of Krueger, All Pro guard Jerry Kramer had the following words: ".. exceptionally strong. (He) beats on you unmercifully ..." Teams around the league were known to use film of Krueger as an instructional tool for their own young lineman.

In 1964, the 49ers players voted Krueger as that year's recipient of the Len Eshmont award. He appeared in the Pro Bowl in 1960 and 1964. To demonstrate the impact that he had on the team for the better part of two decades, Krueger retired after the 1973 season, and his number was retired by the team less than a year later in 1974. In 1983, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Primary References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_NFL_season
http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/1968_roster.htm
http://www.49ers.com/pressbox/news_detail.php?PRKey=1224
http://www.collegefootball.org/famersearch.php?id=50045
http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/K/KrueCh00.htm

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