49ers Year-by-Year: 1949

The 1949ers: Scores and Schedule

Date:

Opponent:

Score:

Record:

Aug 28

Baltimore Colts

W: 17-31

1-0

Sep 4

Chicago Hornets

W: 7-42

2-0

Sep 18

Los Angeles Dons

W: 14-42

3-0

Sep 25

@ Buffalo Bills

L: 28-17

3-1

Sep 30

@ Chicago Hornets

W: 42-24

4-1

Oct 9

Cleveland Brown

W: 28-56

5-1

Oct 16

Buffalo Bills

W: 7-51

6-1

Oct 23

@ New York Yankees

L: 3-24

6-2

Oct 30

@ Cleveland Browns

L: 28-30

6-3

Nov 6

@ Baltimore Colts

W: 28-10

7-3

Nov 13

@ Los Angeles Dons

W: 41-24

8-3

Nov 27

New York Yankees

W: 14-35

9-3

Playoffs:

Dec 4

New York Yankees

W: 7-17

10-3

Dec 11

@ Cleveland Browns

L: 7-21

10-4

Head Coach: Buck Shaw

Key Losses: The 49ers did not suffer any key personnel losses from 1948 to 1949, though they would lose star running back Johnny Strzykalski to injury for 5 games that season.

Key Additions: The 49ers did not make any key addition from 1948 to 1949, though they benefitted greatly from the increased playing time of future Hall of Famer and second year running back Joe Perry.

Background:

In 1949, the AAFC began to show the first strong signs that it was crumbling under the weight of the NFL. The Colts and the Rockets each changed ownership, and in Chicago’s case, they even changed their name to the Hornets. Jonas Ingram stepped down as commissioner, and Oliver O. Kessing, also an admiral in the armed forces, stepped in to take his place. He took the reins of the struggling league by enacting realignment to try to fix some of the league’s biggest problems. As the team with the worst finances, the Brooklyn Dodgers were merged with the New York Yankees to try to get a better return from that competitive market. With only 7 teams left after this, the league was merged into a single division. This would also solve the problem of a team like the 1948 49ers, who had been 12-2 in the Western Division, missing out on the Championship game to a team like the 1948 Bills, who had been 7-7, but won the Eastern Division. Now, only the best teams in the league would make the postseason.

As with anything, though, the drastic changes in the AAFC were not signs that the league was improving, but rather signs that the league was grasping at straws. This would turn out to be the final year of the AAFC, as it would merge with the NFL in 1950.

Important Games:

For the talented and successful 49ers, the 1949 season was business as usual. They ran out of the gates to a quick 4-1 start before coming face to face with a team that had by now become their most bitter rival: the Cleveland Browns. 1948 had been a milestone year for the club, setting a franchise record for wins, and having the second best record in the whole league. It was not enough, however, to overcome the Browns, who had been pounding them out of contention since the league started in 1946. The 49ers, and their fans, were hoping that 1949 would be a different story. And in this pivotal matchup, at least, it was. Star quarterback Frankie Albert threw for 5 TDs, and the Johnny Strzykalsi, Joe Perry, and Eddie Carr tacked 3 more on the ground as the 49ers exorcised the demons that had been plaguing them against the Browns for nearly 3 years, pounding the team by a score of 56-28. This win gave the 49ers possession of first place in the league (tied with New York), and marked what would hopefully be a turning point in the team’s history.

It would be 3 weeks before the 49ers played the Browns again, and they split the ensuing two games, tearing the Bills to pieces 51-7 and losing to a resurgent New York team in New York. Everybody’s eyes were on the rematch, though. Up to this point, the 49ers had only had a single game in which they rushed for fewer than 225 calls, and they had arguably the best running game in the league behind Joe Perry, Norm Standlee, and Len Eshmont. This proved a stark contrast to the Browns, who had always had one of the best passing games in the league behind Hall of Famer Otto Graham and a bevy of spectacular supporting characters. After the loss to New York, the 49ers had fallen to third in the league, and were hoping to climb back into the top two by defeating their rival. It wasn’t to be, though, as Cleveland edged the 49ers in an absolute squeaker in Cleveland in front of 72,000 fans.

From that point on, the 49ers would be unable to catch the Browns, but with a four team playoff system in place with realignment, they would be able to give themselves another chance in the playoffs as long as they kept winning. And they did keep winning. Finishing the season 3-0, and capping it off with a 35-14 victory at home against the Yankees to secure second place in the AAFC.

They would face the Yankees again in the first round of the playoffs, which also featured a Buffalo @ Cleveland "matchup" (the Browns won without much trouble). Having split the season series, the two teams were fairly evenly matched. Playing at home seemed to energize the 49ers, though, and they defeated the Yanks with relative ease to march into the Championship game and get another shot at longtime rival Cleveland. For the fourth year in a row, though, they would unable to defeat their rival when it mattered most, and in blizzard conditions in Cleveland, the 49ers were beaten 7-21.

Player Profile: Joe Perry

1949 was Hall of Fame running back Joe Perry’s first season as a starter with the 49ers. He had been on the team as a rookie in 1948 and had impressed the team in limited action by running for over 7 yards a carry and 10 TDs on only 77 attempts. His involvement in the offense skyrocketed in 1949, and he never looked back. He went for over 1000 yards in both the 1953 and 1954 seasons (becoming the first player ever to do so in consecutive years), and was a 3 time pro-bowler from 1952-1954. He played with team from 1948-1960, and then again in 1963 after two seasons in Baltimore.

He never played college football, amassing only one season of junior college experience before joining the armed forces. It was during his military term, playing for the California Naval Training Station team that he was scouted by a member of the 49ers. The team offered him a contract and when his term ended, he agreed to play.

Perry was an atypical running back in professional football at the time, undersized and without the kind of inside power that most professional backs carried. He was, however, blazing fast and almost unstoppable running on the edge and in open space. Because of his speed, he got the nickname "The Jet," and over the course of the 1950s, he became one of the NFL’s truly great star players. To this day, he is the 49ers all time leading rusher with 7,344 yards in San Francisco, almost 300 more yards than Roger Craig, in almost 200 fewer attempts.

Musings

Two things really strike me about this 1949 49ers team. The first is definitely Joe Perry. The guy was almost completely unstoppable, and compares well with many of the great running backs in NFL history. With the 49ers, he’s surprisingly comparable to Roger Craig. Both had very similar rushing statistics with the team, going for over 7,000 yards each on the ground. Craig had a little less power and was more of an asset in Walsh’s passing game, while Perry was more of a pure runner who didn’t make as much of a contribution catching the ball.

The other thing that strikes me about this team is the rivalry with the Browns. It reminds me very much of the 49ers rivalry with the Packers during the ‘90s. In both cases, the 49ers spent years beating their heads against the wall of a seemingly insurmountable opponent. Remembering the frustration that I felt when the 49ers would lose to the Packers game after game in the ‘90s helps me to imagine how frustrating it must have been to be stuck behind such a dominant Cleveland team during the entire existence of the AAFC. The big difference: The 49ers did end up beating the Packers – and it was one of the greatest games I have ever seen. They never managed to get the monkey of the Cleveland Browns off their backs in the ‘40s.

Primary Resources
http://www.sf49ers.com/history/index.php?section=History
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All-America_Football_Conference
http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/1949.htm
San Francisco 49ers: The First Fifty Years. Glenn Dickey. 1995, Turner Publishing Inc., Atlanta.

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