49ers Year-by-Year: 1955

Date:

Opponent:

Score:

Record:

Opponent’s Record:

Sept. 25

Los Angeles Rams

L: 23-14

0-1

1-0

Oct. 2

Cleveland Browns

L: 28-3

0-2

1-1

Oct. 9

@ Chicago Bears

W: 20-19

1-2

0-3

Oct. 16

@ Detroit Lions

W: 27-24

2-2

0-4

Oct. 23

Chicago Bears

L: 34-23

2-3

2-3

Oct. 30

Detroit Lions

W: 21-38

3-3

0-6

Nov. 6

@ Los Angeles Rams

L: 14-27

3-4

5-2

Nov. 13

@ Washington Redskins

L: 0-7

3-5

5-3

Nov. 20

@ Green Bay Packers

L: 21-27

3-6

5-4

Nov. 27

@ Baltimore Colts

L: 14-26

3-7

5-4-1

Dec. 4

Green Bay Packers

L: 28-7

3-8

6-5

Dec. 11

Baltimore Colts

W: 24-35

4-8

5-6-1

Head Coach: Red Strader

Key Losses: HC Buck Shaw (Fired), G Bruno Banducci (Retire), S Jim Cason (Contract Expired)

Key Additions: S Dicky Moegle (Draft, 10), C Frank Morze (Draft, 21), LB Matt Hazeltine (Draft, 45)

Discussion:

So let’s talk about coaches? We’ve got a few, and we might just have a new one in a little less than a year. Walsh, Siefert, Mooch, Erickson, Nolan… Who were you the most excited about at the time of the hiring? Walsh aside (for obvious reasons), who was your favorite over the length of their run? What did you like about what each one brought to the table? What didn’t you like? And, maybe most interesting, who do you think you want to see if/when Nolan is axed?

See my opinion somewhere after the jump!

In December of 1954, team owner Tony Morabito fired Buck Shaw, citing an inability to reach the Championship Game as the reason for the change. 10 days later, he hired Red Strader as a replacement. Strader had acted as an assistant coach and scout with the team two years earlier, and had briefly been a head coach with the New York Yankees in the AAFC prior to that.

Significant Games:

With the team contending on a yearly basis and a new coach brought in specifically to help the team take the next step, expectations were high in San Francisco when they opened the new season at home against conference rival Los Angeles. It would end up being a failed home stand, though, as the 49ers would lose to both the Rams that week and, badly, to the Browns the following week. Going next on the road against the Bears was an important game for the 49ers to be able to right the ship, and despite an offensive onslaught from Chicago they answered that call by just barely hanging on in the 4th quarter for a 20-19 victory.

Looking to get back up to .500 and to prove a point about the season, the 49ers marched into Detroit to play the defending (though currently winless) Western Conference champs. In spite of giving up 6 turnovers, the 49ers combined a devastating passing attack with a staunch defense to put together an unlikely 27-24 come from behind victory, 21 of which came in the 4th quarter alone. Y. A. Tittle had one of his best statistical games of the year, throwing for over 300 yards on the day. It was fellow star Joe Perry who put the cherry on this win, though, scoring the final touchdown of the game on a 5 yard run to make sure his team would have a shot to get over .500 the next week at home.

The injury bug that had hit the 49ers so hard in their conference race the season before was already taking its toll, and it was once again the backfield that took the big hit. In 1954, it was the loss of McElhenny – who had been having a historic year to that point – that really kick started the team’s troubles, and in 1955 it would hurt even more. McElhenny’s injury would keep him in a support role most of the time, and caused him to have what would be the second worst season of his long career as a 49er. Worse than that, though, fellow Pro Bowler John Henry Johnson was sidelined for most of the season, and was only able to contribute 69 yards all year.

And playing at home was beginning to be a curse for this year’s team, too. After beating Detroit and, once again, raising expectations for the season, the 49ers came home to face a typically weak Bears team, and found themselves unable to stack up. This pitted them again against a winless (and suddenly hapless) Lions team, with an opportunity to crawl back to .500.

The 49ers got out to an early lead against the Lions on early TDs from Joe Perry and the hampered, but active, McElhenny, and never looked. Y. A. Tittle tacked on two extra TDs later in the game for good measure, but the team wouldn’t have needed them anyway as they cruised to a 21-38 victory and saw .500, and an outside shot at the conference, one more time. It would actually be the last time the 49ers would be as high as .500 all season.

The 49ers November 6 matchup against the Rams might have been an important conference game if the team had been able to muster a win, but Los Angeles had other things in mind and made short work of the Niners, taking advantage of 3 Tittle interceptions, two of which were returned for game breaking touchdowns in the second half. Over the next 4 games, things would get no better, as the team dropped games to the Redskins, the Colts, and the Packers twice, rarely looking good in the process.

The final game of the season against the Colts was, for all intents and purposes, completely meaningless for both team, but it wasn’t without a shred of significance for the 49ers. In what might be the most depressing fact of the season, this final win (a 24-35 thrashing) was the 49ers only victory all season against a team that had even a single win at the time of the game.

Player Profile: Matt Hazeltine

Matt Hazeltine was drafted by the 49ers in the 4th round of the 1955 draft out of Cal. He’d led a distinguished college career, and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989, just two years after his untimely death from Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of 53. He would play 15 years in the league, 14 of them with the 49ers.

To this day, Hazeltine is the longest tenured ILB in 49ers history, and when he died Bill Walsh created the annual Matt Hazeltine award, given out to the most inspirational and courageous defensive player that year. Some past winners of the award include Ronnie Lott, Tim McDonald, Merton Hanks, and Bryant Young. A slightly undersized lineman in college, Hazeltine was converted to ILB in the pros and built his reputation on the excellent speed and tenacious style of play that had made him so successful at the college level.

Hazeltine came from a distinguished, local athletic family. His father had been a star rugby player at Cal years before, and was an Olympic gold medalist for the USA in 1920 at the Antwerp games. With the 49ers, Hazeltine was a defensive stalwart and a popular teammate. He acted as team captain for five seasons, and was elected to the Pro Bowl in 1962 and 1964.

Musings:

After focusing on a negative last week with heartbreak players, I want to take on something a little more upbeat this week. But boy, this 1955 team is not making it easy. Morabito fired a legendary, well-loved coach to try to push the team over the Championship hump, and replaced him with a guy who only lasted a year on the league and coached a talented, but injury stricken team to one of its worst seasons in franchise history. Where’s the upbeat in that?

I’m not sure, but the idea of firing a great coach to try and find a better one is a tactic that has always troubled me. I’m generally a much bigger fan of something like what the Steelers did with Bill Cowher, or what the Broncos continue to do with Mike Shannahan. I think that sticking by a guy who is doing good things for your franchise will eventually pay its dividends. But the coaching change itself is always exciting. It’s always got a little bit of extra optimism in it. Even when we hired Dennis Erickson, some part of me was thinking, "Hey, this could really work. I mean, Mooch wasn’t doing the trick… change of pace for the win!"

So let’s talk about coaches? We’ve got a few, and we might just have a new one in a little less than a year. Walsh, Siefert, Mooch, Erickson, Nolan… Who were you the most excited about at the time of the hiring? Walsh aside (for obvious reasons), who was your favorite over the length of their run? What did you like about what each one brought to the table? What didn’t you like? And, maybe most interesting, who do you think you want to see if/when Nolan is axed?

I’m young enough that I actually didn’t care about the coaches until somewhere in the middle of Mooch’s run (you know, when they started to feel just a bit less like a good team), and then I took a rooting interest. I was never quite a fan of losing Mooch because I thought that he seemed to be a fine judge of talent, and had seen the team through some painful losses with a relatively high level of success. The guy’s conservative approach to third down will always be burned negatively into the back of my head somewhere (3rd and 8, let’s run! 3rd and 15, now’s our chance to take it off-tackle!), but I still kind of think that he was underrated while he was here. The Erickson era came with some guarded optimism that almost immediately turned into guarded vomit, and after him I would have been happy with most anybody. And then we got Nolan, and I was pretty damn excited. Even until just recently, I thought the guy was doing a ton of things right for the future of the team (and I still think that he DID a ton of things right for the future of the franchise… he’s just not very good at turning corners). If he does get fired, it’s not unthinkable that Martz would become the HC, though I’m not sure I want to see that. I’m a lot more skeptical about Singletary than others, but at this point I think he not only deserves the chance, but might be the best choice to see the progress that we have already made through to a successful finish. And I can’t think of anybody else I want. Not off the top of my head.

Primary References:

http://www.sf49ers.com/history/awards.php?section=HI%20Awards

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/H/HazeMa00.htm

http://calbears.cstv.com/sports/olympics/spec-rel/medal-winners.html

http://tightwad-hill.blogspot.com/2006/11/50-greatest-golden-bears-24-matt.html

http://www.collegefootball.org/famersearch.php?id=50050

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Strader

http://www.sportsecyclopedia.com/nfl/sf49/49ers.html
http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/1955.htm

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