49ers Year-by-Year: 1958

Date Opponent Score Record Opp. Record
Sept. 28 Pittsburgh Steelers W: 20-23 1-0 0-1
Oct. 5 Los Angeles Rams L: 33-3 1-1 1-1
Oct. 12 @ Chicago Bears L: 6-28 1-2 2-1
Oct. 19 @ Philadelphia Eagles W: 30-24 2-2 1-3
Oct. 26 Chicago Bears L: 27-14 2-3 4-1
Nov. 2 Detroit Lions W: 21-24 3-3 1-4-1
Nov. 9 @ Los Angeles Rams L: 7-56 3-4 4-3
Nov. 16 @ Detroit Lions L: 21-35 3-5 3-4-1
Nov. 23 @ Green Bay Packers W: 33-12 4-5 1-7-1
Nov. 30 @ Baltimore Colts L: 27-35 4-6 9-1
Dec. 7 Green Bay Packers W: 21-48 5-6 1-9-1
Dec. 14 Baltimore Colts W: 12-21 6-6 9-3

Head Coach: Frankie Albert

Key Losses: No Key Losses

Key Additions: DB Jerry Mertens (Draft, 239), DT Charlie Krueger (Draft, 9),

Discussion:

As modern 49er fans, we have a great frame of reference for the Tittle to Brodie transition. Not many of us remember the team from 1958, but many of us remember the years when Bill Walsh was moving away from Joe Montana and toward Steve Young, which is a similar situation in a lot of ways. I suppose we also remember the move from Garcia to Rattay, but that’s nowhere near the same level. What I want to know is how you remember feeling watching Steve Young as he started to take over Joe Montana’s job. This was actually just shortly before I became a fan, but I can only imagine being outraged. Appeased by the wins, but deeply conflicted about the move itself. How was it for you?

Following an 8-4 season in which the team lost their owner and made a thrilling, if unbelievably disappointing, playoff appearance, the 49ers were in a good position heading into 1958. After Morabito died, control of the team fell to his brother, Victor, and his widow, Josephine. Otherwise, however, the structure of the team was completely stable. Albert returned as the head coach for the third year in a row and all of the 49ers’s key position players returned from the year before. If this was a team that could make the playoffs in 1957, it was certainly a team that could do something similar in 1958.

And if the first game of the season would act as any indication of how things would go, fans in San Francisco wouldn’t have anything to worry about. At home against the Steelers, the 49ers won a close game 20-23 to start the new year on a high note. Unfortunately, the first game was no indication of how the season would go, and despite the core stability and the success of 1957, the 49ers would approach much of 1958 as a year of transition. Similar to when Y. A. Tittle began his career as a 49er splitting time with Frankie Albert (who retired at 32), Albert spent much of this season evaluating John Brodie by letting him split playing time with the then 32 year old Tittle.

The result of transition was that the apparent stability of the team entering the season was disrupted, and in week two the 49ers suffered their worst defeat in years, falling 33-3 to the Los Angeles Rams in a game in which they turned the ball over 5 times and failed to amass even 200 total yards.

Struggling to play with any kind of consistency, the 49ers split their next four games, defeating weaker opponents in the Eagles and an uncharacteristically bad Lions team, but losing twice to the Bears in the process.

At 3-3 on November 9, tied with the Rams in their conference and still in contention for the post-season, the 49ers went to Los Angeles to try to get the upper hand on their season. What they got instead was one of their worst beatings in franchise history. The Rams amassed nearly 600 yards of total offense for the game as Billy Wade threw 4 TD passes and the 49ers gave the ball up 5 times in this demoralizing 7-56 laugher.

For the next three games, the 49ers struggled with a very vulnerable defensive unit that was providing next to no support for an efficient and proficient offensive unit. Despite averaging 27 points a game in this stretch, the 49ers defense sabotaged two out of the three games, managing to stop only a Green Bay Packers team that was seriously vying for worst in the league.

At 4-6, and one loss away from a losing season, the 49ers got a second chance to take advantage that hapless Packers team, and they jumped all over it. Behind 3 Tittle TD passes and one Brodie TD pass in the first half alone, the 49ers jumped out to an early 0-34 lead and never looked back. By the end of the 21-48 massacre, their biggest win of the season, the 49ers had tallied almost 500 total yards while taking the ball away from the Packers five times.

Rejuvenated and unwilling to face their third losing season in 4 years, the 49ers played their last game of the 1958 season at home against the 9-2 Baltimore Colts. Y. A. Tittle out-dueled Johnny Unitas in this season finale, and the 49ers defense played one of their best games of the season as a 49ers team with nothing to play for but pride defeated one of the best teams in the league that year 12-21 to end the season at 6-6. It was San Francisco’s first and only win of the entire season that came against a team with a winning record at the time.

Player Profile: Gordie Soltau

Gordie Soltau was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the third round of the 1950 NFL Draft, but never played a snap for that team, instead catching on with the 49ers, where he would play as a kicker and a receiving end for the next 9 years before retiring at the end of the 1958 season.

During the 49ers’ first 9 seasons in the NFL, Soltau was one of the few truly constant presences, and ultimately, one of the lesser remembered stars, overshadowed by the team’s stunning collection of Hall of Fame talent during those years. He was elected to the Pro Bowl three straight years from 1951 through 1953, and during that time he was one of the league’s top players, leading the league in points scored in both 1952 and 1953, coming in second in the league in receptions and receiving yards in 1951, third in the league in receptions for 1952, fifth in the league in receiving TDs all three years, and top ten in the league in total TDs for all three years.

After the 1953 season, he took more of a back seat to younger star and electrifying receiver Billy Wilson, but continued to provide a stable receiving presence every year until his retirement. Over the course of his career, Soltau Caught 249 balls for 3,487 yards and 25 TDs. When he retired, he was second only to Billy Wilson for the team’s all time lead in receptions and yards, and third for the team’s all time lead in TDs behind both Alyn Beals (who remains fourth all time) and Wilson (fifth). Including his accomplishments as a kicker, Soltau remains the 49ers fifth all time leading scorer.

During their 27th annual charity golf tournament, the NFL Alumni Northern California Chapter awarded Soltau with a lifetime achievement award for his work with them during that time. Some of his other honors include having June 16, 2008 declared Gordie Soltau day in San Francisco by mayor Gavin Newsom and his enshrinement into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.

Gordie Soltau is a true 49er, and a star worth remembering.

Musings:

There’s really only one thing to talk about when we’re looking at this season: the beginning of the end for Tittle and the early ascension of John Brodie. It really had to be a controversial decision. Tittle was coming off of a great season in which he led the team to a playoff appearance, and had been a star in the system for years. Brodie was a talented player and a first round pick, but a first round pick in 1958 didn’t mean the same thing that it means now, and it wouldn’t have been controversial to let Brodie sit in favor of the established star.

Instead, Frankie Albert saw that Tittle was only getting older and that the team had just enjoyed only its first good season in the last three and a half. Getting Brodie some time was the prudent thing to do, but it was damaging for the short term success of the franchise. And the eventual struggles of the team in 1958 and the ire of the fans that came with it led, in part, to the frustrations that drove Frankie Albert into resigning from his position as Head Coach.

As modern 49er fans, we have a great frame of reference for this. Not many of us remember the team from 1958, but many of us remember the years when Bill Walsh was moving away from Joe Montana and toward Steve Young, which is a similar situation in a lot of ways. I suppose we also remember the move from Garcia to Rattay, but that’s nowhere near the same level. What I want to know is how you remember feeling watching Steve Young as he started to take over Joe Montana’s job. This was actually just shortly before I became a fan, but I can only imagine being outraged. Appeased by the wins, but deeply conflicted about the move itself.

Primary References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Morabito
http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/S/SoltGo00.htm
http://www.bashof.org/Hall_of_Fame_1999.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordy_Soltau
http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/career-scoring.htm
http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/career-receiving.htm
http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/1958.htm
http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/1958_games.htm
http://www.sportsecyclopedia.com/nfl/sf49/49ers.html

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