49ers Year-by-Year: 1970

What follows is a brief historical recap of the San Francisco 49ers' 1970 season. Relive the completion of the NFL-AFL merger. Relive the 49ers' triumphant return to the playoffs. Relive John Brodie's MVP season.

Date:

Opponent:

Score:

Record:

Opponent's Record:

Sept. 20

Washington Redskins

W: 17-26

1-0

0-1

Sept. 27

Cleveland Browns

W: 31-34

2-0

1-1

Oct. 4

@ Atlanta Falcons

L: 20-21

2-1

2-1

Oct. 11

@ Los Angeles Rams

W: 20-6

3-1

3-1

Oct. 18

New Orleans Saints

T: 20-20

3-1-1

1-3-1

Oct. 25

Denver Broncos

W: 14-19

4-1-1

4-2

Nov. 1

Green Bay Packers

W: 10-26

5-1-1

4-3

Nov. 8

@ Chicago Bears

W: 37-16

6-1-1

3-5

Nov. 15

@ Houston Oilers

W: 30-20

7-1-1

2-6-1

Nov. 22

@ Detroit Lions

L: 7-28

7-2-1

6-4

Nov. 29

Los Angeles Rams

L: 30-13

7-3-1

7-3-1

Dec. 6

Atlanta Falcons

W: 20-24

8-3-1

3-7-2

Dec. 13

@ New Orleans Saints

W: 38-27

9-3-1

2-10-1

Dec. 20

@ Oakland Raiders

W: 38-7

10-3-1

8-4-2

Playoffs:

Dec. 27

@ Minnesota Vikings

W: 17-14

11-3-1

12-3

Jan. 3

Dallas Cowboys

L: 17-10

11-4-1

12-4

Head Coach: Dick Nolan

Key Losses: WR Clifton McNeil, CB Kermit Alexander

Key Additions: CB Bruce Taylor (DROY), DE Cedric Hardman, RB Larry Schreiber

1970 marked one of the final and most significant results of the original NFL-AFL merger agreement, which was the integration of the leagues. Rather than simply playing separate schedules according to their original alignments, only meeting each other once a year in the Championship Game, the two leagues finally realigned into a single, cohesive, 26-team league. In order to even the conferences at 13 teams a piece (it had previously been 10 AFL teams and 16 NFL teams), the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers joined the original AFL teams to form the new American Football Conference, which would oppose the National Football Conference annually, following an 8 team playoff tournament.

The details of realignment weren't so clean, though. Each conference was further broken into three divisions (East, Central, and West), and the league had so much trouble getting the teams to agree on what division they would play in that, at one point, they resorted to picking team names out of a hat to resolve the issue.

Previously, the AFL and the NFL had maintained their own broadcasting contracts with major networks. CBS had broadcast NFL games, while NBC had broadcast AFL games. These old contracts were more or less preserved so that CBS would get NFC games and broadcast most of the old NFL teams, while NBC would get AFC games and broadcast mostly all of the old AFL teams. The new NFL took its media appeal further than ever in 1970 by agreeing to let ABC broadcast one game a week on Monday nights.

For the 49ers, 1970 held the promise of stability and recovery. After the uncertainty that came with the large turnover on the roster between 1968 and 1969, followed by the rash of debilitating injuries that, ultimately, caused even more turnover, the 49ers entered 1970 much the same team that they had been at the close of 1969 but also, and more importantly, healthy.

The dividends paid off immediately, as the 49ers stormed out of the gate to win their first two games. Perhaps the most encouraging thing for fans coming out of these games was the strong play of John Brodie, and particularly his 3 TD performance that was so vital in lifting the team over the Browns in week 2. The shoulder problem that had given him so many problems during the first half of 1969 appeared to be a non-factor in 1970. And that was good news for the team.

The team stumbled in week 3, going on the road for the first time that season and losing a heartbreaker in the fourth quarter of a game against the Falcons in which they had never trailed. They rebounded, though, by manhandling the 3-0 Rams in Los Angeles a week later. And after four games, the 49ers were 3-1 and one game away from matching their win total from a year before.

As encouraging as the play of John Brodie was the continued emergence of Gene Washington, who was following up a strong rookie season with an even stronger sophomore campaign. Perhaps even nicer, though, was the play of rookie defensive back Bruce Taylor, who was more than holding his own in Kermit Alexander's old position. Alexander had been traded by Nolan late in 1969 in a desperate attempt to shore up the team's miserable kicking situation.

Coming back home in week 5, the 49ers put together one of their worst performances of the season in a game that they escaped with a tie against a New Orleans Saints team that was among the worst in the league. Just as with their earlier loss, though, these 49ers proved resilient and rattled off 4 impressive victories in a row to find themselves 7-1-1, with as many wins as they had gotten in any season since 1957 and 5 games yet to play.

The quest for that elusive eighth win would not prove an easy one, though. First, in a game against the Lions in Detroit, the 49ers managed less than 200 yards of total offense, turned the ball over 4 times, and never looked good on the way to a 28-7 loss. Then, returning home to face the Rams - who they had handled so easily earlier in the year - they managed only one touchdown (a Brodie to Washington connection) and, despite leading at halftime, found themselves victimized 3 times by the Rams' Willie Ellison in the 30-13 loss.

Win 8 finally did come, though, in week 12, and against the very team that had handed them their first loss of the year. Returning the favor, the 49ers trailed for 3 quarters before breaking their division rivals hearts in the fourth quarter with 10 late, unanswered points. They wouldn't have to wait so long for win number 9, beating up on the Saints only a week later.

At 9-3-1, having put together the team's best season since 1953, the 49ers needed a win in the final game of the season to wrap up their division and reach the post-season. Happy to oblige were the Oakland Raiders. In the first matchup ever between the two Bay Area teams, the 49ers brutalized the Raiders, scoring 24 points by halftime and cruising to a 38-7 victory. For the first time in 14 years, the 49ers were going to the post-season.

Underdogs against the 12-2 Minnesota Vikings in the first round of the playoffs, the 49ers rode their strengths to a thrilling 17-14 upset victory. John Brodie ran for one touchdown and threw another to his favorite target, Gene Washington while the defense stifled Dave Osborn and the rest of the Vikings' offense. Interestingly enough, this game matched up two teams who both had receivers named Gene Washington. More interestingly, both receivers were Pro Bowlers in both 1969 and 1970.

The magic ran out in the Conference Championship, though. Favored against the Dallas Cowboys (a Cowboys team that featured both Mike Ditka and Dan Reeves), the 49ers never had control, failed to move the ball on the ground at all, and lost 17-10 to miss ultimately miss out on the championship.

Even with the playoff loss, though, 1970 could be seen as nothing but a victory for the team and the fans, both of who had been starved for a season like this for over a decade. Highlighting the year was John Brodie's selection as league MVP in a season in which he threw for 24 touchdowns (half of which went to Gene Washington alone) and nearly 3000 yards, as well as the nomination of Bruce Taylor as Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Coaching Profile: Dick Nolan

Dick Nolan was the 49ers' head coach for 8 seasons, between 1968 and 1975. During his time coaching the team, he compiled and overall 55-54 record with 3 playoff appearances. His 49ers teams were under .500 4 times, including the last 3 seasons that he coached the team, which triggered a strong, almost violent backlash from the fans and ultimately resulted in his exit from the team.

Considered without much regard by 49ers fans for many years because of the less than ideal terms of his separation from the team, his time as coach came back to the attention of fans when his son, Mike Nolan, was named Head Coach of the 49ers in 2005. As much as the train wreck that were his final three season as coach of the team, Nolan began his career as a head coach as a savior rather than a martyr. After his first two seasons, Nolan returned the team to the post-season in 1970 for the first time in 14 years, and they returned each of the next two years.

Nolan played his NFL career as a defensive back with the Giants, Cardinals, and Cowboys, retiring in 1962 after 9 seasons to go into coaching. He began his coaching career as an assistant under Tom Landry, and later attributed all of his knowledge about football to his time under Landry. As a coach, Nolan is credited as being one of the creators of the flex defense. Each of three years than Nolan took the 49ers to the playoffs, he faced off against his mentor. Each time, he lost.

Nolan later coached the New Orleans Saints for 3 years, ending in a disastrous 0-12 1980 season during which Saints fans became famous for wearing brown paper bags over their heads at games.

Dick Nolan passed away in 2007 from health complications. He had suffered for several years from both Alzheimer's and prostate cancer.

http://www.sportsecyclopedia.com/nfl/sf49/49ers.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1970_NFL_season
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Nolan_(American_football)
http://www.pro-football-reference.com/coaches/NolaDi0.htm
http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/1970.htm
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/13/sports/football/13nolan.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

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