49ers Year-by-Year: 1999

1999 wasn't the beginning of the end for the 49ers' storied dynasty. It was an affirmation of the end. With the loss of Steve Young and the continued absence of Garrison Hearst, the San Francisco 49ers discovered that their talent had diminished to the point where success was unsustainable. But as with all of these posts, the end result isn't as important as the journey. See how it all came to be right here:

Date:

Opponent:

Score:

Record:

Opponent's Record:

Sept. 12

@ Jacksonville Jaguars

L: 3-41

0-1

0-1

Sept. 19

New Orleans Saints

W: 21-28

1-1

1-1

Sept. 27

@ Arizona Cardinals

W: 24-10

2-1

1-2

Oct. 3

Tennessee Titans

W: 22-24

3-1

3-1

Oct. 10

@ St. Louis Rams

L: 20-42

3-2

4-0

Oct. 17

Carolina Panthers

L: 31-29

3-3

2-3

Oct. 24

@ Minnesota Vikings

L: 16-40

3-4

3-4

Nov. 7

Pittsburgh Steelers

L: 27-6

3-5

5-3

Nov. 14

@ New Orleans Saints

L: 6-24

3-6

2-7

Nov. 21

St. Louis Rams

L: 23-7

3-7

8-2

Nov. 29

Green Bay Packers

L: 20-3

3-8

6-5

Dec. 5

@ Cincinnati Bengals

L: 30-44

3-9

3-10

Dec. 12

Atlanta Falcons

W: 7-26

4-9

3-10

Dec. 18

@ Carolina Panthers

L: 24-41

4-10

7-7

Dec. 25

Washington Redskins

L: 26-20

4-11

9-6

Jan. 3

@ Atlanta Falcons

L: 29-34

4-12

5-11


Head Coach:
Steve Mariucci

Key Losses: G Kevin Gogan, T Kirk Scrafford, DE Roy Barker, DE Chris Doleman, FS Merton Hanks, QB Jim Druckenmiller,

Key Additions: QB Jeff Garcia, RB Charlie Garner, FB Terry Jackson, DE Chike Okeafor, RB Lawrence Phillips

In 1999, the NFL welcomed the Cleveland Browns back into the league as an expansion team. The new Browns would essentially own the history of the "Browns" franchise, even though technically the original team had relocated to become the Ravens. This gave the league 31 teams, forcing the league to adopt a non-standard scheduling that called for at least one team bye in every week of the season.

Also in 1999, the Tennessee Oilers, formerly the Houston Oilers, officially changed their name to the Titans. With the name change came a new logo, uniforms, and official team colors. It also brought a first for the league, as the NFL actually retired a team name, putting the use of the name Oilers to rest for good.

With the year 2000 only a few months away, the NFL approached the new year with caution. The Y2K frenzy was in full swing by the start of the NFL season, and the league adjusted the schedule so that no teams would have to travel or play on January 1.

Finally, instant replay, a system that the NFL had adopted and abandoned in the past, was brought back with new technology and new rules in place. 1999 would be a trial run for the new system.

For the 49ers, a lot of questions were hanging in the air. The team wasn't getting any younger, or healthier. Plagued by concussions throughout his career and particularly in recent years, Steve Young's health became a question mark every time he took a sack. Jerry Rice was showing the early signs of decline as age took hold and the first major injury of his career continued to hang in the minds of fans even nearly two years after suffering it. With Terrell Owens developing into a fine young receiver, Rice's position on the team this year and in the future was beginning to become a question.

Worst of all, Garrison Hearst, who had been so good for the team in 1998, was lost to a grisly ankle injury suffered in a playoff loss to the Falcons the year before.

But while question marks littered the offense, the defense was as much of a concern. The 49ers lost Merton Hanks in the offseason, and were expecting to start players in the twilights of their careers at just about every position. From Tim McDonald to Ken Norton, Jr., to Charles Haley, the 49ers defense was loaded with talented players - only most of them had already seen their best days. Perhaps most pressing would be Bryant Young's recovery from a horrifying broken leg that he had suffered less than a year before.

To try to make up for their losses, the 49ers picked up small, shifty running back Charlie Garner and reclamation project Lawrence Phillips. Garner came out of Philadelphia, where he was never able to answer questions about his ability to be a featured back. Phillips came with a history as a clubhouse cancer and with an off-field record that included an assault charge to match. His troubles had driven him out of the NFL and into NFL Europe, but the 49ers were willing to give him a chance to solve their running back woes.

The 49ers attempted to address their aging defense in the draft, but failed to make any significant splashes that season. But perhaps most importantly, the 49ers built in a contingency plan for Steve Young. Giving up on former quarterback of the future Jim Druckenmiller, the 49ers followed the counsel of Bill Walsh in looking to the Canadian Football league and Jeff Garcia to fill their need for a competent backup.

In the preseason, many of the 49ers starters were held out of games in order to keep them healthy for the season. When the season started, the decision was apparent. In Jacksonville, the team was completely off balance and out of rhythm on both sides of the ball. The eventual 41-3 loss was the franchise's worst in nearly 13 years.

Things didn't look better a week later against a miserable Saints team, but San Francisco was able to pick up the pieces enough in the second half to salvage a win against their division rivals.

Things wouldn't get any easier. At first, it seemed like they would, as San Francisco jumped on Jake Plummer and the Cardinals for a 17-0 first-half lead. And then Steve Young found himself on his back with another concussion, his first since 1997, and would remain out of the game for the second half. Up 17 with less than two minutes to play in the half, Mariucci and the 49ers were trying to keep the throttle down and knock the Cardinals out. Instead, as Young dropped back to pass, Lawrence Phillips missed a key block on Aeneas Williams, who hammered Young to end the play. Though termed mild, the blow left Young unconscious for a short period and shook him up emotionally. Though worried, he did try to get back in the game, but the coaches wouldn't let him.

Mariucci's decision to play it "conservatively" in the second half by holding Young out was informed by his decision in 1997 to let Young return against the Buccaneers under somewhat similar circumstances. After Young suffered an injury in that game, Mariucci was not willing to continue to take chances with his quarterback. Similarly, the tragic loss of Young while attempting to play out an aggressive, attacking half may conceivably have affected Mariucci's style of gamecalling from that point forward, as conservative play would become his trademark among fans.

Young wouldn't play the following week, and would ultimately miss the rest of the season and have to retire in order to protect his health in the long term. Jeff Garcia stepped in against Tennessee and led the team ably, defeating the previously undefeated Titans and giving 49er fans a glimmer of hope that the season wasn't lost.

But from that point forward, the wheels came off. The 49ers were decimated by the high-octane Rams the next week, and lost again the week after that (to none other than former coach George Seifert and his Carolina Panthers) to drop to .500. Only two games removed from a victory over one of the league's top teams, it was unclear which version of these Steve Young-less 49ers was the real one. The real answer to that question was not one any fan of the team was ready to accept.

But the 49ers kept on losing. First Jeff George torched the defense for three touchdowns. Then, the Niner defense made Kordell Stewart look like a model of efficiency. Then, the one-win Saints doubled their total, while Billy Joe Tolliver accounted for three scores against a seemingly inept San Francisco defense in a 24-6 romp. Then the Packers. Then the Bengals. And then, with the Falcons coming to town, the 49ers were on the verge of their first 10 loss season since 1980.

On a day that saw Charlie Garner go over 1,000 rushing yards on the season and that was marked by some of the strongest play of the season from recovering defensive star Bryant Young, the 49ers knocked Chris Chandler and the struggling Falcons around pretty much all game. For one week, the 49ers looked like they once did. And for one week, they staved off that tenth loss.

It would only be one week, though, as George Seifert proved that his Panthers had the 49ers' number that year by beating them handily on December 18th. The 49ers were in the midst of their worst season in almost two decades, and it wasn't getting any better. After losing to Washington in week 16, the 49ers season was finally allowed to end on January 3rd as - falling behind 31-7 to the Falcons in Atlanta - even their best comeback attempt would come up short.

At long last, the 49ers dynasty had unraveled. With an aging and hurting team, could it possibly be reborn?

Primary References:

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/1999_games.htm
http://articles.latimes.com/1999/oct/18/sports/sp-23718
http://articles.latimes.com/1999/nov/15/sports/sp-33817
http://articles.latimes.com/1999/dec/13/sports/sp-43575
http://articles.latimes.com/1999/dec/19/sports/sp-45612
http://articles.latimes.com/1999/sep/13/sports/sp-9802
http://articles.latimes.com/1999/sep/20/sports/sp-12335
http://articles.latimes.com/1999/sep/28/sports/sp-15061
http://www.nytimes.com/1999/10/04/sports/nfl-week-4-titans-handed-first-loss.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1999_NFL_season
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Phillips

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