49ers Year-by-Year: 1976

What follows is a brief historical recap of the San Francisco 49ers' 1976 season. 1976 was the 49ers' first season after the firing of Dick Nolan. Read on to see how the team performs with under new head coach, Monte Clark. Read on to see how the offense performs with a new quarterback, Jim Plunkett. Read on to see one of my less comprehensive player bios because, dangit, where can I find all the good stuff on Randy Cross, anyway?

Date:

Opponent:

Score:

Record:

Opponent's Record:

Sept. 12

@ Green Bay Packers

W: 26-14

1-0

0-1

Sept. 19

Chicago Bears

L: 19-12

1-1

2-0

Sept. 26

@ Seattle Seahawks

W: 37-21

2-1

0-3

Oct. 3

New York Jets

W: 6-17

3-1

0-4

Oct. 11

@ Los Angeles Rams

W: 16-0

4-1

3-1-1

Oct. 17

New Orleans Saints

W: 33-3

5-1

2-4

Oct. 23

Atlanta Falcons

W: 0-15

6-1

1-6

Oct. 31

@ St. Louis Cardinals

L: 20-33

6-2

6-2

Nov. 7

Washington Redskins

L: 24-21

6-3

6-3

Nov. 14

@ Atlanta Falcons

L: 16-21

6-4

3-7

Nov. 21

Los Angeles Rams

L: 23-3

6-5

7-3-1

Nov. 29

Minnesota Vikings

W: 16-20

7-5

9-2-1

Dec. 5

@ San Diego Chargers

L: 7-13

7-6

6-7

Dec. 12

@ New Orleans Saints

W: 27-7

8-6

4-10

Head Coach: Monte Clark

Key Losses: HC Dick Nolan, QB Steve Spurrier, QB Norm Snead, FB Larry Schreiber, DT Bob Hoskins

Key Additions: QB Jim Plunkett, QB John Scott Bull, C/G Randy Cross, HB Paul Hofer, G John Ayers, WR Willie McGee

In 1976, the NFL expanded to 28 teams by welcoming both the Seattle Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Seahawks originally joined the NFC West and the Bucs originally joined the AFC West.

For the 49ers, times were changing rapidly. With a team that had begun to struggle with the loss of John Brodie and only appeared to get worse with time, Dick Nolan was out as head coach. Monte Clark, a former 49er player and line coach with the Dolphins, was given the mantle in his place. Clark would also have complete authority over all roster moves, a luxury that Nolan hadn't enjoyed. Over the three seasons since San Francisco had been to the postseason, the roster had seen quite a bit of turnover, and - on the struggling offense, at least - that wasn't about to change. This time, though, it would hopefully be for the better.

Out were Steve Spurrier, traded for speedy receiver Willie Mcgee, and Norm Snead, retired. The two had been the leading passers from a season before. Gone were starting fullback Larry Schreiber and starting defensive tackle Bob Hoskins. As important as the losses, though, were the additions. Where the 49ers had previously been content to stand pat with a group of quarterbacks who gave little hope for the future, they now acted aggressively to pursue a quarterback who they believed could be a legitimate short-term and long-term solution. The cost was great: three first round draft picks, one second round draft pick, and quarterback Tom Owen, but the 49ers had their man: 29-year-old Jim Plunkett out of New England. Plunkett had struggled mightily in New England behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league, and the 49ers hoped that a change of scenery, and a return to his Bay Area roots, would make all the difference for the once promising young star. Among other additions, 1976 was the year that center Randy Cross was drafted to the team.

Overall, things were looking up. The addition of Plunkett combined with the continued development of the team's already imposing young backfield of Delvin Williams and Wilbur Jackson, the addition of another legitimate deep threat to the passing game in Willie McGee, and the almost complete return of one of the league's elite defenses (bolstered by what may have been the league's best defensive line), expecting improvement was more than reasonable.

And then, as so often happens, things sort of fell apart. Before the season even started, the 49ers began to lose piece after piece to their offensive line. Center Bill Reid, guard Woody Peoples, and tackle Cas Banaszek were all lost before the season even started. This was especially bad news for Jim Plunkett, who could have greatly benefited from a healthy line. Plunkett had been severely beat up during his time with the Patriots, and, under continued pressure behind the 49ers' new make-shift line, would continue to struggle mightily with rib injuries that he had suffered while on his previous team.

And then, as so often happens, the games started. And the 49ers were good. After splitting their first two games, the 49ers rallied off five very, very impressive wins in a row. During this initial seven-game stretch, Jim Plunkett threw 10 touchdown passes, the backs ran for over 900 yards, and the defense forced 19 turnovers. The only downside was that the competition to this point, minus a dominating performance over the ever-powerful Rams, was not particularly stiff.

At 6-1 and riding an unbelievable high, the screws - almost inevitably - came off for the 49ers. The injuries along the offensive line were taking their toll, and Plunkett had trouble playing comfortably without massive doses of painkillers to calm his aching ribs. Even worse, though, was the week six injury to Willie McGee, a horrifying broken leg suffered after his cleat caught on the Candlestick turf. The injury severely limited the versatility of the passing game and the offense as a whole. And then, as the competition improved, the 49ers found themselves in more close games. And close games only served to expose the team's weaknesses.

Namely, these weaknesses included the new transparency of the passing game and the untimely failures in the kicking game. In fact, Plunkett would only throw three touchdowns the rest of the seasons, as things fell apart. This resulted in consecutive losses to each of the Cardinals, Redskins, Falcons, and Rams. With the 9-1-1 Minnesota Vikings next on the schedule, it was beginning to look like a sure loss, a trip back to .500, and more of the same old futility despite new faces.

Against Minnesota, the 49ers started rookie quarterback Scott Bull in order to rest Plunkett, who was far worse for the wear at this late stage of another physically abusive season. Luckily for the 49ers, Bull didn't have to do much. Behind a typically strong defensive effort, Delvin Williams and Wilbur Jackson carried the team on offense, each rushing for more than 150 yards on the day and effectively securing a victory over one of the league's best teams.

In the end, such a remarkable victory only managed to do enough to keep the 49ers over .500. After losing the next week in overtime to San Diego, they wouldn't even make the postseason with a victory in the final week. They did get a victory in the final week, but it was a case of too little, too late.

Player Profile: Randy Cross

Drafted as an offensive lineman by the 49ers in the second round of the NFL draft in 1976, Randy Cross was thrust into the starting role in large part because of the injuries that happened around him. Though he faced his struggles as a rookie, he never gave up his starting spot until his retirement in 1989 following Super Bowl XXIII. He would play center and guard during his career.

Cross played 13 seasons with the 49ers, and started all but five of the 185 games that he appeared in during that time. As a member of many of the 49ers' glory teams, Cross played in 13 playoff games and three Super Bowls. He was selected to the Pro Bowl three times, in 1981, 1982, and 1984, and made the All-Pro team six times over the course of his career.

Since his retirement, Cross has spent many years jumping back and forth between broadcasting jobs. He began his broadcasting career on CBS in 1989, the same year of his retirement. He eventually began working on the radio, and currently co-hosts an NFL Network radio broadcast on Sirius radio.

Primary Sources:

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/1976.htm
http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/P/PlunJi00.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randy_Cross
http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/C/CrosRa00.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1976_NFL_season

Glenn Dickey, San Francisco 49ers: The First 50 Years. Turner Publishing Inc. 1995
And thank you, Grumpy Guy. Your input is always a huge help.

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