49ers Year-by-Year: 1977

What follows is a brief historical recap of the San Francisco 49ers' 1977 season. Find out how Al Davis was directly responsible for what would become one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history. See how it all began in the first year of the DeBartolos' ownership. See what went wrong, and how close it came to going right. And top it all off with a short bio on former 49er starting quarterback Jim Plunkett.

Date:

Opponent:

Score:

Record:

Opponent's Record:

Sept. 19

@ Pittsburgh Steelers

L: 0-27

0-1

1-0

Sept. 25

Miami Dolphins

L: 19-15

0-2

2-0

Oct. 2

@ Los Angeles Rams

L: 14-34

0-3

2-1

Oct. 9

Atlanta Falcons

L: 7-0

0-4

3-1

Oct. 16

@ New York Giants

L: 17-20

0-5

2-3

Oct. 23

Detroit Lions

W: 7-28

1-5

3-3

Oct. 30

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

W: 10-20

2-5

0-7

Nov. 6

@ Atlanta Falcons

W: 10-3

3-5

4-4

Nov. 13

@ New Orleans Saints

W: 10-7

4-5

2-7

Nov. 20

Los Angele Rams

L: 23-10

4-6

7-3

Nov. 27

New Orleans Saints

W: 17-20

5-6

3-8

Dec. 4

@ Minnesota Vikings

L: 27-28

5-7

8-4

Dec. 12

Dallas Cowboys

L: 42-35

5-8

11-2

Dec. 18

@ Green Bay Packers

L: 14-16

5-9

4-10

Head Coach: Ken Meyer

Key Losses: Owners Jo and Jane Morabito, Head Coach Monte Clark, LB Frank Nunley, DB Jimmy Johnson

Key Additions: Owner Eddie DeBartolo, Jr., Head Coach: Ken Meyer, K Ray Wersching, T Ron Singleton

In 1977, the NFL went through a slight realignment, as the young Seahawks franchise was moved to the AFC West and the young Buccaneers franchise was moved to the NFC Central.

But the 49ers were going through much greater realignment. The 49ers had been owned by a member of the Morabito family since its inception in the AAFC, first under Tony, then under Vic, and finally under their respective wives, Jo and Jane. Before the 1977 season, though, Jo and Jane Morabito decided to sell the team because of the increasing costs of owning a team. Their apparent first choice for a new owner was Wayne Valley, a former general partner with the Oakland Raiders. Though negotiations with Wayne reached advanced stages, his demands were simply too stringent. On Al Davis's advice, the 49ers ultimately settled on the DeBartolo family, and were able to reach a mutually beneficial deal for the sale - roughly $20 million or so, all told.

And so the DeBartolo era began.

Early in the DeBartolo changeover, Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. came under media and fan scrutiny for stating publically that the franchise would be run like a business under him. This did not serve to make him a popular figure.

Making matters worse, just as the team began to be on the upswing again, Monte Clark resigned from his position as head coach. He had held the position for only a year, but had overseen a drastic turnaround in the way the team was run and the way the product on the field performed. But part of the DeBartolo deal brought in Joe Thomas as the general manager, which would strip Clark of personnel power that he had fought tooth and nail to obtain in the first place. So, rather than tolerate a demotion, he resigned.

More than simply acting as general manager, though, Thomas would be entrusted as the face of the franchise. The DeBartolos were living on the east coast then, and had little direct contact with the workings of the team. Thomas came with a solid reputation, but his time with the 49ers was defined by extremely poor player acquisitions and even worse media relations. The hire was a disaster.

For his head coach, Thomas brought in a man who would demand little power and also fall in line as necessary in Ken Meyer. This move threw the clubhouse into disarray. The 49er players were accustomed to working under strong-willed, powerful coaches who held the locker room in strict check. Under Meyer, the stability of a Monte Clark and a Dick Nolan was lost. The players felt lost.

But to the fans, this was a team that was on the upswing. Despite the changes, many people still viewed the team as a favorite in the division. Except for star defensive back Jimmy Johnson, all of the team's key starters from 1976 were returning and, all things considered, that was reason for optimism.

But the first week of the season was an omen of things to come. Going into Pittsburgh, the 49ers racked up less than 150 total yards and were shut out 27-0. That was actually the worst game of the season, but the loss gave fans a taste of what the new Joe Thomas culture would bring to the franchise. The next four games would reinforce that taste - four more losses.

At 0-5, the 49ers were a mess. Ken Meyer was beginning to switch his starters in and out on a weekly basis, but not many held any illusions that these roster decisions were actually Meyer's decisions. But this was a veteran team of proud players and, despite all odds, they rallied each other in week six to push the 3-2 Detroit Lions to the breaking point. Dominant on offense for the first time all year and typically stifling on defense, the 49ers grabbed their first victory of the season at home. Jim Plunkett opened the scoring with two touchdowns to Gene Washington, and dynamic halfback duo Delvin Williams and Wilbur Jackson each added their own scores to put the game away.

And just like that, the 49ers were rolling. They knocked off four wins in their next five games, going 3-1 against division rivals in the process. Unbelievably, at 5-6 and with only three weeks to go, the 49ers were still in striking distance of the Rams for the division title. It would take an unlikely string of events to pull off, but it was still possible.

For a week, at least.

In week 12, the 49ers traveled to Minnesota. Taking advantage of five Vikings' turnovers and a dominant ground game, the 49ers had a 24-0 lead in the third quarter and were still holding onto a 27-21 lead as late as the fourth quarter. Viking's rookie quarterback Tommy Kramer and star receiver Sammy White ultimately delivered the final blow, though, and the Vikings won 28-27.

And that was pretty much it. Hosting the Cowboys and traveling to Green Bay the final two weeks of the season, the 49ers finished out the year with two more losses and completed what ended up being one of their worst season since the 1960s.

In disarray and suffering from an unfamiliar losing culture, even more change was ahead for the already unstable San Francisco 49ers.

Player Profile: Jim Plunkett

Jim Plunkett was only a 49er for two seasons, and he had his best years later in his career as a Raider, but during these lean years he was still one of the most visible faces on the team during his time as the starter.

Plunkett was drafted by the New England Patriots with the first pick in the 1971 draft. Extremely highly touted coming out of college, Plunkett's early career was ruined by the team that drafted him. During his five seasons in New England, the Patriots put a remarkably small amount of resources into providing him with an offensive line and he took an unbelievable beating.

When he came to the 49ers, it was under the premise that two things would happen. 1: Behind one of the best lines in the league, he would get a chance to finally heal from a series of injuries that had kept him stiff, sore, slow and unproductive for years. 2: He would finally fulfill the promise that had gotten him drafted first overall.

Essentially, after Frankie Albert, Y. A. Tittle, John Brodie, and the failed Steve Spurrier, Jim Plunkett was expected to be the future of the 49ers' success.

While his time in San Francisco was by no means a disaster, he was never able to overcome the production woes that his existing injuries had caused him. In his first season with the 49ers in 1976, the offensive line was hit with an unprecedented number of injuries. Plunkett continued to take a beating and he rarely played without pain during either of the two years he was with the team.

Plunkett didn't play at all during the 1978 season and was finally released by the 49ers that year, but he still landed on his feet with the Raiders. He wouldn't start again until 1980 and would continue to struggle with injuries for the rest of his career, but he enjoyed long-term success with the Raiders before ultimately retiring after the 1986 season, after 16 years in the NFL.

From the next big thing to a failed prospect to the San Francisco savior to a washed-up, injury prone player, finally to a successful starter - Jim Plunkett's time with the 49ers was short, but his career followed a fascinating path.

Primary References:

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/1977_roster.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1977_NFL_season
http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/P/PlunJi00.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Plunkett

Glenn Dickey, San Francisco 49ers: The First 50 Years. Turner Publishing Inc. 1995

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