49ers' Year-by-Year: 1990

In this week's edition of the 49ers' Year-by-Year, we follow the 49ers through their 1990 season. Coming off of their second consecutive Super Bowl victory, the 49ers were looking to be the first team in NFL history to win three in a row. Their success during the '80s had transformed the team into a dynasty, but how would the '90s treat the franchise? Read on to find out.

Date:

Opponent:

Score:

Record:

Opponent's Record:

Sept. 10

@ New Orleans Saints

W: 13-12

1-0

0-1

Sept. 16

Washington Redskins

W: 13-26

2-0

1-1

Sept. 23

Atlanta Falcons

W: 13-19

3-0

1-2

Oct. 7

@ Houston Oilers

W: 24-21

4-0

2-3

Oct. 14

@ Atlanta Falcons

W: 45-35

5-0

2-3

Oct. 21

Pittsburgh Steelers

W: 7-27

6-0

3-4

Oct. 28

Cleveland Browns

W: 17-20

7-0

2-6

Nov. 4

@ Green Bay Packers

W: 24-20

8-0

3-5

Nov. 11

@ Dallas Cowboys

W: 24-6

9-0

3-7

Nov. 18

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

W: 7-31

10-0

4-7

Nov. 25

Los Angeles Rams

L: 28-17

10-1

4-7

Dec. 3

New York Giants

W: 3-7

11-1

10-2

Dec. 9

@ Cincinnati Bengals

W: 20-17

12-1

7-6

Dec. 17

@ Los Angeles Rams

W: 26-10

13-1

5-9

Dec. 23

New Orleans Saints

L: 13-10

13-2

7-8

Dec. 30

@ Minnesota Vikings

W: 20-17

14-2

6-10

Playoffs:

Jan. 12

Washington Redskins

W: 10-28

15-2

11-7

Jan. 20

New York Giants

L: 15-13

15-3

15-3


Head Coach:
George Seifert

Key Losses: G Bruce Collie, DB Jeff Fuller, DB Tom Holmoe, DB Tim McKyer

Key Additions: RB Dexter Carter, DB Eric Davis, DE Dennis Brown

1990 was Paul Tagliabue's first full year as commissioner of the NFL, and he went straight to work. The length of the season was increased that year from 16 weeks to seventeen weeks, though the same number of games would be played over the longer period. Perhaps more importantly, though, and extra wild card was added to the playoff race, meaning that 12 teams rather than 10 would meet in the postseason each year.

For the 49ers, the franchise was overdue for an inevitable turning point. After winning four Super Bowls in a decade, the 49ers were well-entrenched in one of the most impressive dynastic runs in league history, but they had been forced to commit a significant amount of money to do it. By 1990, the 49ers were fielding a team of battle-hardened veterans and expensive superstars, and the total cost was more than they should have been able to afford. In fact, at that point, Eddie DeBartolo, Jr., was losing roughly $10 million a year in order to keep the team's core together. Salary cuts would be an absolute necessity, and a rebuild was imminent.

However, coming off of two consecutive Super Bowl wins, nobody within the organization was willing to commit to any drastic money-saving measures if they meant sacrificing the team's chances at a third. No team in league history had ever won three Super Bowls in a row, and everyone in the organization, including DeBartolo, wanted to see that change even more than they wanted to see a profit on the season. Suffering mostly minor losses, the front office committed to keeping as many key contributors as they could. The most painful loss was that of Jeff Fuller, who had suffered a spinal injury in the middle of 1989. He never played again.

When the season finally began, the front office's unwavering commitment to winning was richly rewarded. After eeking a win out of New Orleans in the first week of the season, the 49ers just got stronger and stronger. First, they torched the Redskins for almost 500 yards, while John Taylor alone racked up 160 yards receiving - the third highest total of his career. Not to be outdone, Jerry Rice hauled in over 170 yards just one week later as the 49ers notched an easy win against Atlanta before taking a bye week.

San Francisco would taste adversity for the first time during the fourth game of the season. Falling behind to Warren Moon and the Houston Oilers, it took a fourth-quarter comeback to salvage the victory in Houston. But despite the final score, the 49ers still felt the sting of loss in this game. Roger Craig tore a ligament in his knee during the course of the game, and though he continued to play, he wouldn't be truly effective again that year. Because of the injury, Dexter Carter became more and more involved in the offense. This also meant that opposing defenses would no longer have to respect the 49ers' running game.

But, at least in the short term, that didn't seem to bother the 49ers one bit. At 4-0, they marched into Atlanta, where Joe Montana threw for 476 yards and six touchdowns, both franchise records at the time. Montana would remain stellar while the 49ers systematically took Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Green Bay, Dallas, and Tampa Bay apart to reach an undefeated 10-0. This was the best start to any season they had ever had, and it tied them with the New York Giants for the top spot in the entire NFC.

And then the unthinkable happened. The 4-6 Rams came into San Francisco and handed the 49ers their first loss of the season. The 49ers and Rams had been the two dominant teams in the division for many years and had faced each other in countless meaningful games, so it stung when Jim Everett, Flipper Anderson, and Cleveland Gary, behind a strong defensive effort, beat Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Brent Jones, John Taylor, Charles Haley, Ronnie Lott, and more by double digits to break up the perfect season.

Luckily, the Giants also lost that week, perfectly setting up the two teams' meeting on week later in San Francisco. And in a game that featured so many of the 49ers' greatest offensive stars and so many of the Giants' greatest offensive stars, including Phil Simms, Mark Bavaro, Mark Ingram, and Otis Anderson, it was the defenses that won the day. In a true knock-down, drag-out defensive scrimmage, the 49ers won simply by virtue of keeping the Giants out of the endzone. The final score of 7-3 would be by far the lowest combined total the 49ers played in a game all season. And with the victory, the 49ers owned sole-possession of the best record in the NFC.

They would only lose one more game all season, a 13-10 game against the 6-8 Saints, and their 14-2 record would carry them to homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

After waiting through the wild card weekend, the 49ers finally got to start the playoffs on January 12 against the Washington Redskins. Like most teams during the regular season, the Redskins simply had no answers for the 49ers' many offensive and defensive weapons. Forcing the Redskins into multiple costly errors and turnovers, the 49ers made it easily into the Conference Championship game, where they would again face off with the New York Giants.

The second matchup between the 49ers and the Giants would prove to be similar to the first. Though not as low scoring, the game was another battle of defensive wills. While Mike Cofer and New York placekicker Matt Bahr traded field goals through three quarters, both offenses struggled to make any progress. Finally, in the third quarter Montana took advantage of one of New York's only defensive gaffs all day to find John Taylor for a 61-yard touchdown pass and a tenuous four-point lead.

The Giants closed the score to 13-12 in the fourth quarter before the 49ers poised themselves to finally put the game away. While driving late in the game, Joe Montana took a vicious blindside sack from Leonard Marshall that knocked him out of the game completely. More than that, the hit broke Montana's hand and bruised his sternum. The injury would have been devastating to the 49ers chances had they not had Steve Young waiting on the bench.

Young promptly completed a huge 25-yard pass to Brent Jones, and while the loss of Montana continued to sting, there was a sense that the game was already reaching its final stage.

Then, with slightly less than three minutes to play, Roger Craig fumbled the ball and Lawrence Taylor recovered it. The Giants marched down the field to secure the winning field goal and knock the 49ers out of the playoffs, crushing the team's hopes for a three-peat. The fumble appropriately capped off the worst season of Roger Craig's career. It would be his last play as a 49er.

Historical Profile: Tony Morabito

Born in 1910, Tony Morabito received his education at the University of Santa Clara before forging a career as an executive in the lumber hauling and trucking industry. His work in experience in shipping, spurned by advances in cross-country travel, eventually sparked an idea in his head: that it would be financially realistic to own a football team in the western United States. Enlivened by this idea, he spent five years in the early 1940s petitioning the NFL for his own franchise.

Year after year, the NFL denied his dream. In 1945, he would finally get his chance. Though the NFL was still unwilling to grant the lumber man his own team, a new league had formed. And behind the backing of $25,000 of his own money, the fledgling All-America Football Conference gave him a franchise in San Francisco.

Morabito was an emotional, dedicated, energetic, hands-on owner who spared little expense to see his team succeed. These qualities would prove to be as bad for the image of the team as they were good for the success of the team. While he went out of his way to make sure the 49ers had some of the best coaches and players in the league, from legendary coach Buck Shaw to star players like Frankie Albert and Joe Perry, he was also a terrible ambassador to the media.

Morabito was deeply suspicious of the media and remarkably sensitive to even the slightest public criticism. He picked fights, attacked individuals, and even kept a list of members of the media who he was currently holding a grudge with. This list was reportedly as long as 24 people at various periods. The problem wasn't necessarily that he picked fights with the media, but more that he alienated potential revenue streams. Newspapers wouldn't run stories on the 49ers. Radio stations wouldn't cover 49er games. Fans suffered for this, as it was often difficult to follow the team without actually going to the stadium once a week during the regular season.

But for all of the problems with his public persona, Morabito was loved by many of the people who knew him personally - and, most importantly, his employees.

By the 1950s, Morabito was almost fanatically dedicated to seeing his team win a championship. His passion and energy, and the subsequent stress brought on by both, proved to be a detriment to his health, though. In 1952, he suffered a heart attack and doctors warned that another, more severe one was only a matter of time as long as he didn't change his lifestyle. Despite urgings to get out of football, Morabito said, "I'll take my chances."

His problems with the outside world only became worse after his heart attack. He publically insulted the NFL commissioner. He physically chased another owner around the locker room, trying to fight the man. He was not, in short, helping his health issues.

In 1957, it came back to haunt him. While watching the 49ers play the Bears at home on October 27th of that year, he suffered another heart attack. Despite the fast action of team trainers and medical personnel, he was declared dead on arrival at Mary's Help Hospital. When he died, the 49ers were trailing in the game. After the team was told f his death, they came back to win.

Then coach Frankie Albert said tearfully after his death that, "the 49ers could never find a better owner, even if they got President Eisenhower."

Primary References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1990_NFL_season
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Morabito
http://vault.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1132924/index.htm
http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/1990.htm

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

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