49ers Year-by-Year: 1993

So, after a weeklong vacation and then a week long of ridiculously unreliable access to the internet, I - along with my Year-by-Year series - am back with a vengeance. This week we tackle the 1993 season (you see what I did there?), which was the team's first true season without Joe Montana. After trading him to the Chiefs, the team was all Steve Young's, and the monkey was all up on his back. Surely, he couldn't have a record setting season under the pressure of circumstances like those? Could he? We all know how it ended. But the fun is in the journey.

Date:

Opponent:

Score:

Record:

Opponent's Record:

Sept. 5

@ Pittsburgh Steelers

W: 24-13

1-0

0-1

Sept. 13

@ Cleveland Browns

L: 13-23

1-1

2-0

Sept. 19

Atlanta Falcons

W: 30-37

2-1

0-3

Sept. 26

@ New Orleans Saints

L: 13-16

2-2

4-0

Oct. 3

Minnesota Vikings

W: 19-38

3-2

2-2

Oct. 17

@ Dallas Cowboys

L: 17-26

3-3

4-2

Oct. 24

Phoenix Cardinals

W: 14-28

4-3

2-5

Oct. 31

Los Angeles Rams

W: 17-40

5-3

2-6

Nov. 14

@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

W: 45-21

6-3

2-7

Nov. 22

New Orleans Saints

W: 7-42

7-3

6-4

Nov. 28

@ Los Angeles Rams

W: 35-10

8-3

3-8

Dec. 5

Cincinnati Bengals

W: 8-21

9-3

1-11

Dec. 11

@ Atlanta Falcons

L: 24-27

9-4

6-7

Dec. 19

Detroit Lions

W: 55-17

10-4

8-6

Dec. 25

Houston Oilers

L: 10-7

10-5

11-4

Jan. 3

Philadelphia Eagles

L: 37-34

10-6

8-8

Playoffs:

Jan. 15

New York Giants

W: 3-44

11-6

12-6

Jan. 23

@ Dallas Cowboys

L: 21-38

11-7

14-4


Head Coach:
George Seifert

Key Losses: QB Joe Montana, DE Pierce Holt, NT Michael Carter

Key Additions: DT Dana Stubblefield, S Tim McDonald, C Chris Dalman, DB David Whitmore, QB Elvis Grbac

After adding a bye week and expanding the length of the NFL regular season to 17 weeks in 1990, the league added a second bye week in 1993, making the season even longer. The decision was based on the increased revenue generated since the first bye week had been implemented. However, as the season wore on, teams became more and more uncomfortable with the new schedule, and it wouldn't last beyond the end of the season.

More significant to the league was the beginning of a brand new era. The offseason following 1992 was the first year of true free agency. And a salary cap was going to follow. Restrictions were placed on teams that had performed better in the previous season in order to try to disrupt free spending and increase league parity. It created problems for the 49ers right off the bat. Though the 49ers designated Pierce Holt as their transition player, they lost him to the Atlanta Falcons, who were willing to offer more guaranteed money. Pierce was a force on the line, and to lose him to a division rival could prove to be huge.

Also, the 49ers were thwarted in their attempts to sign Reggie White in order to make up the difference lost by Holt's departure. However, the new restrictions kept them from being able to match Green Bay's offers, and they lost out on another key free agent. They did land one of their targets, though, when they signed Tim McDonald to join Merton Hanks in the defensive backfield.

But for the 49ers, it was the end of an era. Steve Young's succession of Joe Montana had by 1993 long since been a foregone conclusion, but whether it should happen so soon was a point of extreme contention. Montana was aging and, beyond having had back problems earlier in his career had been crippled by elbow problems for the last two. Fans were passionately on Montana's side. George Siefert, on the other hand, believed that Steve Young should be starting. If Montana remained on the roster, he would be pragmatic about the situation, but he would not commit himself or the season to Montana.

In the end, the team left the decision up to Joe. Montana would tell the team that he wanted to be traded to Kansas City rather than sit on what could be the losing side of a quarterback controversy that had the head coach on the side of his competition. The 49ers actually received one of their best offers for Montana from the Cardinals, but they were diligent in making sure that, as long as they had to cut ties with the San Francisco hero, they would send him where he wanted to go.

The final deal was Montana to the Chiefs for a first-round draft pick, a third-round draft pick, and defensive back David Whitmore. The first-round pick was used that year on defensive lineman Dana Stubblefield.

For 49ers fans, losing Montana was devastating, but knowing that they had Young on board to keep the ball rolling was more than just a small consolation. That's why it hurt so much more when Young broke the thumb on his throwing finger during a preseason game against the Raiders. Without Montana, any injury to Young was potentially devastating, and this was a harsh reminder of that fact. He would eventually start the season opener, but it would be some time before the injury stopped affecting his play.

Young's injury would be a problem early in the season as the 49ers stumbled to a 2-2 record in the first four weeks. When they beat the Vikings 38-19 in week five, Young was looking much better and the upcoming bye week could only help his health. The matchup with the Cowboys two weeks from that day would be a pivotal game.

And pivotal though it was, the game against the Cowboys was not a landmark victory. In fact, it was an eye-opening loss. After dominating the scoreboard early (following a defensive touchdown), the 49ers failed to do much of anything on offense and found themselves down by 6 at halftime. They would take the lead again early in the third quarter, but the same offensive troubles would haunt them the rest of the game. It wasn't moving the ball that was the problem so much as it was simply finding the endzone. The 49ers contented themselves with a conservative gameplan against Dallas, and it gave the Cowboys exactly the advantage they needed.

Suddenly at 3-3 and trailing in the division, the 49ers had their eyes opened. The season needed to change, and it needed to change fast.

What followed was nothing short of dominance. Motivated, and perhaps truly impassioned for the first time all season, the 49ers won their next six games by margins of 14, 23, 24, 35, 25, and 13. None of the games were particularly close and the 49ers had recaptured their respect, their pride, and - most importantly - their division. Young also helped to ingratiate himself to the fans during this stretch, even breaking Joe Montana's franchise record for consecutive passes without an interception.

Then, after losing uncharacteristically to the Falcons in a game that could have decided the division, the 49ers demolished the Lions in the team's single most impressive game of the season. With more than 350 yards for the game, Young broke another of Montana's franchise records - the record for single season passing yards. And that was with two games still to play.

But with the division suddenly wrapped up, those two games went largely to backups and role players. The 49ers rested their stars in preparation for the playoffs.

Their first playoff matchup could not have been scripted better. The 49ers and Giants had engaged in some of the most memorable games in recent history, stretching both the regular and postseasons. Dan Reeves, Phil Simms, Chris Calloway, Dave Meggett, Lawrence Taylor, Keith Hamilton, Carlton Bailey - all of the great Giants players would prove to be helpless against the 49ers, who carried their own stars in Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Ricky Watters, John Taylor, Brent Jones, Bill Romanowski, Tim McDonald, Eric Davis, Dana Stubblefield and, Merton Hanks. The 49ers won easily, 44-3. Adding intrigue to the affair: Joe Montana was playing in the AFC Championship game with the Chiefs that same weekend. A possible Super Bowl pitting Montana against his former team was an unbelievable prospect.

That brought the 49ers one win away from the Super Bowl, with only a trip to Dallas in their way. The Cowboys, who had sent the 49ers packing from the playoffs a year earlier, bringing back bad memories of the ‘70s for Niner fans, had handled the 49ers in their matchup earlier in the season. The 49ers were confident, but the Cowboys had recent history - and their own impressive arsenal of stars, from Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin to Ken Norton, Jr., Kevin Smith, and former 49er Charles Haley - on their side.

And history would win the day. The game was crushing for San Francisco. After two painful losses to the Cowboys in less than a year, the 49ers and their fans had to endure another one, and perhaps the worst. The 49ers were never close. They were out-prepared, out-coached, and out-played on the second biggest stage in the entire sport.

Historical Profile: Wouldn't You Like to Know?

I'm working on a historical piece right now that is going to stand on its own outside of the Year-by-Year pieces, so while I finish that up over the next week - and trust me, you'll love it! - I'm going to forego this section.

Primary References:

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/1993.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1993_NFL_season

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

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