I'm about to share one of the greatest thrills that I have personally had while being associated with this website. To this point, my role as a writer on the site has been primarily to offer insight into the history of the team. At times, even I admit that my work has been rough, but it has given me - and I hope our readers - some wonderful insight into some of the truly great players from the generations before many of us were even aware of football. Joe Montana was drafted a full six years before I was even born, so the thrill of learning about players like Joe Perry, Frankie Albert, Johnny Strzykalski, Visco Grgich, Bob St. Clair, Leo Nomellini, Hugh McElhenny and almost countless others is a real treat that I probably never would have attempted before becoming a part of NinersNation.
For me, and for others, this learning process is thrilling and enriching. Knowing that the 49ers played the first regular season professional football game on the West Coast fills me with a certain team and area pride that I never knew I had. Understanding that the 49ers broke the "Asian color barrier" in sports fills me with even more. For even others, revisiting these early years brings back wonderful memories of going to Kezar to watch a ballgame or watching John Brodie lay another Alley-Oop pass squarely in the arms of R.C. Owens.
But by far the most fulfilling experience I've had thus far has been one that combines my joy in learning about a history that I had no idea existed with another's joy in remembering a time that was among the happiest of his life. Recently, I've had the honor to correspond with the son of one of the 49ers truly great players: Alyn Beals.
If you don't know who Alyn Beals was, I'll gladly paraphrase his grandson when I say that he was Jerry Rice for the 49ers before there was a Jerry Rice. Playing receiver for the 49ers from their inception in 1946 until his retirement in 1951, Beals astounded, amazed and entertained 49ers fans for six wonderful years. Adjusted for era, he put up astonishing numbers in a 49ers uniform, and some of his career totals still rank among the best in team history.
I won't dawdle much longer, I promise. Alyn's son, Alyn, has been kind and gracious enough to share some of his memories of his father from the days before his playing career, touching on his early professional life. In the future, as he has time, we'll get at least one more installment from Alyn regarding his memories of his father's playing days.
Please, enjoy. From here on out, everything you read is in the words of Alyn Beals, son of 49ers great Alyn Beals.
"Like most of his contemporaries from The Greatest Generation, it's hard to appreciate all the challenges he overcame. He came from a broken home and was raised by his mother, as his parents divorced when he was three. Being born in 1921, he was 8 years old when The Great Depression hit, so survival was a constant theme. An average student, but with great athletic talents, he soon realized football could be his path to success.
He grew up in San Francisco, went to Poly High and made the All-City football team playing all his games across the street at Kezar Stadium. He's still seen on reruns of a local T.V. show called "S.F. in the '30s" with three old buddies, talking about the popularity of high school football in those days. Three of the four guys played in the NFL.
He graduated from Poly in 1939 with scholarship offers to Cal and Santa Clara, and picked SCU, which had a Top-20 football program in those days despite a student body of all of 500 men. In that era, before T.V. and teams traveling by air to games, fans and sports writers didn't know much - if anything - about teams beyond their local areas. Santa Clara would travel by train for three weeks to play Oklahoma, Boston College, Univ. of Chicago and teams of that quality, besides playing the locals USF/St. Mary's/Stanford/SJS/etc. at Kezar.
He made several All-American teams, but of course the Eastern teams and players got more exposure to the national audience. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears after his senior season of 1942 (an image follows). But World War II was looming and he lost three prime years of his playing career saving the world for us.
He went through ROTC at Santa Clara, and became a Field Artillery Battery Commander, seeing significant action, especially at the Remagen Bridge and The Battle of The Bulge. After Germany surrendered, he was part of the occupation forces as security at the Nazi trials in Nuremburg as part of Patton's 3rd Army.
Apparently, they had enough time for each army to form football teams to play a tournament against each other. So Dad ended up the co-coach and co-captain of the All Occupation Champs, and he was named 'All-Nuremberg" - a story his friends delighted in telling.
This brought us to late '45 and early '46. The troops were coming home to peace and prosperity, and Tony Morabito, a local lumberyard owner, had been awarded the S.F. franchise in the new All American Football Conference. He hired dad's coach from Santa Clara, Buck Shaw, and wanted to have as many local players as he could on the team. So instead of Chicago, I was born in my parent's hometown of S.F. as he signed his first contract with the 49ers for $4,500 a year. He always said it was really only for half a year (they all worked other jobs in the off season), and since he had been getting shot at for $279/month the previous three years, he would have played for free.
That brings me to one of my lasting memories, how much my Dad and his buddies just loved the game. And they loved each other as much. Eddie Forrest, Johnnie Strike, Joe Vetrano, Norm Standlee - he would have, and he did do anything for those guys. Except let them beat him at anything. They were all so competitive, no matter what the game.
They all lived in the Parkmerced apartment complex together the first few years, all ate together, all partied together, all raised their kids together. Friends for life. But after what they had all been through, what a wonderful time it was, raising their families in peace and getting paid to play a game they loved.