Where Are they Now Part 7: The DBs

The 1980s and 1990s were the 49er glory years. Everyone focuses on the offenses but the defenses were incredible as well. We've shown that with our reviews of the defensive linemen as well as the linebackers. Today we get to take a look at the cornerbacks and safeties.

This group includes two Hall of Famers, a couple of two-way college athletes, two first round draft picks, an amputee, and a guy who ran the 40 yard dash at a 4.74 at the combine and slipped all the way to the 5th round, as well as the original #21.

The list also includes three people listed in the 49er rap song, so as a tribute to them (and the atrociousness of 49ers rapping) I've included both the video and the lyrics.

 

 

Lyrics

we are the 49ers
we are always fighting and were always exciting
we are the 49ers
we're the red and the gold and we will never fold 'em
started back in forty six, Kesar had a lot of tricks
seaguls flying way too low, the niners were the only show
football in the park, fourth quarter's getting dark
leather helmets were ok, sunday was the day to play
Frankie Albert Van doochie, Norm Standlee joel letow
Dick and tony owned the team, the moral beetos had a dream
like the giants and the bears, cards, packers were not scared
the city helped to make this sell, they would join the nfl
We are the 49ers
we are always fighting and were always exciting
we are the 49ers
we're the red and the gold and we will never fold 'em
million dollar back field, Y A, joe the jett
john henry johnson, hugh the king was the best
buck shaw coached the team, noveliny, he was mean
st. claire ate raw heap, the ali-oop was also sweet
gordy soltau, billy wilson, abe wilson, JD smith
bruce mosey, hazeltine, charlie croover made some hits
red hicky, shotgun, brody pass, kilmer run
waters weller whale the ball, howard mudd made 'em fall
we are the 49ers
we are always fighting and we're always exciting
we are the 49ers
we're the team they all want to be, the team of the century
then the 70's came along, we've been losing for so long
Kip nowlen came to town, we won three division crowns
we beat the vikings and the skins, thought the cowboys did us in
we might just have won it all, but truss and riley dropped the ball

from that time on it was sad, losing never was a fad
washington, jimmy johnson, tommy hart, will cox
played their best as a team, together realized their dream
things were looking mighty lean, that eddy dean bought the team
we are the 49ers
we are always fighting and we're always exciting
we are the 49ers
we're the red and the gold and we will never fold 'em
bill walsh had a scheme, joe montana lead the team
dwight clark, ronnie lot, dwight gipps, randy cross
fred keen, keena turner, williamson, eric wright took them all by surprise
with the vision in their eyes
playoff time it finally come, we beat the giants like a drum
the catch by clark saved the game, what else do we have to say
we are the 49ers
we are always fighting and we're always exciting
we are the 49ers
we're the team they all want to be the team of the century
super bowl 16, hacksaw, wirasheen, dan bunts, earl cooper, shooin home for billy reen
super bowl 19, macentire, john harris, peewee board, mike wilson, frank tyler, club affairs
super bowls 23, 24 WE WANT MORE!
swoelow ratman, harris barton, foler jones, steve holes
seifert, rice, JT, steve young, bar none
super bowl 29 we're the first team to win 5!
we are the 49ers
we are always fighting and we're always exciting
we are the 49ers
we're the red and the gold, as the tradition goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on yeah
we are the 49ers
we are always fighting and we're always exciting
we are the 49ers
we're the team they all want to be the team of the century
we are the 49ers

 

Join me after the jump as we learn more about these players.

 

 

Jimmy Johnson 

 

Johnson_jimmy1_medium

 

In 1961 the 49ers were blessed with three first round draft picks. With the first one they picked James Earl Johnson from UCLA, a two sport star. His rookie year he played safety, the next season he moved to WR (and had a decent year as a WR), and then moved back to safety for the remainder of his career. He would eventually move to cornerback which he played for most of his career, retiring in 1976. He was known as one of the best man-to-man cover guys during his time and regarded as one of the best CBs to never play in the Super Bowl. He was a five time Pro Bowler, being named All Pro 4 seasons in a row. 

His brother Rafer Johnson is also a top-notch athlete, having won Olympic Gold in the decathlon. 

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1994. His jersey is one of the few 49er jersey numbers to be retired. Other than that I can't find anything on him--it's like he dropped off the face of the earth after football. 

 

They Shall Not Pass written in 1970

Jimmy Johnson's web site JimmyJohnson37

 

 

Eric Wright 

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Wright was selected in the 2nd round of the 1981 draft. This was the same year that saw Ronnie Lott being drafted in the first round. He played 10 years in the NFL, all for the 49ers, and retired in 1990. The 49ers defense was ranked 27th in 1980 and in 1981 it was ranked 7th overall thanks in large part to the efforts of Eric Wright and Ronnie Lott.  Wright is just one of five players to play on all four Super Bowl teams. He had groin problems towards the end of his career which limited him somewhat and probably prevented him from being a Hall of Famer. 

Shawntae Spencer used Wright as inspiration to improve his game this year. "This offseason, I studied older film (of) Eric Wright," Spencer said. "We talk a lot. He's helped me on a lot of things. Watching his career, being a big corner, he was outstanding. At the time, he was the best cornerback in the NFL. If he hadn't gotten injured, he would have been the best cornerback in the history of the NFL. The film supports it."

Wright joined the team in the 1991 training camp as a DB assistant and took on Merton Hanks as a special project molding him from a fifth round draft choice to an immediate starter. 

In 1994 Wright was hired as Missouri's wide receivers coach. He is now one of the 49ers alumni coordinators. 

In 2009 NFL listed Ronnie Lott and Eric Wright as the No 3 cornerback tandem in history.

NFL Video

NYT article written 3/4 of the way through the 1989 season

 

You Tube highlights

 

 

Ronnie Lott 

1981 was the draft where Walsh really took control and started turning the organization around. He focused on defense since the 49ers defense in 1980 was simply atrocious. Lott was a first round selection and made an immediate impact his rookie season. He and Eric Wright made one of the most fearsome defensive secondaries in the league. Lott started his career at left cornerback (Wright was the right cornerback), but in 1985 he switched to safety. After the 1985 season he had the tip of his left pinky finger amputated after it was crushed when he was tackling running back Timmy Newsome. 

In 1991 he was designated a Plan B free agent by the Niners, stunning San Francisco and the football world. He signed with the Raiders and turned in an All Pro season. He would play for the Raiders for two seasons, and the Jets for two seasons. In 1995 he resigned with the 49ers but retired before the season started due to previous injuries. 

Lott retired in 1995. In 2000 he was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot. He was also selected as a member of the NFL's 75th anniversary team

He worked in the media booth for awhile. In 1996 and 1997 he was an analyst on Fox's NFL Sunday and in 1998 he called games for Fox.

In 1989 Lott founded the All-Stars Helping Kids foundation. It's essentially a charitable equity firm. They collect donations from athletes and other organizations and then give grants to other worthy organizations.

Their mission statement:

By leveraging the power of sports and the commitment of individuals and businesses, All Stars is proving that we can impact more kids if we join forces. Collectively, we are leveling the playing field to give disadvantaged children in low-income communities a greater opportunity to realize their true potential.

He lives in Cupertino California with his wife Karen and his children Hailey, Isaiah, and Chloe. He manages a $2.4 billion private equity firm as well as owning a Toyota dealership and a Mercedes Benz dealership. 

 

Hall of Fame profile page

Great article written in 1994 just before Lott's retirement

Passion Play

1994 interview with Charlie Rose: An Interview with Ronnie Lott

 

NFL Films highlight of Lott

 

 

Merton Hanks 

 

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Merton Hanks is one of my favorite 49ers of all time. I can remember his incredibly long neck as well as the Funky Chicken dance he was famous for. Hanks had some of the best teachers in his career, being mentored by the likes of Eric Wright. He earned all-Big 12 honors at Iowa but a slow 40 time (4.74) in the combine dropped him all the way to the 5th round of the 1991 draft where the 49ers grabbed him. He was a steal, becoming a great safety in the league and was an instrumental part of the 1994 Super Bowl team. Hanks was named to four Pro-Bowl teams in a row. He finished his career with the Seattle Seahawks.

Jerry Rice gave him the ultimate compliment, comparing him to Ronnie Lott

Rice, who should know, unequivocally tabs Hanks as the league's best safety and bristles at the notion that the lanky Hanks is not a hard hitter. "That's bogus," Rice says. "He's like a smaller Ronnie Lott. He doesn't mind sticking his head in there."

 

Hanks says the Funky Chicken Dance was inspired by Bert and Ernie

"It came from watching Bert and Ernie on Sesame Street with my daughters," Hanks said. "We were playing around with it and then one day it made its way to the practice field, then it popped up on game day. That's the long and short of it."

 

SI Vault article from 1996: Struttin'

Merton Hanks' daughter Milan has autism and he spends much of his free time doing charitable work for autism foundations as well as speaking about it.

Sports Illustrated shot of his family in 1995

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He currently works for the NFL as director of football operations (don't ask me what his responsibilities are because I can't find 'em anywhere). 

 

Funky Chicken

 

 

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