One of the reasons I started voting on a 49ers all-time team a few years back, was to give us a chance to learn a little bit more about some of the great 49ers players of the past. We had the year-by-year series from howtheyscored, which gave folks a chance to learn a little more about every season in 49ers history. The 49ers have a storied history that extends well before the Bill Walsh dynasty era and it is important to know about the history of the franchise.
The demographics of Niners Nation skew relatively young, with a lot of our readers (including myself), too young to remember or even be around for the pre-Bill Walsh years. We have plenty of older readers, but my guess is they are in the minority here. I was born in 1979, just in time for the Bill Walsh era, so it requires effort to learn about the 49ers of the past.
This demographic issue will often impact the vote in our all-time team. Guys like Joe Perry and Hugh McElhenny are easily forgotten by fans that grew up watching Roger Craig, Garrison Hearst and Frank Gore. Although Gore has passed Perry in total yards, it is worth noting that Perry averaged a ridiculous 5.2 yards per carry during his 14 seasons with the 49ers. I'm not saying that means you automatically needed to vote for Perry, but his contributions should not be so easily overlooked.
Although this is just a fan-voted team with little significant in the grand scheme of things, we'd still like to figure out ways to honor some of the all-time great 49ers, while also helping to develop better-informed 49ers fans. We'll have a few ways we'll be able to do this. In the coming days, weeks and months, we'll have some features on the all-time greats in 49ers history.
For the NFL Hall of Famers and other significantly players prominent that wore a 49ers uniform, we'll have a sort of Hall of Fame wing of Niners Nation. This will include some players that have been voted into our all-time team, while also including players not voted in for one reason or another. Guys like Joe Perry and Hugh McElhenny will get a spot as actual Hall of Famers. Guys like John Henry Johnson will get a spot due to their Hall of Fame status. They came in under our four year rule for inclusion in the vote, but deserve to be honored for their contributions. Deion Sanders is potentially one such possibility, given his level of dominance over one season.
One other way we'll recognize some all-time greats is automatic inclusion on our all-time team. Some positions simply do not need a vote. Guys like WR Jerry Rice, DL Leo Nomellini and OT Bob St. Clair are among the 49ers Hall of Famers that were all-time greats and will be honored accordingly.
For the purposes of this team, these are the guys I think deserve automatic inclusion on our 49ers all-time team:
Jerry Rice - Wide Receiver #1
Leo Nomellini - Defensive Line #1 (we're going with four defensive line positions instead of two DTs and two DEs)
Bob St. Clair - Offensive Tackle #1
Ronnie Lott - Safety #1
Jimmy Johnson - Cornerback #1
Dave Wilcox - Outside Linebacker #1
Bill Walsh - Head Coach
These all-time team member have all been enshrined into the Hall of Fame. We'll have stand-alone posts on them as we move forward, but when we start voting on wide receiver #2 and skip over wide receiver #1, you'll know why. Also, guys like Steve Young, Joe Perry and Hugh McElhenny are all in the Hall of Fame, but as I said, there will be a separate wing for them. The plan is to put together stand-alone write-ups on all of these all-time greats, giving them their proper due.
Additionally, there are several positions where a given player is likely to run away with the voting. In our previous all-time teams, Bryant Young was an automatic inclusion. I'm switching from two defensive tackles and two defensive ends over to four defensive linemen. Previously, Leo Nomellini and Bryant Young took up the two defensive tackle positions. Although BY is not a Hall of Famer, and faces some tough odds to get in, I am leaning towards another automatic inclusion. However, I am open to discussion.
Andy Lee is another guy who could potentially warrant automatic inclusion. He holds the 49ers all-time punting yardage and yards per punt (minimum 20 career punts), so it would certainly be reasonable. Tommy Davis and Frankie Albert were both strong punters, but even with the slant in demographics towards younger, it's hard to conclude that anybody but Lee is the 49ers all-time punter. Thoughts on that?