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49ers Year-by-Year: 1956





Opponent’s Record:

Sept. 30

New York Giants

L: 38-21



Oct. 7

Los Angeles Rams

W: 30-33



Oct. 14

@ Chicago Bears

L: 7-31



Oct. 21

@ Detroit Lions

L: 17-20



Oct. 28

Chicago Bears

L: 38-21



Nov. 4

Detroit Lions

L: 17-13



Nov. 11

@ Los Angeles Rams

L: 6-30



Nov. 18

@ Green Bay Packers

W: 17-16



Nov. 25

@ Philadelphia Eagles

T: 10-10



Dec. 2

@ Baltimore Colts

W: 20-17



Dec. 8

Green Bay Packers

W: 20-38



Dec. 16

Baltimore Colts

W: 17-30



Head Coach: Frankie Albert

Key Losses: DE Clay Matthews (Retire), MLB Hardy Brown (Free Agent)

Key Additions: G/DE Bruce Bosley (Draft, 15), TE/WR R.C. Owens (Draft, 160), TE Clyde Connor (FA)


I couldn’t get myself to cut this down, so I’m actually just moving my "Musings" section up to the top this week, instead of simply excerpting it. Enjoy!

Even though this wasn’t a good season for the 49ers, I really like the idea that Frankie Albert was brought in as the Head Coach. Then, doing my writeup on R. C. Owens, I loved remembering that he was a member of the front office for so long. As a fan, I often entertain myself thinking about what players I would like to see come back one day to coach. Usually I do this when I’m thinking about the SF Giants (what can I say, when there are a lot of players near retirement, you think of them as coaches…), but there are certainly a number of former 49ers who I would love to see come back to the team in some capacity. Steve Young seems like a guy who could coach, though I understand he’s more interested in owning (with Brent Jones, no less) – though fat chance that either of those DeBartolo guys come to the team in any capacity in the near future. I’d be surprised if there is a single fan who doesn’t want to see Bryant Young return to the team as a coach.

There’s just something about rooting for a player and then seeing that player move into a new role with the team or with the league after they retire. With the "York guys" / "DeBartolo guys" divide, we’ve been pretty unlucky in recent years in that a lot of the guys who we might want to see come back to the team simply won’t or can’t because of fundamental differences. What I’d like to talk about, though, is not strictly players who we would like to see return after retirement, but also players – not even necessarily 49ers – who have made careers in the league following retirement (after all, I don’t want to leave Singletary out, or, even more relevantly right now, Gene Upshaw).

So that’s where we are: Open Players Returning to the League After Retirement Discussion. Who do you want to see? Who did you love seeing come back? And why.

Following a miserable 1955 season that had been hampered by key injuries and uninspired play, the 49ers fired coach Red Strader after just one year, and brought in a familiar name – and local favorite – to take his place by hiring former star QB Frankie Albert as the new Head Coach. In a tragic turn of events, Strader actually ended up dying of a heart attack shortly after being fired.

Though the NFL was doing very well, it was constantly tweaking its rules, and in a key rule change that would remain one of the most important rules of the game going forward, the facemask became an official penalty for the first time. Though, importantly, it was only a penalty if it was committed against somebody other than the ball carrier.

Significant Games:

With the team’s third coach in three years, and a first year coach at that, coming off of two consecutive disappointing seasons that were each hamstrung by injuries to key players, it was hard to know what to expect out of the 1956 version of the 49ers. As a player under Buck Shaw, Frankie Albert had taken on a role that was sometimes very close to that of an assistant. It was because of Albert’s scouting in the 1952 Hula Bowl, in fact, that Buck Shaw selected Hugh McElhenny in the draft later that year. It was yet to be seen how the experience and coaches instincts that Albert had demonstrated under Shaw would translate when he had all the power.

The 49ers opened their season at home against the New York Giants. After falling behind 24-0 in the first half, they went to the passing game to try to close the gap. Every time they hit New York, though, the Giants seemed ready to hit back, and despite Y. A. Tittle having what would prove to be one of his biggest games of the season, the 49ers would never get within 10, and ended up starting the Albert Era off on the wrong foot with a tough 38-21 loss.

The next week was like night and day, though. Hosting conference rivals Los Angeles, Tittle would end up having by far his quietest day of the season (and perhaps of his career as a starter), throwing for only 52 yards, and accounting for a grand total of 11 net passing yards on the day. But the 49ers running game was keyed in, and the defense spent the day wreaking havoc on Los Angeles ball carriers. After a series of first quarter field goals, Joe Perry and Hugh McElhenny combined for three touchdowns in the second half to put the game just barely out of reach. It was the defense, and their 7 takeaways, however, that stole the day and, more than likely, ensured the 30-33 victory.

That thrilling victory was the last that San Francisco would taste for a while, and the season got out of hand almost as quickly as it started. Beginning in Chicago with their first road game of the season, the 49ers would lose their next five games and fall completely out the race by the time the season was half over. The losing streak was capped by an embarrassing 6-30 loss to the Rams in Los Angeles on November 11.

At 1-6, which was as bad as the team had ever been since entering the NFL, the 49ers were pretty much at rock bottom, and it was only by the grace of a weak Green Bay Packers team that they started on the road out of what could have been a historically bad year. After weeks of bad football riddled by turnovers early deficits, the 49ers finally seemed to get back to what worked on Nov. 18. Controlling the game and protecting the ball with their dominating running game, the 49ers went for over 200 yards on the ground for only the third time all season and outpaced a Packers team that they would have demolished any other year in a 17-16 squeaker.

That would prove to be a turning point for the season, and after tying the Eagles on November 25t, the 49ers would manage to win out the rest of their season, a feat capped by their December 8 game against the same Packers that started it all. At 3-6-1 and with something to prove, the 49ers put together by far their best all around game of the season, combing a balanced and effective offensive gameplan with the best defensive showing of the year to crush the Packers (and a rookie Bart Starr) 20-38. After winning their final game against the Baltimore Colts, San Francisco finished the season 5-6-1, undefeated in their final five games, a far cry from the pitiful performances of less than two months earlier, and with a little bit of momentum heading into the offseason.

Player Profile: R. C. Owens

Long before the 49ers had Terrell Owens lining up wide, making things happen with his superior size, they had R. C. Owens playing split end, making things happen with his superior agility and leaping ability. He built his reputation as a receiver on his leaping ability, which was actually a skill that individually changed the 49ers’ offense during his time on the team.

Owens is best known with the 49ers for being the man on the receiving end of the team’s signature Alley-Oop pass plays of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, in which the quarterback would do little more than throw up a high, jump ball in the endzone. At the other end, all Owens had to do was jump over anybody who might be in the area. It was an exciting play and, because of Owens’ unique physical gifts, one that worked more often than not. The 49ers also used his leaping ability on special teams, and he once actually blocked a field goal by standing at the crossbar instead of the line of scrimmage and jumping to knock it away.

Owens played the first five years of his eight year career with the 49ers and had all of his best seasons with the team, including an incredible 1961 season in which he racked up 1,032 yards, 5 TDs, and 18.8 yards per reception. When he left the 49ers, he had 2926 of his eventual 3285 career receiving yards, and though he’s not remembered as one of the 49ers all-time greats, he is remembered as one of the most exciting, game changing players in team history.

After retiring, he really made his mark with the team, coming back as a member of the front office and remaining there for 23 years. Living with chronic kidney problems (and without complaint), which force him to be dialysis, he remains to this day as a consultant with the team and is another player who should always be remembered as a lifelong 49ers.

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