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49ers Year-by-Year: 1975

What follows is a brief historical recap of the San Francisco 49ers' 1975 season. Dealing with a huge amount of roster turnover over the last three years, including the losses of John Brodie, Dave Wilcox two starting halfbacks, two starting offensive lineman, two starting defensive lineman, the team appeared to be going backward fast. What could they do in 1975 to help stabilize things, and to right the ship? Also, the ongoing saga of one-time heir apparent Steve Spurrier becomes a do or die situation for the quarterback. At the end of everything, I cover a little bit of groung on Spurrier's fascinating journey through the NFL.





Opponent's Record:

Sept. 21

@ Minnesota Vikings

L: 17-27



Sept. 28

Los Angeles Rams

L: 23-14



Oct. 5

@ Kansas City Chiefs

W: 20-3



Oct. 12

Atlanta Falcons

L: 17-3



Oct. 19

New Orleans Saints

W: 21-35



Oct. 26

@ New England Patriots

L: 16-24



Nov. 2

Detroit Lions

L: 28-17



Nov. 9

@ Los Angeles Rams

W: 24-23



Nov. 16

Chicago Bears

W: 3-31



Nov. 23

@ New Orleans Saints

W: 16-6



Nov. 30

@ Philadelphia Eagles

L: 17-27



Dec. 7

Houston Oilers

L: 27-13



Dec. 14

@ Atlanta Falcons

L: 9-31



Dec. 21

New York Giants

L: 26-23



Head Coach: Dick Nolan

Key Losses: T Len Rhode, C Forrest Blue, DE/DT Bill Belk, LB Dave Wilcox, K Bruce Gossett

Key Additions: LB David Washington, DT Jimmy Webb, DT Cleveland Elam

In 1975, the NFL was still competing, as it were, with the fledgling World Football League. It wasn't stiff competition in the traditional sense, as the WFL was well on its way to total financial failure. However, in somewhat of a last ditch effort to make some money, the new league spent the offseason spending freely on NFL stars. They reached lucrative deals with dozens of high profile NFL deals, including the likes of players such as Ken Stabler and Larry Csonka. This, in turn, caused much-needed salary inflation in the NFL. Ultimately, that would be one of the biggest impacts of the WFL, as it would fold completely later in 1975.

Meanwhile, things were going downhill quickly for the 49ers. In 1974, instability at the quarterback position had crippled the team for most of the year. With Steve Spurrier out for most of the season with a severely separated shoulder and the alternatives taking turns giving the ball away, it wasn't until Tom Owen took over late in the year that the 49ers got any production from behind center. 1975 couldn't be as bad for the team in that respect, with Spurrier returning at full strength and Owen coming back to try to build on his late-season progress, there was reason to expect improvement - even if the overall prospects were still essentially unknown. Inexplicably, though, in the midst of such uncertainty, the 49ers still refused to sign or draft a quarterback as a contingency for the future.

Even without question marks at quarterback, though, the 49ers were continuing to hemorrhage players faster than they could replace them. They lost Len Rohde and Forrest Blue, nearly half of an offensive line that had spent years among the tops in the league. On the other side of the ball, they lost Bill Belk and Dave Wilcox. Wilcox's retirement especially was a gigantic loss. He had been a star in the league for years and years and was still young enough to be productive. Both defensive players were replaced through the draft, which was a strong long-term strategy, but didn't necessarily bode well for the immediate future.

Despite his strong showing at the end of the previous season, Tom Owen came into the season back on the depth chart behind Spurrier and league veteran Norm Snead, who they had acquired in a trade mid-season in 1974. Snead came out tops among the three in the first game of the year, but it wasn't enough to get the win against the Vikings. On the bright side, though, the defense played well, and that was a good sign.

The 49ers wouldn't meet the win column until the third week of the season, though. Snead got the call again and his moderate effectiveness complemented the continued strong play of the defense. But Kansas City wasn't a good team, and Snead's unspectacular brand of game management would have to improve going forward for the team to build on the win.

But things didn't get better. Over the next four games, the 49ers continued to sabotage stellar defensive efforts with uninspired and often sloppy offensive play. The only win they took out of the stretch was a 35-21 blowout of the Saints, who were going on their 9th consecutive season as one of the worst teams in the league. That would be the end for Snead as the 49ers, virtually eliminated already, decided to find out - finally - just what they would be able to get out of the now 30-year-old Steve Spurrier. Spurrier's career had been a slow burn up to this point, and despite sometimes showing flashes of the promise that had prompted the team to draft him as John Brodie's successor, he had rarely had an honest chance to make an impact on the field. The one season that he had a real chance, he lost to injury. This could very well be his last shot.

And it started out well. Against the Rams, Spurrier came out and put together the best quarterback performance of the season, stringing together 3 touchdowns and nearly 300 yards in a 24-23 victory. He threw two more over the next two weeks behind what were by now typically strong defensive performances, and just like that the Niners were back at .500 and in the thick of the race.

Spurrier had been the team savior once before in his career, only to fall apart in the most critical game of the season and lose the job again. This time, it wouldn't take that long for the breakdown. Behind a rebuilt offensive line and a running game that was becoming less existent by the week, Spurrier simply couldn't hold the offense together and, more than anything else, everything fell apart around him.

Despite a prolific day against the Eagles, Spurrier couldn't reach the end zone and the team turned again to Norm Snead late in an already lost game. Then, against the Oilers, the 49ers managed just five yards on the ground and nothing anybody could do, much less Spurrier, could salvage the win. But somebody had to take the fall, and by the last game of the season the desperate 49ers had put the ball back in Tom Owen's hands, of all people. Naturally, it didn't help and the 49ers finished the season with a fourth straight loss to fall to 5-9.

The third losing season in a row was the last straw, and Dick Nolan was fired following the end of the season.

Player Profile: Steve Spurrier

Steve Spurrier was drafted by the 49ers in 1967 to eventually challenged John Brodie for the starting job in San Francisco. At the time, Brodie was still struggling through the, quite lengthy, rough developmental patch in his own career. Through 1967, it was unclear whether or not a then 32-year-old Brodie would ever put all of his considerable tools together. At that age, the odds were certainly stacked against him.

Unfortunately for Spurrier, Brodie did put things together - and fast. In 1968, Brodie put up the second best season of his career, and by 1970 he was playing at a consistent all-star level. Spurrier wouldn't even get a crack at the job that had been a bad season away from being his for the taking in the late ‘60s until 1972. By that time, he was a 27-year-old taking over for an injured and ineffective star with the tacit understanding that, barring a miracle, he would be back on the bench when Brodie healed up.

Even so, he made the most of his first real cup of coffee, throwing for 18 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 yards in a partial season, and gave the coaches and the fans a legitimate reason to look forward to the future beyond John Brodie. Of course, though, he was back on the bench by the end of 1972.

He wouldn't get another chance until after Brodie retired following the 1973 season. Going into 1974, Spurrier was the hands-down starter, and the 49ers didn't even have a backup plan. When he got severely injured in a preseason game, everything fell apart. The team was directionless and he was suddenly another year older without having proven anything in the league. By 1975, he was completely healthy but, once again, fighting for his job. When veteran Norm Snead beat him out in the preseason, it was clear that he wouldn't have many more chances to take control of his own career.

He did get one chance, though, taking over for Snead in the middle of the season. Right off the bat, he showed exactly why he had once been considered the future of the team. But as quickly as it came, it fell apart again. The offense around him was a shambles and the quality of his own play declined with the unit around him. By the end of the season he was back on the bench - again. He wouldn't get another chance.

Spurrier finished his career in Tampa Bay in 1976, and then retired to get into coaching. The rest, as they say, is history.

Steve Spurrier's career with the 49ers was a combination of bad luck, bad timing, and his own personal shortcomings. In a more favorable situation, Spurrier could have been the next great 49ers quarterback, and his journey from being the future of the franchise to being benched for Norm Snead and Tom Owen is a fascinating one.

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