clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

49ers Year-by-Year: 1984

I would like you to enjoy a brief historical recap of the San Francisco 49ers' historic 1984 season. After 1982 and 1983, the 49ers were still a team without a definite or recognized identity as a true league power. They felt differently in their hearts, however, and this will show you how that determination, fire, and - well - sheer superiority of coaching and talent, played out to establish, once and for all, the dominance that they knew they were capable of.





Opponent's Record:

Sept. 2

@ Detroit Lions

W: 30-27



Sept. 10

Washington Redskins

W: 31-37



Sept. 16

New Orleans Saints

W: 20-30



Sept. 23

@ Philadelphia Eagles

W: 21-9



Sept. 30

Atlanta Falcons

W: 5-14



Oct. 8

@ New York Giants

W: 31-10



Oct. 14

Pittsburgh Steelers

L: 20-17



Oct. 21

@ Houston Oilers

W: 34-21



Oct. 28

@ Los Angeles Rams

W: 33-0



Nov. 4

Cincinnati Bengals

W: 17-23



Nov. 11

@ Cleveland Browns

W: 41-7



Nov. 18

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

W: 17-24



Nov. 25

@ New Orleans Saints

W: 35-3



Dec. 2

@ Atlanta Falcons

W: 35-17



Dec. 8

Minnesota Vikings

W: 7-51



Dec. 14

Los Angeles Rams

W: 16-19




Dec. 29

New York Giants

W: 10-21



Jan. 6

Chicago Bears

W: 0-23



Jan. 20

N: Miami Dolphins

W: 38-16



Head Coach:
Bill Walsh

Key Losses: LB Willie Harper, NT Pete Kugler

Key Additions: NT Manu Tuiasosopo, P Max Runager, LB Mike Walter, NT Michael Carter, LB Jim Fahnhorst, DB Jeff Fuller, G Guy McIntyre

Between 1983 and 1984, the Baltimore Colts moved from Maryland to Indiana, where they would be known as the Indianapolis Colts. It was also in this year that the NFL began to issue unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for excessive or premeditated celebration, a proud tradition that has been altered, adapted, and always upheld through the years.

For the 49ers, 1984 was a milestone season before it ever began. As 1983 had progressed, the team had begun to pick up steam. When they lost the NFC championship game to the Washington Redskins, in part because of two controversial penalties, a fire was lit. Nobody on the team thought that the Redskins had been the better team, and nobody had taken the loss lightly. They resolved then that 1984 wouldn't end for them until the last second ticked off of the scoreboard in the Super Bowl - and that no team would be allowed to put them in the position they had found themselves in against the Redskins.

Hardly a blip on the screen in 1983, the second-year United State Football League (USFL) was beginning to attract some NFL talent. Though the NFL was largely unaffected by the competition, the 49ers felt the effects as defensive starters Pete Kugler and Willie Harper both left the team to play in the new league and would need to be replaced.

It was under these circumstances that Walsh orchestrated one of the most complete offseasons he would put together as a head coach. His trademark was always the draft, and this season was no exception. In the first two rounds he drafted linebacker Todd Shell and tight end John Frank. Shell's career would come to an abrupt end after an injury, but Frank would be a pleasant presence for the 49ers before he retired early in 1988 to pursue a career as a doctor. But in the third round, Walsh got started. He drafted undersized guard Guy McIntyre that round, and then waited another two rounds to grab nosetackle Michael Carter. Then, he used his second pick in the fifth round to grab tweener defenseman Jeff Fuller, listed as a corner but somewhat oversized for the position. Each of these players would make significant contributions to the team's success in the coming years.

Walsh wasn't content with the draft, though, and sent away multiple future draft picks for veteran depth on the defense, including nosetackle Manu Tuiasosopo.

Preoccupied with bringing in talent, the 49ers were experiencing some trouble with the players they already had. A number of key contract disputes affected minicamps and preseason. Each of Fred Dean, Ronnie Lott, Freddie Solomon held out because of this, Dean's holdout lasting well into the season.

By the start of the season, though, the team was almost uniformly focused on one thing: the Super Bowl.

And they started out with a bang. After a hard-fought win over the Lions in Detroit to start the year out, things seemed to get easier and easier for the 49ers with every passing week. In something of a revenge game in week two, the 49ers hosted the Redskins. They jumped out early and often to take a 27-3 lead by halftime. This time it was the Redskins who mounted an unlikely comeback, only to fall short in the end of the game. The 49ers won by less than a touchdown, but they never trailed and the game rarely felt like it was even close.

Then they beat the Saints by 10, the Eagles by 12, the Falcons by nine and the Giants by 20 to jump out to a perfect 6-0 record. The perfect season would suffer a hiccup at home in week seven, though. Playing the 3-3 Steelers at home, the 49ers simply couldn't turn their possessions into points. Though they battled to take the lead as late as the fourth quarter, the 49ers got a harsh reminder of what could happen if they left their opponents in a game. Late in the fourth quarter Eric Wright committed a pass-interference on the goal line that set up the Steelers' winning touchdown. The penalty was questionable and even Walsh fumed over the call, but the loss was valid and the team left the game angry.

From that point on, it seemed like nobody could touch them. After their loss to the Steelers, the 49ers outscored their opponents 295 - 105. Only the Bengals and the Rams even came close, but nobody could stop the full-fledged avalanche that the 49ers had become, and they finished the season 15-1 to complete one of the best regular seasons in the history of the NFL.

But a 15-1 record meant nothing to the team if they fell short in the playoffs again. Every day that had passed since the 49ers lost to the Redskins to miss the Super Bowl in 1983 had been a day dedicated to the idea that anything but a Super Bowl win in 1984 would be an abject failure.

Though San Francisco had been a nearly unstoppable force during the regular season, in large part due to the continued improvement of Montana in Walsh's system, Wendell Tyler's improvements holding onto the ball, Roger Craig perfectly complementing Tyler in the backfield and giving Montana another option on passing downs, the health of Roger Craig, the health of Dwight Clark, the career defining seasons of Dwaine Board and Eric Wright, and the move of Ronnie Lott from corner to safety, the improved all-around depth, many people still sold them short throughout the playoffs.

All they did to answer those questions was to manhandle the New York Giants and Chicago Bears in consecutive weeks. The Bears and their now legendary 46 defense had been popular favorites in the NFC Championship game, but found themselves outplayed and outcoached on gameday. The 49ers countered the vaunted defense with a varied and fast-paced offensive attack that focused on isolating linebacker Mike Singletary by blocking him with a lineman instead of a back as often as possible and terrorizing everybody else with surgical short routes and a diverse running attack. On the other side of the ball, the defense played one of the best games they might have ever played, sacking Chicago quarterback Steve Fuller nine times and holding him to well under 100 total yards. The result was a 21-0 shutout and a trip to Stanford Stadium to meet Dan Marino and the Dolphins in the Super Bowl.

Even after crushing the Bears, the 49ers were still regarded as almost heavy underdogs to the Dolphins. Even with Montana and Tyler and Solomon and Clark and Craig running on all cylinders, it was the Dolphins historically strong offense, led by Marino, Mark Clayton, Mark Duper and the three-pronged running attack of Woody Bennett, Tony Nathan, and Joe Carter, that got all the press. As good as the 49ers' defense was and as well as they had played as recently as the NFC Championship game, nobody gave them a chance of stopping Marino.

Montana took the Marino coverage personally, and Walsh was writing up a gameplan that would let him properly express himself on the only stage that mattered. Walsh saw weakness in the Dolphins' linebacking corps, and put Roger Craig to the task of exposing it. Keeping the linebackers busy with Craig would give Montana room to run.

By the time the teams were warming up before the game, Walsh knew that the Dolphins were the inferior team. Watching them on the field, he could see that they simply didn't match up physically with his team, and that confidence transferred to his players.

It didn't show up right away in the box score, though. After the first quarter, the Dolphins were leading the game 10-7 and Marino was moving the ball smoothly. Then, the 49ers switched their defense to a full-time nickel package. This would open the Dolphins up to using their running game, but Walsh and the 49ers weren't concerned by that prospect. They believed that by stopping Marino, they would stop the Dolphins. And they were right.

Miami became frustrated on offense while the 49ers only picked up steam. In the second quarter the 49ers score three times, once on a touchdown pass from Montana to Craig, once on a six yard Montana run, and once on a two yard Craig run. Walsh's offensive plan was working like a charm.

By halftime, the 49ers were winning 28-16, and the game finished quietly in a lopsided 38-16 49ers championship.

The 49ers had set out to do nothing but win a Super Bowl. All they did was exactly what they set out to do, while having arguably the best season in NFL history in the process.

1985 was going to be fun.

Player Profile: Jeff Fuller

Jeff Fuller was drafted by the 49ers in the fifth round of the 1984 NFL draft. It was a difficult position for the rookie to be in. Most scouts thought that he was too big to play corner but too small to play safety. More than that, he was coming onto a team with four pro-bowl caliber players deeply entrenched as starters in the defensive backfield. Bill Walsh, George Seifert and Ray Rhodes liked what they saw in him, though, and they made sure that he had ample opportunities to play in his rookie season, penciling him in as the fifth defensive back in the nickel package.

Fuller was a hard worker and a notoriously hard hitter. By the time he broke into the starting lineup in 1987, he had been converted to strong safety and was playing opposite Ronnie Lott. He started 33 games over the next three years, but then in 1989 disaster struck. Because of the Loma Prieta earthquake, the 49ers were playing Patriots at Stanford Stadium on October 22 instead of at Candlestick Park. Early in the game, Fuller made a routine tackle - at least for him - on running back John Stephens. The tackle may have been one that he'd made a hundred times before, but the result was devastating. Three of his vertebrae were ripped from his spine and, though conscious and calm, he was left unable to move.

In a stroke of nearly divine luck, so much as the event could be termed lucky, the fact that the game was being played at Stanford likely saved his long-term health. He was rushed to the Stanford medical center where he received the best treatment available. It took time, but he eventually regained almost all his mobility. He still suffers some paralysis in one arm.

Even though the NFL lacks an adequate health care system for its injured and retired players, Eddie DeBartolo stepped up to the plate on Fuller's behalf and helped set up an annuity that would ensure the defensive back would never be wanting for money.

After the injury, Fuller settled down and started a family. He has continued to be active in football, and his son, Jeff Fuller Jr. is even playing for Texas A&M.

Primary References:

Glenn Dickey, San Francisco 49ers: The First 50 Years. Turner Publishing Inc. 1995

Matt Maiocco, San Francisco 49ers: Where Have You Gone?. Sports Publishing LLC, 2005

My gratitude, as always, to Grumpy Guy, who continues to go (well) out of his way to make sure that I can deliver the best product possible.