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49ers Year-by-Year: 1989

This is a brief historical recap of the San Francisco 49ers 1989 season. 1989 ushered in a new age for both the NFL and the 49ers, but how would it affect the product on the field? How could George Seifert possibly fill the shoes of Bill Walsh? 1989 would end up being one of the most memorable years in 49ers history. Read on to see why.





Opponent's Record:

Sept. 10

@ Indianapolis Colts

W: 30-24



Sept. 17

@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

W: 20-16



Sept. 24

@ Philadelphia Eagles

W: 38-28



Oct. 1

Los Angeles Rams

L: 13-12



Oct. 8

@ New Orleans Saints

W: 24-20



Oct. 15

@ Dallas Cowboys

W: 31-14



Oct. 22

New England Patriots

W: 20-37



Oct. 29

@ New York Jets

W: 23-10



Nov. 6

New Orleans Saints

W: 13-31



Nov. 12

Atlanta Falcons

W: 3-45



Nov. 19

Green Bay Packers

L: 21-17



Nov. 27

New York Giants

W: 24-34



Dec. 3

@ Atlanta Falcons

W: 23-10



Dec. 11

@ Los Angeles Rams

W: 30-27



Dec. 17

Buffalo Bills

W: 10-21



Dec. 24

Chicago Bears

W: 0-26




Jan. 6

Minnesota Vikings

W: 13-41



Jan. 14

Los Angeles Rams

W: 3-30



Jan. 28

N Denver Broncos

W: 55-10



Head Coach:
George Seifert

Key Losses: HC Bill Walsh, C Randy Cross, TE John Frank, ILB Riki Ellison, DE Dwaine Board, DE Jeff Stover

Key Additions: ILB Matt Millen, LB Keith DeLong

Before the 1989 season, longtime NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle announced that he would be retiring. Rozelle had been one of the key figures in the history of the league from almost the exact moment he took the office. He had presided over unprecedented league growth, including massive expansion and huge entertainment deals. He had been the face of the league for almost 40 years, and now that responsibility would fall on somebody else. That person would end up being Paul Tagliabue.

Rozelle wasn't the only league icon to step aside that offseason. 49ers' head coach Bill Walsh had struggled with his commitment to his position for what seemed like most of the decade. By the time the 49ers won the Super Bowl in 1988, he was mentally exhausted by the non-stop requirements of the job and emotionally exhausted by the highs and lows of the game itself. Having made his decision, he moved swiftly. Within three days of the Super Bowl victory, he met with Eddie DeBartolo and made his decision official with the team's owner. DeBartolo considered interviewing Jimmy Johnson for the position, but Walsh already knew who he thought the new head coach should be, and DeBartolo trusted his opinion.

George Seifert had already been in talks with both San Diego and Cleveland about their vacant jobs, but on his way to interview with the Browns, he got a message the Carmen Policy wanted to speak to him. That was all that he needed to hear. Seifert returned to San Francisco without ever reaching Cleveland. The coaching change was announced the next day.

The coaching announcement overshadowed the loss of a number of players who had played key roles for the team over the last few years, including Randy Cross, Dwaine Board, Jeff Stover, and John Franks, who retired at 27 to pursue a career in medicine. Another reason that these moves made little noise was that many of these players had already been supplanted on the depth chart by their replacements and, simply put, would not be missed.

The remaining players had a mixed reaction to the move. Some welcomed the change, while others were deeply sad to see him go. Still others, including Ronnie Lott, were maddened by what, to them, felt almost like a betrayal. All of them, however, felt a single, common desire, though: to prove that they could win without Walsh sitting behind the curtain. In a sense, they were the underdogs again, and all eyes would be on the defending world champions.

And the defending world champions put on a show. Opening the season with three road games, the 49ers pounced on both the Colts and the Buccaneers. Though the final scores were close, the 49ers only trailed once during both of these games, briefly during the first quarter in Tampa Bay. The game in Philadelphia wouldn't be so easy.

Jumping to an early lead against the Randall Cunningham led Eagles, the 49ers found themselves trailing by the end of the first quarter, and remained down by almost two touchdowns in the middle of the fourth quarter. And that's when Joe Montana came to life. All in all, the 49ers scored four touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone - all touchdowns and all to different receivers. Montana's 428-yard, 5 TD onslaught was too much for the Eagles, and the 49ers won by a score of 38-28.

If only homecoming could have been so nice. In the 49ers' home opener against the division rival Los Angeles Rams on October 1, all of the offense ran out. Jerry Rice was held to fewer than 100 yards receiving for the first time that season and the running game was ineffective. The Rams offense wasn't much better, but they had the benefit of scoring the only touchdown of the game, and that proved to be the difference maker.

But San Francisco was determined and dominant in a way that they hadn't been since 1984. After more late game heroics by Montana afforded them a victory in New Orleans, the 49ers wouldn't let anybody get close for weeks. Even just days after the Loma Prieta earthquake, playing a "home" game against the Patriots at Stanford Stadium while Candlestick underwent repairs, the 49ers were unstoppable. They had gone 15-1 in 1984, and the way they were playing now, a similar record was not out of the question.

A surprising loss to the Packers on November 19 ensured that they wouldn't finish the season with the same record as 1984, but it was little more than a hiccup, as the 49ers rounded out the remainder of their schedule with more and more impressive wins almost by the week. They marched into the playoffs after shutting out the Chicago Bears - a team that they had shared many bitter games with over the course of the decade.

And on January 6, the 49ers welcomed the Minnesota Vikings to San Francisco - another team that the 49ers had paired against in bitter postseason contests over the last few years. And aside from the taste in the mouths of Vikings players and fans, nothing would be bitter about the most recent matchup. The Vikings played much the same kind of football that Bill Walsh had deciphered a year before, and the 49ers took advantage of all of the same tendencies and weaknesses. The rout eventually, mercifully, ended by a score of 41-13.

Next would be the Rams. During the regular season, the Rams had handed the 49ers half of their total losses for the season. The division rivals were extremely familiar with each other, and neither would be willing to give an inch to the other. But the 49ers knew how to take an inch or two from their familiar foes, and by pressuring Jim Everett into bad throw after bad throw, the 49ers once again made it look easy.

The defending champs were back in the Super Bowl. Their opponent: the John Elway led Denver Broncos.

At this point, as good as Elway and the Broncos were, nobody expected anything but a 49ers victory. Many people had the 49ers winning the game by 14 points. In private, Bill Walsh admitted that he believed the difference would be greater than that. The most simple way to put things is that Denver matched up poorly against San Francisco in just about every category. Denver would struggle to generate any kind of pass rush. They would falter in coverage - but against Jerry Rice and John Taylor, what team wouldn't? They would struggle to even move the ball on offense. The game ended up being more than a blowout. More than a rout, even. The 49ers decimated the Broncos on January 28th, 1990. Montana threw for almost 300 yards and five touchdowns. Jerry Rice racked up almost 150 receiving yards and three touchdowns of his own. Roger Craig and Tom Rathman combined for more than 100 yards on the ground and three rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, John Elway barely eclipsed 100 yards through the air and managed two interceptions to no touchdowns.

The 49ers won their second Super Bowl in a row, this time by a commanding score of 55-10. It was the most lopsided Super Bowl in league history.

Historic Profile: Paul Tagliabue

Paul Tagliabue took over as commissioner of the NFL during the 1989 season, on October 26. He remained in that station for the next 17 years, until September of 2006.

Born in 1940, Tagliabue played basketball at Georgetown University under an athletic scholarship. Ho would not pursue a career in sports, though, and in 1965 he graduated from the New York University School of Law. His law degree would take him far, as he caught on as a lawyer for the NFL, a position that would eventually lead to his commissionership.

Under Pete Rozelle, the NFL had become a huge success. Between league expansion and unprecedented media deals, he almost singlehandedly turned the NFL into one of the most successful sports leagues in the nation. If there was any area in which his tenure had been a failure, it would have to be that the league was always at odds with the players while he was in charge, resulting in no fewer than two major strikes and continued unrest.

Tagliabue continued the successes of his predecessor. In early 1990, he announced a new, four-year television deal that was the largest in history at that point. The NFL only grew into a more and more profitable entertainment industry as a result. He also made sure to oversee league expansion, and oversaw the creation of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers in 1995.

But more importantly, he succeeded where Rozelle had failed. Under Tagliabue, the NFL experienced almost unheard of labor peace. In 1993, the NFL signed a seven-year collective bargaining agreement. From that point on, labor unrest would never be a serious issue for the NFL, for at least the duration of his tenure.

In 2009, Paul Tagliabue was elected into the NFL Hall of Fame. It's hard to argue that anybody could have been as important to the history of the league as Pete Rozelle, but it's just as hard to argue that Paul Tagliabue could have done a better job than he did during the 17 years that he was the commissioner of the NFL.

Primary References:

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