The San Francisco 49ers are inducting FB Tom Rathman into their Hall of Fame and on Wednesday, held his press conference in the 49ers museum at Levi’s Stadium. He spoke to the media off camera shortly after taking photos in front of his complete game worn uniform.
Rathman expressed being very humbled and honored to being enshrined in the 49ers museum. He gave much credit to fellow running back Roger Craig as the mentor who taught Rathman what the expectations were being a 49er: going to the playoffs every year. Craig’s wife was in the delivery room when Rathman’s wife gave birth to their first child while they were on a road trip in Milwaukee to play the Packers.
He described what he looked for in a running back:
In my opinion it’s probably your vision. You have to have great vision as a runner. Obviously if you got the good feet that’s going to put you in the position to have success as a runner. But here again, another a trait that I look for, and probably the number one trait that I look for other than vision and run skills is toughness. I mean if you got a tough guy, over my 19 years coaching and my eight years of playing, the one thing I found out is that if you have a tough guy, a physically tough guy, a mentally tough guy, those guys won’t let you down. You can ask them to do anything and know that they are going to get the job done.
Can you see that on film?
If you know what you’re looking for. I can see it on film and a lot of the stuff is what are they doing when they don’t have the ball. The ball’s over on the left hand side, and you’re on the right hand side, what are you doing? Are you standing there watching or are you working to the football and that’s a big emphasis of mine as a coach, always working to the football, get yourself involved in the play. I took that approach as a player.
As a fullback being inducted to the Hall of Fame here, I mean I think it speaks volumes because the full back position doesn’t get a lot of notoriety. I mean how many fullbacks are in the Hall of Fame, in the NFL Hall of Fame? I don’t know. Not very many I don't think.
(The answer is five in the modern era: Jim Brown 1957-1965, Larry Csonka 1968-1979, John Henry Johnson 1954-1966, Marion Motley 1946-1953 & 1955, Joe Perry 1948-1963, Jim Taylor 1958-1967.)
Rathman didn’t scout college players this year, but is familiar with 49ers new fullback Kyle Juszczyk and after seeing the $4 million price tag, thinks he played in the wrong era. He gave his scouting report on Juszczyk coming out of Harvard.
I think he’s got run skills, I think he can catch the ball. Biggest challenge for him is probably blocking. I don’t know how much he’s been working on it since the few years that he’s been in the league. I don’t know how much they ask him to do that, but obviously that’s one thing you have to do if you're going to be a successful fullback.
To the running backs Rathman coached last season, including Carlos Hyde, he advises they hold onto the ball better. It was the one thing that disappointed Rathman the most. He emphasizes taking care of the football, always has, and no one on the RB roster was immune from fumble-itis in 2016. Rathman’s well known motto is “squeeze it!” He did follow up saying Hyde was a quality back that runs violently.
He added his thoughts on the now rare position he played:
It’s good to have a fullback on your roster. It changes the game. A guy can really impact the game if you have a good one.
Here’s a transcript of comments during the formal press conference.
49ers CEO Jed York’s Opening Comments:
“Good morning. Thank you very much for being here today. This is a very special day. Anytime we talk about the 49ers and the great history, you think about the people that embody the 49ers and that’s what the Hall of Fame is about. I don’t think anybody epitomizes being a 49er more than Tom Rathman. Tom’s been a Niner for 23 years, 15 years coaching, eight years playing. He’s won two Super Bowls. Anytime you talk to my uncle [Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr.] it’s hard for him not to gush about any player, and I don’t think that’s a surprise to anyone. But, my grandfather [Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr.], who didn’t talk a lot about players, he always had a favorite and it was Tom. They liked to go to the racetrack together in Oklahoma City. They had a good relationship and a good rapport, and I remember how much my grandfather talked about Tom’s toughness. Nothing comes to my mind more than the championship game in ’88 when we went to Chicago, ’88 season, January of ’89. It’s negative 26, 27 degrees and everybody is talking about the weak 49ers from the West Coast coming to Chicago and how are they going to deal with the elements and they dealt with it with Tom Rathman coming out, short sleeves, nothing on underneath his uniform and just didn’t let it bother him. And that was his mentality. That was his toughness. And he brought that as a player. All of his teammates saw it. All of his coaches saw it, and he certainty brought it as a coach. And, the person that I see that most with is [former 49ers and current Indianapolis RB] Frank Gore. Frank learned so much from being around Tom Rathman and I know how much Frank respects and loves Tom and I don’t think anybody loves and respects Tom as much as I do. It’s my honor to introduce Tom Rathman into the San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame.”
Former 49ers RB Tom Rathman’s Opening Comments:
“I just want to practice a little bit. With the 34th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers select [San Jose Mercury News reporter] Cam Inman, offensive guard. I’m just practicing. I’m going to Philly tomorrow to announce the 49ers second round draft pick on Friday. What an amazing honor to stand up here and to say that I’m the 27th inductee of the Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr. Sports Hall of Fame. It’s very special to me. As Jed had said, I had a very special relationship with Senior. He was a horse racing guy, had three tracks at the time. Went to Oklahoma City with him to the Remington Park Derby and then spent a couple times with him at the Kentucky Derby. So, he was a horse racing guy and everybody that knows me, knows that I love the horses. So, that was our association that we had in common and loved it. Loved being around him, just what he stood for and that speaks volumes for the museum here, all the inductees prior to me getting inducted into it. High standard when you talk about the DeBartolo family, not only Eddie’s father, but Eddie himself and I’m proud to say I’m the 27th inductee of the sports hall of fame, very proud of that moment. Anybody have any questions? We can open it up to the floor here for questions. I know you’ve got something [NBCSportsBayArea.com reporter] Matt [Maiocco].”
You’ve been a part of this organization for so long. You’re not back on the coaching staff. What are your thoughts on for the first time not being part of this organization, but the bigger picture being a forever part of this building here?
“Well, it’s not the first time I had to leave this organization. I left as a player in ’94 and finished my career with the L.A. Raiders. The second time I had to leave after my first stint here as a coach after the 2002 season, I left for four seasons. Actually, it was longer than four seasons. It was six seasons. I spent three years in Detroit, sat out a year, just like I’m doing this year, and then got back out to the West Coast with the Oakland Raiders at that time as a coach. After those two years there, I got a call from the 49ers. My contact ran out and there was some interest about coming back here and I didn’t hesitate at all to tell them that I was interested, because I believe that as a player, as an individual that gives everything that you have for an organization, you always want to be accepted by them and eventually you want to work for them as long as you can. I’ve been able to do that 22 years, 23 if you talk about the ’96 season, so I’m very proud of that.”
During your playing career, did you ever think that you’d develop such a love for coaching?
“Oh yeah. I felt like I was a coach out on the field. Probably after maybe about the ’88 season, when Jed had talked about that championship that we beat Cincinnati, started putting a little bit of a leadership role on myself. Really, you talk about leadership, you talk about leading by example and that’s one thing that I tried to do each and every day, tried to get somebody better every day, whether I’m a player or a coach, and play at a high level. And you talk about consistency. That’s the key, is consistency. It’s not having peaks and valleys, so to speak, in your play. It’s about playing consistent football and I took a lot of pride in those factors.”
You were a coach for twice as long as you were a player. As you stand here today, what do you feel like more, a player or a coach?
“I just feel like a football guy. I don’t necessarily want to say I’m more of a coach or more of a player. My approach is the same. Like I said, I tried to get somebody better every day. I tried to make the players better that I worked with as a coach. As a player, I tried to play at the expectations that the organization anticipated. I think that was one of the keys back in the day, why the 49ers were so good is the expectation of playing at the level of winning football and you just try to uphold that and show it every week and eventually your teammates take note of that and you may elevate their game.”
Jed mentioned Frank Gore. A few years from now we may be talking about Frank Gore in the Hall of Fame.
“You should be.”
What would be your pitch for getting Frank into Canton?
“For Canton? You just look at what he’s done year in and year out. Here’s a guy, I think he’s going on 12 or 13 right now and he’s still playing at a fairly high level. I talk to him every week and I just tell him every time I talk to him, ‘Don’t screw it up. So, you’ve got a great opportunity to get into Canton as a Hall of Famer. Just don’t screw it up.’ He’s well deserving. Just all the little things that he does. Here’s a guy that, you want to talk about being a complete player and that’s one thing I try to develop in players is being complete. We don’t want to have any weaknesses because if you have weaknesses, you’ll get exposed eventually. Playing at that high level in every role that you get an opportunity to play in is critical and I think he’s played at a high level in the roles that he’s been put in.”
Was your Super Bowl win over the Broncos the most special game you’ve been a part of in your 49ers career, player or coach?
“I mean, it was probably one of the funnest. There’s been a lot of special games. When you’re able to play belong side [former 49ers RB] Roger Craig, [former 49ers T] Harris Barton, players like that and sweat and bleed together. I think that speaks volumes as a football player and that’s what it’s all about. I don’t really have one situation or one game that I’m proud of. I’m proud of every time I stepped out on the field. I tried to be the same guy, same player every time I stepped out there. I tried to be the same coach every game that I coached. Be the same guy every day and just try to get people better.”
How did this come about? When did you get the phone call that this was going to happen?
“Well, I think it had been in the works and I’ve got to give a lot of credit to [vice president of football affairs] Keena [Turner] and [team consultant] Harry Edwards. I think they were two guys that pushed the envelope to try and get me in here. Keena asked if since you’re sitting out this year, we’re going to do it sooner or later and he asked me if I’d rather wait until I was done with football, you know, I retired from coaching to do it or do it this year and I said let’s do it this year. I really don’t have anything going on this year. So, I’ve got the time, let’s get it done now. I’ll be in the Bay Area for this year until I have to hopefully get a job next year and then go someplace else. So, perfect timing.”
“I just want to end it up here with really when you talk about how I got here, I would say a lot of the credit is deserving of my wife, Holly [Rathman]. She’s standing back here in the back. Holly is my rock. She makes sure that I’m steady Eddie every day. As a player, she took care of me. Every game I came home, every Sunday night, getting the ice bag, making sure I was OK, making sure that I was getting ready to go for the next week and then just the support that she gave me as a coach. She can be a coach herself. If you go back and really I should have said when I talked about the 34th pick, and I know you’re looking for a quarterback, where’s [general manager] John [Lynch]? You’re looking for a quarterback. You go back to I believe it was about 1988 or ’87 when the 49ers wives played the San Jose Police Department. If you’re looking for a quarterback, she’s right back there. She doesn’t meet all the measurables, but when you talk about heart, you talk about passion, when you talk about knowledge of the game, there’s nobody that knows it better than Holly. So, I want to thank her. I want to thank my kids for the support that they’ve given me over the years, and it’s hard as a player and as a coach because there’s such ebb and flow in your emotions and to have the support at home I think speaks volumes and I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m standing here today is because of my wife, Holly. So, love you hun.”