On Tuesday, it was announced that former San Francisco 49ers tackle Keith Fahnhorst passed away. He was 66.
Many people remember Fahnhorst for entire career with the 49ers, but what many may not realize is what he saw during that time. Fahnhorst was one of the fortunate people to go from nothing to greatness. He was drafted with a second round pick in the 1974 NFL draft. For the next five years, Fahnhorst would sit on a team in mediocrity, getting an eight-win season (a winning season based on NFL schedules back then) only once. When Bill Walsh arrived, nothing seemed to change with a two-win season.
But then in 1981 things changed. The Catch sent the 49ers to the Super Bowl and began a dynasty. One that Fahnhorst would see two Super Bowls and a Pro Bowl with. He was a longstanding anchor, one who saw the 49ers absolute worst and provided that veteran leadership when things got better. He knew what mediocrity did, and that helped him when he was suddenly working with some of NFL’s elite.
This wasn’t a two-year turnaround for him, like when Dwight Clark and Joe Montana were drafted. He was through coaches, management, ownership changes.
And the 49ers have a modern day Fahnhorst. His name is Joe Staley.
Staley began with a head coach that would soon be fired (Mike Nolan), and the next in line wouldn’t be much better (Mike Singletary). He’d tast success with Jim Harbaugh but that wouldn’t last, the team would inevitably be broken up and he’d return to mediocrity.
Now with John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, Staley has a reason to be optimistic. He’s seen mediocrity, he’s seen success, and he’s the only one who’s been with the team through it all. He has the respect of the locker room and provides the knowledge and wisdom of someone who has seen the best and worst of the sole team they played for. Much like Fahnhorst was with the 49ers. It’s a safe bet to assume that Staley won’t be going anywhere else for the rest of his career either.
Staley, like Fahhorst, is a locker room leader. The glue of a team who has the respect of everyone both offensive and defensive.
It’s hard to wonder what the 49ers would have been like without underrated leadership of Fahnhorst, and it’s sickening to think how much lower the team would go without Staley helping keep things together now.