The San Francisco 49ers are one of the NFL’s most successful franchises. The team’s run during the 80s and 90s made them popular among fans as the brand began to grow and they developed into one of the league’s legacy organizations.
Owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. took over the team in 1977. The 49ers went 7-23 during DeBartolo’s first two seasons at the helm, which prompted him to make significant changes.
DeBartolo made the best hire of his tenure when he signed Bill Walsh as head coach. Walsh had spent the previous two seasons in the collegiate ranks with Stanford.
The 49ers went 8-24 over Walsh’s first years, but the groundwork was set for a dynasty to emerge.
Led by Joe Montana, Dwight Clark and Ronnie Lott, the 49ers won the NFC West with a 13-3 record. The Niners took care of the New York Giants in their postseason opener, setting the stage for a showdown against the hated Dallas Cowboys.
The game was as good as advertised. The Cowboys held a 27-21 lead with less than a minute to go, and the 49ers faced a third-and-3 from the Dallas 6-yard line when one of the most famous plays in NFL history occurred.
San Francisco was a historically great team from then on, only missing the playoffs twice (1982, 1991) over the next 17 seasons. The 49ers won a total of five Lombardi Trophies through the 80s and 90s and were loaded with big names like Montana, Clark, Lott, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, Charles Hayley, Steve Young, John Taylor Merton Hanks and countless others.
Here is a look at the stats from the five Super Bowl-winning squads:
*All DVOA stats courtesy of Football Outsiders; traditional stats are per Pro Football Reference.
1981: Passing offense (No. 7), rushing offense (No. 19)
Defense: Total yards allowed (No. 2), total sacks (No. 13)
1983: Offensive DVOA (No. 1), defensive DVOA (No. 8), total DVOA (No. 1)
Offense: Passing yards (No. 4), rushing yards (No. 3)
Defense: Total yards allowed (No. 1), total sacks (No. 11)
1988: Offensive DVOA (No. 4), defensive DVOA (No. 4), total DVOA (No. 3)
Offense: Passing yards (No. 10), rushing yards (No. 2)
Defense: Total yards allowed (No. 3), total sacks (No. 9)
1989: Offensive DVOA (No. 1), defensive DVOA (No. 5), total DVOA (No. 1)
Offense: Passing yards (No. 2), rushing yards No. 10)
Defense: Total yards allowed (No. 4), total sacks (No. 8)
Kyle wrote a great piece on the ‘89 team that summarizes the season and dominant playoff run.
1994: Offensive DVOA (No. 1), defensive DVOA (No. 7), total DVOA (No. 3)
Offense: Passing yards (No. 4), rushing yards (No. 6)
Defense: Total yards allowed (No. 8), total sacks (No. 9)
Steve Young had led the NFL in passer rating four straight years and won the 1994 MVP.— NFL Throwback (@nflthrowback) October 3, 2018
But the @49ers QB still remained somewhat in the shadow of Joe Montana, criticized for "not being able to win the big game."
Then came Super Bowl XXIX. (Jan. 29, 1995) pic.twitter.com/aRmqbIrXe8
While the 49ers were terrible for most of the early 2000s, the team made a resurgence when Jim Harbaugh was hired as head coach in 2011.
The 2011 squad came out of nowhere to go 13-3 and made it to the NFC Championship Game, ultimately falling short against the New York Giants. *We all know the major reason why, so let’s move on from that.
In 2012, the 49ers were a juggernaut, going 11-4-1. Colin Kaepernick blazed onto the NFL scene and appeared to be unstoppable as a dual-threat quarterback.
Kaepernick torched the 181 rushing yards, and two scored, leading the 49ers to a 45-31 win over the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round.
Throwback to 2013 where Colin Kaepernick tore up the Packers. The man took the league by storm quickly and that 49ers team was tough— Sports Talk and Clips (@talk_debates) January 10, 2021
The 49ers followed that up with a 17-point comeback against the No. 1 seeded Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship, defeating them 28-24 to advance to the Super Bowl.
The loss to the Baltimore Ravens is still frustrating until this day. Down by five, the Niners drove the ball down the field and set themselves up with a first-and-goal on the Ravens’ seven-yard line. Inexplicably, running back Frank Gore didn’t even get a touch. LaMichael James had a two-yard run that got the 49ers to Baltimore’s five-yard line.
Then, three incompletions to Michael Crabtree and it was over. I was left to ponder why Harbaugh hadn’t at least tried rushing the ball one more time, even with the Ravens protecting against the run.
Even though the 2012 49ers team came up short, they were still a joy to watch and should have come away with the franchise's sixth Lombardi Trophy.
With so many people in our community coming from different backgrounds, I figure we will get a wide range of answers to the question: What 49ers team is your favorite of all time?
The Harbaugh teams were intense, mean and played with aggression. Harbaugh went 44-19-1 over his four seasons and was beloved by many of The Faithful before his contract wasn’t renewed. As much as those years were some of my most memorable as a 49ers fan, I would choose a team from very recent history.
I would have to go with the 2019 squad. Everything just felt right about the 49ers that season. Coming off a disappointing 2018 campaign where Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt in Week 3, it felt like the football world was overlooking the Niners, especially after getting Nick Bosa at No. 2 in the draft.
The fact they were pegged to be a middle-of-the-pack team before the season started and came out of nowhere to become a juggernaut made 2019 feel special. I began to get the feeling this team was for real after the Week 5 beatdown of the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football.
Kyle Shanahan is an excellent head coach due to his amazing offensive scheme. Couple that with a top-flight defense that dominated opponents in 2019, and the team was simply fun to watch.
The personalities of guys like Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman, George Kittle, and Joe Staley make the squad easy to cheer for. The chemistry and the bond in the locker room that year were something special. You can tell how much affection the players on the 2019 team had for each other.
The team ran all over the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers to advance to the Super Bowl. After playing well and controlling the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs’ offense, everything fell apart in the fourth quarter.
It was a tough pill to swallow, but the belief was that the 49ers would go on a revenge tour in 2020, but injures killed any hope of that.
For someone who was born in the 80s, I was too young to watch and appreciate the Joe Montana and Jerry Rice-led 49ers. I remember cheering for the 94 championship team, but my age kept me from truly understanding how great that team was and what it meant to see your team win a title.
What is your favorite 49ers team of all time?