Jerry Rice. Joe Montana. Steve Young. Dwight Clark. Terrell Owens. Roger Craig. John Taylor. Frank Gore. The list doesn’t stop there when discussing the greatest players to wear a 49er helmet.
When mentioning the Niners greats, we often jump to the offensive side of the ball — and for a good reason. But today, we’re keeping it on the defensive side of the ball.
Offense dominates most of the football discussion. That’s true for any team. Think about last year, where San Francisco was above average thanks to explosive plays but was a top-5 defense without a household name in the secondary — not to mention starting a cornerback that was signed off the street for most of the season.
Yet, all we talked about were the quarterbacks and Deebo Samuel. So today, we’ll give the 49ers’ defense their due.
There are some players who you could argue would make Mount Rushmore no matter what. For example, Charles Haley had 66.5 sacks (12 as a rookie) and was a game-changer for the Niners defense en route to Super Bowl XXXII and XXIV.
Ronnie Lott had one of the most impressive rookie seasons of all time. He had seven interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns. Lott was an All-Pro and finished sixth in the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year voting. Lott is a shoo-in for Defensive Rookie of the Year any other year.
That’s only half of the defensive Mount Rushmore. Names like Fred Dean, Bryant Young, and Justin Smith all have arguments. You can’t talk about defense on this team without bringing up Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman. Oh, and that Deion Sanders guy was decent.
There are plenty of other names who deserve to be mentioned. The beauty of this question is there are no wrong answers, and they’ll vary based on when you began watching the Niners.
Let’s hear your answers.