There's gold in them thar hills. We aren’t talking about the precious metal, nor are we talking about just any hills. We're talking about the city of San Francisco and its precious NFL team, the 49ers.
The San Francisco 49ers are among the most storied franchises in all of professional football. As of 2018, they are tied with the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots for the second most Super Bowl wins, behind the Pittsburgh Steelers, and almost 30 of the franchise's players (plus one owner and one coach) are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
A franchise with this much success surely has a past worth delving into, and former players worth examining a little closer.
Origin of the Name
The 49ers became an official team in 1946, but the roots of their name go back much further, to the 1800s in fact. Miners first struck gold in Northern California in 1848, but the famous California gold rush did not begin until 1849. Nearly 100 years later, the area's football team sought the same fortune on the gridiron.
A History of the 49ers Rise to Power
The 49ers are a franchise nearly synonymous with championships, but they didn’t gain that reputation from the start. First, they had to fight off the Cleveland Browns.
That's right, one of the NFL's most futile franchises actually dominated the All-American Football Conference many years ago. When the AAFC merged with the NFL in 1950, the 49ers continued to struggle, suffering their first losing season.
Despite having five of the Hall of Famers that we will look further into later, the 1950’s 49ers teams only made it to the postseason once, in 1957. It took 30 more years for them to become a powerhouse, but when they did, they shook up the league. Starting in 1982, the 49ers began an era of domination seeing them win their five Super Bowls in just over 10 years, also winning in 1985, 1989, 1990, and 1995. They also won six NFC championships during this amazing stretch.
San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame Roster
Let's meet the Pro Football Hall of Famers who were instrumental to the 49ers’ success.
There are many players who have made it into the 49ers Hall of Fame, the team's personal shrine, but with so many, we limited our list to just players inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Look into the careers of team founder Tony Morabito and his brother, managing owner Vic Morabito, for just a taste of what else lies in store when you explore this franchise even deeper.
For now, let's get to the biggest of the big guns. These are all of the players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who have worn a 49ers jersey.
Perry earned his nickname, "The Jet," for his speed as a running back. He was the first player to gain more than 1,000 yards in consecutive years, the 1953 and 1954 seasons. Between rushing and receiving, he gained 12,532 net yards, and he played in three Pro Bowls in his career.
The defensive tackle holds the distinction of being the first ever draft pick in 49ers’ history. For his pass rushing skills, Nomellini, who earned the nickname "The Lion," played in 10 Pro Bowls, and earned the title of the NFL's All-Time Defensive Tackle.
Tittle is one of many 49ers who have accumulated a plethora of awards during their career. Playing over 17 NFL seasons as a quarterback, he won the MVP three times and was elected to seven Pro Bowls. Ever humble, he attributed most of his success to his coaches, who he tried to mirror.
Here we have yet another 49er with an excellent nickname. McElhenny was called "The King," and the halfbacks 60 total touchdowns show why.
John Henry Johnson
While his 48 touchdowns do not quite reach the heights of McElhenny's 60, John Henry Johnson proved himself as a well-rounded fullback during his time in the league. Over 13 seasons, he caught the ball 186 times, and he rushed for 6,803 yards.
The shared last name is mere coincidence, but Jimmy Johnson did play for the 49ers five years after John Henry Johnson left. He was also a defensive player rather than an offensive powerhouse.
Make no mistake, Jimmy Johnson was every bit the terror on defense as his namesake was on offense. As a cornerback, he terrified opposing passers with his incredible leaps and superhuman speed. He fully lived up to his status as the 49ers number one draft pick in 1961.
As scary as Jimmy Johnson may have made opposing teams, Dave Wilcox earned a nickname for the fear he imposed, "The Intimidator." His aggressive play earned the outside linebacker the respect of his peers and a reputation as one of the most outstanding players of his position in his era.
Bob St. Clair
Bob St. Clair added an element of fun to the teams he played on. His teammates called him "The Geek" because of his peculiar habits, such as eating his meat only raw.
St. Clair's defense matched the flair of his lifestyle. In 1956, the tackle racked up 10 blocked field goals.
Joe Montana may be the greatest 49er ever to live, and many will tell you he is the greatest quarterback of all time. He is certainly the most recognizable name on this list, for the way he permeated pop culture if not for his gaudy numbers.
In 15 seasons, "Joe Cool" accumulated 40,551 passing yards, becoming one of only 11 total quarterbacks who have passed for more than 40,000 yards in their careers.
Montana also has the hardware that further adds to his storied career. He led the 49ers to four Super Bowl wins, and he won Super Bowl MVP three times. There is little doubt that Montana was the face of the franchise during much of their success.
Fred Dean started playing for the 49ers in 1981, but the NFL did not start counting sacks as a statistic until 1982. This puts Dean's sack total in question, but the consensus is that he earned more than 100 over the course of his 11-season career. Dean is just another on the list of garden-variety terrifying pass rushers in 49ers’ history.
Lott appeared on those great, Super Bowl-winning 49ers teams of the 1980s, and his clutch performances in the postseason contributed greatly to those wins. The safety made nine postseason interceptions, but those are nothing compared to the 63 total interceptions he compiled in his career. Many experts consider him to be the standard by which all safeties should be measured to this day.
If Joe Montana is the Michael Jordan of the 49ers, Jerry Rice is their Scottie Pippen. The two combined to form a fearsome offensive attack, as Rice himself was responsible for 208 total touchdowns in his career.
How did he get to that impressive number? With even more impressive yardage numbers. His career receiving yards total 22,895, and he had 1,000-yard seasons an astonishing 14 times. Rice is the all-time leader in a number of wide receiver statistics, and just like many 49ers’ greats, is considered to be the best of all time at his position by many experts.
It is not easy following in the footsteps of Joe Montana, but Steve Young almost made it look like it was. The quarterback picked up where Montana left off. His Super Bowl MVP award came off the strength of six touchdown passes in Super Bowl XXIX, when the 49ers stomped the San Diego Chargers by a score of 49-26.
Young did not stop there. He was named NFL MVP twice, All-Pro four times, and a Pro Bowler seven times. Many marvel at how the Green Bay Packerswere able to go from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers, but they got the idea from the 49ers’ Montana to Young plan.
Walsh is the first, but not the last, 49er non-player to appear in the Hall of Fame. The coach who led the team to three Super Bowl wins earned the moniker "The Genius" for his creative approach to the art of coaching, introducing the “West Coast Offense” into the league, a philosophy still used to this day. His overall record was 102-63-1.
Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr.
DeBartolo is the other non-player on this list, and his ownership one-upped the Morabito brothers thanks to the impressive streak of Super Bowl wins he oversaw. He purchased the team in 1977 and quickly turned them into a franchise with a championship mindset. His teams averaged 13 wins per season, including the playoffs.
All in all, DeBartolo's teams won five Super Bowls and played in 10. They also won 13 division titles and amassed 16 total playoff appearances. He was all a fan wants from an owner and more.
More Hall of Fame Inductees to Wear a San Francisco Jersey
All of the players listed above made their marks as a San Francisco 49er, even if they did play for other teams at some point in their career. There have also been a number of players to wear the 49ers jersey, but also greatly contributed other teams around the league.
Since he was drafted in 1986, Charles Haley's sacks are easy to count. He racked up 100.5 of them over the course of his career, which started by leading the 49ers in the stat in each of his first six seasons. His tenure during the 49ers' golden era, combined with the Dallas Cowboys dominance of the early 90s, made him the first player in NFL history to play on five Super Bowl-winning teams.
Woodson was a member of the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team and the NFL's 1990s All-Decade Team, and he earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1993. He intercepted 71 passes over the course of his 17-season career, and he holds the NFL record for interception return yardage with 1,483. While he only played for the 49ers in 1997, he did help lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to a Super Bowl appearance during the 1995 season, and the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl championship in 2000.
"The Juice" is barely remembered as a football player these days, and it is a shame his present has overshadowed the promise and accomplishments of his past. We include him here for the sake of completion. He was better known as a member of the Buffalo Bills, but he also played for the 49ers late in his career.
Bob Hayes earned the title of "World's Fastest Human" by winning two gold medals in the 1964 Olympics and spent his career as a Dallas Cowboy in addition to the 49ers. Fittingly, the wide receiver's nickname in the NFL was "Bullet."
Jackson is another player who finished his career with the 49ers after making his mark as part of another franchise. In Jackson's case, it was the New Orleans Saints. With 15 seasons under his belt, though, you know Jackson was impressive no matter which team he played for.
"Prime Time" played for the 49ers for only one season, 1994, but he was such an electrifying player that we just have to include him on the list.
Sanders never won any humility contests, but he backed up his big ego with big numbers. Another member of the NFL's 1990s All-Decade Team, he led the league in punt returns, kickoffs, and interceptions at various points in his flamboyant career. Sanders would also spend time with the Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, and brief stints with the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens.
If you thought the sack totals of previous defensive players on this list were impressive, we will just deposit Richard Dent's lifetime total of the statistic here: 137.5. Simply put, Dent was a monstrous presence on the defensive side of the football, so it is fitting that Dent will forever be remembered as part of the ferocious 1985 “Monsters of the Midway” Chicago Bears. However, his time in San Francisco should not be forgotten.
Let's up the ante again from Richard Dent with Chris Doleman's total sacks. That number is 150.5. Thanks to eight of his 15 total seasons containing at least 10 sacks, Doleman earned a spot on eight Pro Bowl teams. Lest you think he did all his damage with his other teams, the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons, Doleman earned one of his eight team sack titles with the 49ers.
Allen is the first player to appear on this list who played in the new millennium. With 11 Pro Bowls and seven straight All-Pro seasons under his belt, Allen surely earned his place. Allen was a mainstay on the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line before moving to the 49ers.
It's time to raise the bar for sacks yet again, because Kevin Greene earned 160 for his career. Playing 228 games over the course of his 15-season career, playing for the Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Carolina Panthers in addition to San Francisco, Greene was a workhorse of a linebacker and defensive end. It's a shame he only spent one season, 1997, with the 49ers.
Owens' did plenty of offensive damage as a wide receiver for other teams, but it was on the 49ers where he really shined. This third-round pick rewarded the 49ers' investment in him many times over.
You want numbers? Take your pick: five-time All-Pro, four-time All-NFC, six Pro Bowls, second all-time in total yardage, and third all-time in touchdown receptions. The riches with Owens are endless. Owens’ reputation was not a good one though, and it shows with the variety of teams he played for. He spent time not only with the 49ers, but also with the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Seattle Seahawks, and even the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football League.
We round out our list with another mercenary who nonetheless encapsulates so much of what makes the 49ers great. Moss' excellence, flamboyance, hardware, and sheer numbers make him a quintessential 49er, even if he only played for them one season.
By the time he played for the 49ers in 2012, Moss' days of 1,000-yard seasons were behind him. Yet he still averaged 15.5 yards per reception and put 434 total yards on the board. During his long storied career, Moss also played for the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, and Tennessee Titans.
Stay Scarlet and Gold
Hard as it may be to believe, this rundown of the San Francisco 49ers, history of the team, and its Hall of Famers, is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the franchise's rich history. We hope it has inspired you to explore the full heights of the 49ers' glory.
Knowledge is only one piece of sports fandom. If you want to take your NFL fandom to the next level, check out our full football sports memorabilia collection.
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