by Bob Sparrow
I am thrilled that the San Francisco Forty-Niners will be playing in the Super Bowl this Sunday. My allegiance to this team has been unwavering, since . . . oh, since about somewhere in the early 50s.
I was probably about 10-11 years old when I attended my first 49er game, played in Kezar Stadium in beautiful, Golden Gate Park – that was when teams actually played in the city of their name; today, the ‘Niners play 45 miles south of San Francisco, in Santa Clara. I remember that first game, they played the Chicago Bears, and lost. But, my brother and I not only became life-long 49er fans, but were inspired to play the game that paid for our college education.
It was in 1954 that the 49ers had the best backfield in the NFL, it was dubbed ‘The Million Dollar Backfield’. It was a ‘T-formation’ backfield, meaning there was a quarterback under center, and behind the quarterback, was a fullback and to both the fullback’s right and left were the halfbacks. The players were, Y.A. Tittle at quarterback, Joe Perry at fullback and Hugh McElhenny and John Henry Johnson at halfback. There is a misconception that they got their ‘Million Dollar’ name from the fact that they had a million-dollar salary – combined! The reality is, despite the name, not even when combined did the players’ salaries approach the million-dollar figure! In fact, at the time, many professional football players had to have a second job to supplement their income! All four of these players have been inducted into pro football’s Hall of Fame, but despite this ‘Million Dollar Backfield’, the 49ers’ poor defense kept them from winning a championship.
Throughout the ‘60s the Niners hovered around the 50%-win mark. A personal side note in this era was that my brother, Jack, a college quarterback, got a try out with the 49ers, but due to an injury to his neck in college, the Niners didn’t want to take a chance on a re-injury, so they let him go.
In the ‘70s the Niners upped their game and had some excellent win-loss records, but still no championships. And then came Bill Walsh. He was born in Los Angeles, but raised and schooled in northern California; he was the head coach at Stanford, before taking the 49er job in 1979. He created the ‘West Coast Offense’ and won three Super Bowls with quarterbacks, Joe Montana and Steve Young and NFL greats, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Randy Moss and Deion Sanders, to name just a few of the 29 49ers in the Hall of Fame.
In 1989 Walsh was replaced by assistant coach, George Siefert, who was also a Walsh assistant at Standford. Siefert coached the Niners for eight seasons, winning two Super Bowls. Another personal side note, is that Siefert was my college coach at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. At a Westminster reunion serveral years ago, Siefert spoke and mentioned that he coached Joe Montana and Steve Young, but, as a head coach, I was his first quarterback. Although, I’m not sure I heard it correctly, he may have said that I was his ‘worst’ quarterback! Both are probably correct.
So, here the 49ers are again, in the Super Bowl with one of the most overall talented teams in the league, led by ‘Mr. Irrelevant’, quarterback, Brock Purdy. But they face the reining Super Bowl champs, the Kansas City Chiefs, with arguably the best quarterback in the league in Patrick Mahomes AND a fan base made up of all those ‘Swifties’. It should be a good game!
Win or lose – a 49er Faithful Forever!