The San Francisco 49ers dynasty lasted from 1981 to 1994, or until 1998, depending upon one’s standards. With all due respect for great teams of the pre–Super Bowl era (Wellington Mara’s Giants, George Halas’ Bears, Curly Lambeau’s Packers, Johnny Unitas’ Colts, Paul Brown’s Browns) and dynasties of the modern game (Vince Lombardi’s Packers, Tom Landry’s Cowboys, Al Davis’ Raiders, Chuck Noll’s Steelers, Bill Belichick’s Patriots), the 49ers’ run is the longest, most sustained, and most successful in NFL history.
The run includes two Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Joe Montana, Steve Young) and three coaches (Bill Walsh, George Seifert, Steve Mariucci). In addition to the five Super Bowl victories, the Mariucci-Young teams of the mid-to-late 1990s were excellent, albeit not Super Bowl clubs. San Francisco survived transition, replacing legends with capable second acts. They found a winning formula that stood the test of time.
Of all the great teams and moments, one stands out. That was the 1990 Super Bowl victory over Denver. If San Francisco was an empire, this was Caesar returning to Rome parading the prisoners from Gaul.
The 1981 club was a surprise champion. Many argue that the 1984 club was better, but the victory over John Elway and Denver in Super Bowl XXIV was so enormous as to surpass all other glory.
San Francisco won three world championships under Bill Walsh (1981, 1984, 1988). The ‘88 title was a hard-earned one. The team teetered on the brink, survived a less-than-stellar regular season, got hot in the playoffs, and rallied to beat Cincinnati in the Super Bowl.
Walsh retired and was replaced by George Seifert from Lincoln High School in San Francisco. Seifert’s hiring and success sheds light on an odd fact, which is that Northern California is the “coaches capitol of America.” The Bay Area is not to be confused with Orange County, Texas, or Florida when it comes to producing high school football talent (although few other geographic locations rank much higher in actuality). Perhaps it is the leafy affluence that produces academic success, and in football terms, winning strategic thought, but excellent coaches seem to spawn from the 415, the 510, the 408, the 925, and the 707.
Dick Vermeil (UCLA, Rams Super Bowl champs) hails from little old Calistoga. Pete Carroll (USC national champs) went to Redwood High in Marin County. Walsh is from the San Jose area and coached at Washington High in Fremont before a long career in college and the pros. Paul Hackett, one of the architects of the West Coast Offense as a 49ers assistant, hails from Orinda. Bob Toledo, who had a good run at UCLA, is from San Jose and San Francisco State. John Madden (Raiders) and his boyhood pal John Robinson (USC, Rams) both came from Daly City. Walt Harris (Pittsburgh, Stanford) is from South San Francisco. Jack Del Rio of Hayward coaches the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mike Holmgren, like Seifert, went to Lincoln High and was considered a better prep quarterback than San Jose’s Jim Plunkett before riding the bench at USC and coaching Green Bay to the Super Bowl title. With the exception of Del Rio (an ‘SC All-American and Vikings star), none of these men were considered great players at the college or pro levels.
Seifert was a defensive expert, a guy with the perfect, quiet mind and demeanor to work with the more flamboyant, media-savvy Walsh. On a team of superstars, he was expected to maintain status quo, but he did more than that. Seifert is viewed by history as a guy who inherited greatness instead of developing it, but he deserves kudos because many coaches with talent find ingenious ways to screw it all up. He did not. The 1990 49ers indeed featured Holmgren as their offensive coordinator. Neither Holmgren nor Seifert “rocked the boat,” so to speak.
“The team had been together for so long that roles were already defined,” explained All-Pro linebacker Matt Millen (who came over after years of success with the Los Angeles Raiders), in Super Bowl: The Game of Their Lives. “The guy who stood tallest in the locker room was Ronnie Lott.… He was inherently a leader.… It drove him crazy when other defensive guys wouldn’t play like he wanted them to play. He stuck to the defense, but I would say that Ronnie was the heart and soul of the entire 49ers team.”
Millen referred to Montana as “Joe Cool.” Lott was verbal. Montana was quiet, and in that quiet demeanor he led the team, giving them supreme confidence in themselves.
Wide receiver Jerry Rice, by 1990 established not only as the finest wide receiver in the NFL but already eliciting commentary that he might be the greatest ever, was “almost inhuman to me,” said Millen. “I thought this guy was a freak of nature. No one could work like that and not be tired.”
Rice had grown up learning how to catch actual bricks, thrown to him by his father, a mason. The opposite of Rice, both in terms of field position and personality, was the other talented receiver, John Taylor. Perhaps, had he possessed Rice’s intensity, he would have been a Hall of Famer too, but he certainly enjoyed some big moments with the 49ers.
Roger Craig out of Nebraska was a tremendous running back, complemented by the workmanlike Tom Rathman, who was willing to handle the role of blocker. Craig, like Rice, was literally a physical specimen, and he possessed focus as well.
Millen, despite a great reputation forged in L.A., knew that on this team he needed to earn respect. Normally a physical player in practice, he had to adjust to the 49ers method, which did not focus on this type of approach, but in the games he, Lott, Charles Haley, and Michael Carter established their respective bona fides.
San Francisco operated a revised 3-4, but with Millen taking over the middle and calling signals, they became a 4-3. There was little situation substitution and not much blitzing. Their philosophy can be compared to John Wooden’s man-to-man defensive approach during the heyday of UCLA basketball. With superior talent, they did not need to rely on tricks or surprises. The Niners operated out of a “man-zone” in which roles were specifically adhered to based upon a logical play progression. It was the kind of system that only works if the players have the size, speed, and ability to make it successful. Seifert was disciplined enough to let it operate in this manner, rather than push the proverbial “panic button.”
Nineteen eighty-nine was arguably Montana’s best year, and the 1989 49ers offense is considered by many to be the best “ever to grace the field in the National Football League,” according to Millen. Their legend had been made on a Monday Night Football game at Anaheim when Joe directed the team to a remarkable comeback win over the Rams. Montana’s statistics generally are not as impressive as some of the other great quarterbacks, namely Dan Marino and John Elway, to name a couple. He is considered a “winner” above all statistics, but in 1989 he put up impressive single-game and single-season numbers, carrying that into the postseason.
After a 14–2 regular-season mark, San Francisco opened the playoffs with Minnesota, who had humiliated them in 1987. Montana directed a total conquest of the Vikings, 41–13.
John Robinson’s Rams were next. Perhaps they held out hope the team that led San Francisco well into the second half before collapsing a month and a half earlier could maintain that kind of effort for four quarters. Instead, San Francisco dominated from start to finish, 30–3. In many ways the game capped the changing sports dynamic of the San Francisco–Los Angeles sports landscape. Prior to Joe Montana, the Dodgers dominated the Giants, and the Rams had their way with the 49ers. This mirrored the North-South sociology, with L.A. considering themselves superior, San Francisco green with envy because of it. Now it was different. Not only were the Rams a pale “rival” of the 49ers, but in 1989 both Bay Area baseball teams, the A’s and Giants, made it to the World Series.
For Millen, it was his third Super Bowl, having made it to New Orleans in 1981 and again to Tampa in 1984, both with the Raiders. The 1990 Super Bowl was also in New Orleans; San Francisco’s fourth in nine years. They needed to win it in order to match bragging rights of the 1974–1979 Steelers.
Millen had been on a Raiders team that, according to myth at least, had partied in New Orleans the week of their easy 27–10 win over Philadelphia in 1981. The 49ers were much more corporate in nature. Little in the way of high jinks was reported.
The AFC champions were the Denver Broncos, making their third Super Bowl appearance and second with young quarterback John Elway, a hotshot from Stanford. Elway possessed all the tools Montana did not; size, speed, a rocket arm, all-around athleticism. Going strictly by the book, there was no comparison. Elway was the better prospect. But of course every intangible favored Joe. That said, Elway was so good and had been so close for several years now, it seemed that his time had come. It was assumed that in order to defeat Denver, San Francisco would have to win an offensive shootout. But defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes, team leader Ronnie Lott, and Charles Haley made no such concessions. Lott in particular had faced Elway when he was at USC. In his mind, Trojan dominance would carry over to 49er dominance.
When the hoopla finally came to an end and the game started in front of 72,919 on January 28, 1990, at the New Orleans Superdome, Elway was off and the Broncos were stopped stone cold. Montana responded by moving San Francisco down the field as if Denver was a high school team. It was 7–0 just like that. Whether Denver tried a zone or man-to-man, their defensive capabilities were no match for San Francisco, especially rested after the NFC title game—fully prepared, healthy, revved up.
Elway led the Broncos to a field goal to make it 7–3, which served only to stir up the 49ers offense even more. A Bronco fumble was recovered by the Niners at mid-field. Montana led them in for a score, hitting tight end Brent Jones on a short pass to make it 14–3.
In the first half, San Francisco used ball-control—utilizing Tom Rathman’s running—blocking, and short-pass catching in combination with quick strikes. Jerry Rice broke free and scored on a Montana pass. At the half, it was all but over: 49ers 27, Broncos 3.
“We had to guard against getting excited, although we knew we were the world champs,” said Millen.
Denver was a beaten crew, and they had no chance of regaining respectability in the second half. That was when Montana & Co. separated themselves from the pack. Their victory goes down in history as the most impressive Super Bowl win ever. In comparing Lombardi’s Packers, Don Shula’s Dolphins, Chuck Noll’s Steelers, and other contenders, none match what San Francisco did.
As the Niners turned the game into a track meet, frustration and defeat were etched on the Denver faces. In later years Elway said that the Denver coaches insisted that San Francisco would not throw in the middle, and prepared that way. Instead, Montana hit Rice and Taylor in the middle, attacking that area consistently.
“How could we be so dumb?” lamented Elway.
Taylor caught five TD passes to set a record. Montana was the MVP of the game, a 55–10 trouncing. It was his third such award, added to his 1989 Player of the Year and Sportsman of the Year honors. At one point, Millen tackled Elway and consoled him by saying, “Hang in there, John.”
In the aftermath of the Super Bowl, San Francisco had all the earmarks of being the finest pro football team ever assembled. Their stars were all young and in their primes, with no great injury problems. They had tied the four–Super Bowl record of Pittsburgh and were immediately installed as favorites to repeat in 1990. A fifth Super Bowl win would cement their place in history. No team had ever won three in a row, although the 1965–1967 Packers were three-time NFL champions (the first of those coming before the Super Bowl).
It was the height of Montana’s career. The 49ers could make a strong argument that they had the best quarterback (Montana), the best wide receiver (Rice), and the best defensive back (Lott) of all time. That argument holds up still to this day.
<sb>Take This Game and…
Also known as Rikki Gray, Rikki Ellison was “raised” in USC student housing by his single mother, pursuing her master’s degree. Later a Trojans star, he became a starting linebacker for San Francisco from 1983 to 1989. After retirement, he became an expert on nuclear weaponry in the Washington, D.C., area.
Q: How many times was Randy Cross selected as All-Pro?
A: Cross was a 6’3”, 245-pound center who helped Dick Vermeil’s UCLA Bruins win the 1976 Rose Bowl, after which he was drafted in the second round by San Francisco. A staple of their great teams, Cross was All-Pro six times (1980, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1988). A close friend of Joe Montana’s, Cross was handsome and erudite, later taking his personality into the broadcaster’s booth.
<sb>Numbers Don’t Lie
1,502—Yards gained by Roger Craig in 1988, establishing a club record
<sub>Super Bowl XIX: 49ers 39, Dolphins 16
In 1983 the 49ers advanced to the playoffs against a tremendous Washington club, led by Joe Theisman. In a battle of Notre Dame greats, San Francisco rallied with three fourth-quarter touchdowns, but two questionable calls did them in late. A Redskins field goal sent Washington, not San Francisco, to the Super Bowl.
“That bitter loss could have motivated or crushed us,” said Montana. “If we had wanted it to bring us down and affect our play in 1984, we could have let it. It would have been easy. But we didn’t do that because we had guys like Ronnie Lott, who wouldn’t allow us to think like that. Ronnie was extra motivated because he had been called for the second penalty before Mark Moseley’s winning kick, so he was one of the guys who pushed the team to get back to the playoffs the next season.”
Nineteen eighty-four remains a special year in 49ers history, though it can be argued that it was or was not their best season. Their 15–1 regular season record was the best. Several subsequent teams were 14–2, but the 15–1 mark remains a record few teams have ever matched. Only the 1972 Miami Dolphins, 14–0 in the regular season and 17–0 after the Super Bowl, are better.
The 1984 49ers did not have the running game of later teams, when Roger Craig came into his own. They did not have Jerry Rice yet, and their victory over Miami in the Super Bowl was impressive, yet not as thorough as the 1990 whipping of Denver, or even the 1994 destruction of San Diego.
However, they defeated Dan Marino and a Dolphins team that looked almost unstoppable. If San Francisco were to prevail, it seemed, Montana and Co. would have to score at will in a shootout. Montana indeed did lead his team to an offensive explosion, but the defense bottled up Marino.
Perhaps what separates this year from others was the fact that ultimate victory came before a partisan Stanford Stadium crowd. This made it a unique game in all of NFL history.
One loss to Pittsburgh prevented an unbeaten season. San Francisco rolled to their last nine wins in a row. The New York Giants and the Chicago Bears were no match in home playoff wins, 21–10 and 23–0 respectively. A victory over Miami at Stanford would make them pro football’s first 18-game winner.
It was a team of leaders: Lott, Montana, Randy Cross, but “everybody on that team knew his job without anybody saying anything to them,” said Montana.
Bill Walsh used psychology on the 49ers, especially Montana, who despite his status was still a young man in 1984. Walsh rarely complimented Montana, leaving the understood message that his performance was what he was capable of, and so it was just his job. When Montana would suffer a slight injury or take the bench at the end of a big win, Walsh would tell his back up something like, “Great game.” Montana at first was upset that he never got those small words of encouragement until he understood that he was expected to be great.
“Bill expected that high level of me all the time, so for him to say something like that to me, I had to do something that was way-out-of-the-ordinary great,” said Montana.
Roger Craig was an immediate-impact rookie from Nebraska in 1984. Wendell Tyler was a talented running back from UCLA, although he had a lifelong problem with fumbles. Dwight Clark, Russ Francis, and Freddie Solomon were excellent targets for Montana in the West Coast Offense. This was still the heyday of Walsh’s mastermind offensive schemes, still considered novel concepts. Later, when John Taylor and Rice came on and added extraordinary speed, their passing game spread the field, but the 1984 team still played ball control on the ground and in the air.
Some 49ers and members of the media claim in retrospect that nobody gave San Francisco any respect prior to the Miami game; as if Marino’s team had it won already. This is not entirely true. The game was expected to be close, but nobody wrote off Joe Montana and the 49ers.
Marino’s targets were Mark Duper and Mark Clayton, two fabulous pass-catchers. He had thrown for over 5,000 yards and 48 touchdowns.
An offensive line of Bubba Paris, John Ayers, Keith Fahnhorst, Randy Cross, and Fred Quillan protected Montana. The game started, and Montana had a 25-play script, a staple of the Walsh strategy, although there were divergences based on situations.
“There were very few games where we went past eight or nine—maybe 10—plays of the script,” explained Montana.
“Stay on an even keel; don’t let any one thing be any bigger than any other,” Walsh told his team ahead of time. The familiar surroundings of Stanford Stadium also relaxed the coach and his team.
San Francisco was held on their first possession and punted. The defense of Lott, Hacksaw Reynolds, Keena Turner, and Fred Dean squared off against Miami’s no-huddle offense. They scored on their first two possessions, an Uwe von Schamann field goal from 37 yards out, and a short touchdown pass. In between, Montana led San Francisco downfield for a TD. After the Dolphins went ahead 10–7, the Niners felt they might have to score every time they had the ball, so they amped it up. And that was what they did. Montana hit Craig from eight yards out. Montana scored on a six-yard run. Craig carried it in from the two. Now it was 28–10.
“You want to give us short yardage; we’ll take short yardage,” Montana explained.
When Miami began to drop their linebackers, Craig and Tyler pounded for gains. Montana also had the chance to make some yards scrambling.
Miami’s Reggie Roby, the best punter in the NFL, had an off day, helping the Niners in the field position war. Leading 28–10 was nerve-racking “because Danny was so dangerous—and I mean really dangerous,” said Montana.
But Lott, Eric Wright, and Jeff Fuller stepped up big time. Still, two Miami field goals narrowed the halftime score to 28–16, and it wasn’t over. But San Francisco scored on a Ray Wersching field goal and a Roger Craig slant to make it 38–16, and that’s how it ended up. Miami coach Don Shula said his team suffered a “total breakdown.”
“As soon as it’s over, it’s like, ‘Oh, God, now what do we do?’” said Montana, which explains the conundrum of sports greatness, or political victory, or life in general: always another hill to climb. The 49ers would have a letdown and not repeat the trick for three more years.
“I know one thing I’ll always remember fondly about Super Bowl XIX is that we didn’t go away to play it,” recalled Montana. “It’s always nice to go some other place to play a Super Bowl because it is something special, but I don’t think I would have preferred going away. It felt good to stay home, despite the many distractions. It gave us an opportunity to play in front of the home crowd and for the people of the Bay Area to see us win one Super Bowl in person.”
A famous photo shows Walsh, carried on the backs of his team, the rim of the familiar Stanford Stadium in the gloaming background, the sun having set in the west. It does not get any better than that.
<sb>The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree
Eighties 49ers backup quarterback Jeff Kemp is the son of former Buffalo Bills quarterback, New York congressman, and 1996 Republican vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp.
<sb>By the Numbers
3—The number of times in a row tackle Keith Fahnhorst was named All-Pro (1983, 1984, and 1985)
Has anybody ever seen actor Tom Selleck and 49ers tight end Russ Francis (1982–1987) in the same room? Francis greatly resembled the popular Magnum P.I. actor, an athlete in his own right at USC. Francis is a native of Hawaii, where Magnum was so famously shot.
Okay, here we go again. The age old argument, “Who is the best ever?” George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? George Patton or Omar Bradley? Jascha Heifetz or Arthur Rubinstein? Giacomo Puccini or Plácido Domingo?
With the 49ers, there are many contenders. Greatest team ever? Hey, the 1984 49ers are happy to throw their hats in the ring with the ’85 Bears and the ’72 Dolphins. Best dynasty? Well, San Francisco in the 1980s will state its case against Lombardi’s Packers or Chuck Noll’s Steelers.
How about best quarterback? Sure, Montana is considered the best, but you will get plenty of support from fans of Roger Staubach or Johnny Unitas, or even old-timers who saw Sammy Baugh. Best coach? Well, there is Walsh, but there is also Lombardi, Paul Brown, Don Shula, Tom Landry…
Ronnie Lott? Probably the finest defensive back, but Deion Sanders, briefly a 49er, handled the position with as much aplomb, albeit in a totally different style. Then there is the wide receiver position, and now we really do not have much to argue about, because whether we are talking about style points or statistics, Jerry Rice stands head and shoulders above the competition. The other guys’ place in history is not nearly as cut-and-dried.
Sure, you have your Don Hutsons, your Raymond Berrys, your Fred Biletnikoffs, your Paul Warfields, and your Lynn Swanns, but Rice is above all of them. San Francisco won two Super Bowls before he arrived, but captured three once he got there. Montana hooked up with him, but Rice allowed for a seamless transition to Steve Young.
Rice “redefined his craft,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s Michael Silver. He caught more passes for more yards and more touchdowns than any player who ever lived. He earned Super Bowl and NFL Most Valuable Player awards.
In his three Super Bowl victories (over Cincinnati in 1989 and 1990, and over San Diego in 1995), Rice was at his best: 9.3 catches, 170.7 yards, and 2.3 touchdowns per game. At 6'2", 185 pounds, Rice did not have the height or overwhelming strength of modern big pass-catchers like Keyshawn Johnson or Terrell Owens. But Rice’s work ethic was legendary. His body was so powerful that he withstood injuries and pain, fended off tacklers, and separated himself from the field time and time again.
Rice’s background was much different from his teammates and coaches. Montana and Lott were superstars at high-profile colleges, as was running back Roger Craig from Nebraska. Steve Young grew up in a bastion of wealth: Greenwich, Connecticut. Bill Walsh and George Seifert were middle-class Bay Area guys.
Rice, on the other hand, is a product of the Mississippi Delta. He saw sports as an escape, and vowed that when he made it, he would buy his parents a new house.
“Growing up in a small town taught me the meaning of doing the right things,” he said. “Because the town was so small, if you did something wrong, it was gonna get back to your parents. And with my parents, that meant you would be disciplined, so I think it made me into a better person. There was a lot of bad stuff going around—kids stealing cars, doing drugs—but I feel that my parents raised me the right way. We didn’t have all the money, we didn’t have all the luxuries, but I think because we were so close it made up for all that. I think my upbringing molded me into the person I am today.”
Rice played small town high school football, his skills not noticed by any major college powerhouse. But Mississippi Valley State coach Archie “Gunslinger” Cooley recruited and landed him.
“No one else came to see me in person,” said Rice.
Cooley ran one of the most pass-happy offenses in college football. Rice caught notice and then some. Mississippi Valley State put up outrageous numbers, and Rice’s were the most outrageous. Before he was the greatest pro receiver ever, he may well have been the greatest college receiver ever. But playing at a small school, he was virtually unnoticed.
ESPN was barely a blip on the screen in those days. Bill Walsh was in a hotel room in Houston, the night before a 1984 game with the Oilers. Just before turning the TV off and drifting off to sleep, Walsh heard the local announcer say, “We’ve got some highlights you won’t believe coming after this.”
Walsh kept his eyes open long enough to see something he could not believe. Rice scored five touchdowns, but Walsh immediately thought to himself that a player like that would never be available when his team drafted. The Niners were in first place and on their way to a Super Bowl title, meaning that unless they traded up, every team in pro football would draft ahead of them.
“I didn’t know how it could ever be done,” said Walsh, “but I had a fixation on Jerry from the time I watched those highlights.”
Walsh decided he had to have Rice. There was none of the supposed “question” revolving around whether to draft Steve Dils or Joe Montana? Kenny Easley or Ronnie Lott?
Despite Rice’s low-key college profile, his talent was well-known by the scouts come draft day. Walsh did trade up for New England’s pick (number 16). Kansas City passed on Rice with the 15th choice, and Jerry was a 49er.
Rice was “in awe” of Montana, who was at the height of his game in 1985. His first year, he had trouble holding onto the ball. In 1986 Rice was named the NFL’s Player of the Year, but fumbled early in a playoff loss to the Giants. In 1987 Rice set an NFL record with 22 touchdown catches.
In 1988 the 49ers struggled to make the playoffs. Then the legend was made. He caught three first-half TD passes to lead San Francisco to a 34–9 victory over Minnesota. At Chicago, Rice came out in freezing pre-game weather sans long sleeves, in an effort to psyche the Bears. In reality, he almost psyched himself.
“I was thinking, ‘I don’t care, I can do whatever I want to out here today,’” he said. “So I ran out there in my short sleeves, and I almost froze to death. I ran back into the locker room and put on long sleeves.”
Montana and Rice put on a pass-catch display, crushing the Bears 28–3. Against Cincinnati in the Super Bowl, played at Joe Robbie Stadium in warm Miami, Florida, Rice caught 11 passes from Montana for 215 yards and a touchdown. The winning touchdown catch in the 20–16 victory, by John Taylor, can be attributed to Rice. Taylor was open because the Bengals concentrated everything they had on Rice.
“The second we took the field for the final drive, I knew we had the game won,” said Rice.
Rice was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Rice never got the endorsements of some of his heralded teammates, implying racism. The fact that Ronnie Lott was as loved as Montana destroyed that notion. Rice’s problem was that, as a smalltown guy, he never becamecomfortable with the press. He was never a good interview, although he was always polite. Lott, a product of the media machine at USC, who carried himself like a guy running a self-help seminar, was a media darling. Montana could do no wrong—handsome, blonde, beautiful wife, boy-next-door smile.
In 1989 San Francisco went 14–2 and came charging into the Super Bowl with Denver. Rice’s early crossing-pattern catch-and-run for an 80-yard touchdown set the pace in the 55–10 destruction of the Broncos. Rice caught seven passes for 148 yards with three touchdowns.
In 1990 he became the fourth player to catch 100 passes in an NFL season, as the Niners cruised to another 14–2 record before getting upset at home in the NFC title game by the Giants. Montana was the league MVP, but Rice was named Sports Illustrated’s Player of the Year.
On October 29, 1995, Rice broke James Lofton’s career record with 14,005 receiving yards. In 1995 he set the all-time record for yards in a season when he gained his 1,848th yard on December 24 at Atlanta. That night he also broke Art Monk’s career receptions record when he caught his 941st pass. He also broke Jim Brown’s old record for career TDs of 126, when he ran for a score on a reverse on Monday Night Football against the Raiders in 1994. That year he was the winner of the Mackey Award.
“I can’t think of another player that more exemplifies the drive, work habits, and commitment it takes to reach the top,” said former 49ers assistant Mike Holmgren.
After the 49ers lost to Dallas, sending the Cowboys to their second-straight Super Bowl in January of 1994, Rice’s competitive nature was revealed when he expressed dismay at his teammate’s casual attitude on the plane back to California.
The next year, he and quarterback Steve Young teamed up to lead San Francisco back to where they once belonged. Deion Sanders came over to shore up the defense. Coach George Seifert asked Rice whether he would “approve” of the flamboyant Sanders. The team leader by now, Rice just wanted to win. Sanders helped them achieve that end.
“He is so driven to be the best, and what I love about him is, once it became clear he was the best, he changed,” said Young. “Instead of putting on a false ‘I’m not the best’ persona, he accepted it and redirected the challenge. He carries himself like he’s the best ever; he’s not afraid to do that. He’s very comfortable with just being Jerry Rice.”
In Super Bowl XXIX, the 49ers returned to Joe Robbie Stadium, site of their 1989 win over the Bengals. Young hit Rice for a touchdown on the game’s third play from scrimmage. Their stunning 49–26 win over Junior Seau and San Diego was almost as impressive as their smashing defeat of Denver in the 1990 Super Bowl.
Towards the end, Rice had to share the stage with Terrell Owens. Eventually, Rice went to the Oakland Raiders while the Niners put all their eggs in T.O.’s basket. Physically, T.O. was what Rice was not; bigger, stronger, more physical. Rice was the consummate professional, a man of class; a winner.
<sb>Top 10 Greatest Football Players of All Time
1. Jim Brown
2. Jerry Rice
3. Walter Payton
4. Joe Montana
5. Ronnie Lott
6. Lawrence Taylor
7. Johnny Unitas
8. Dick Butkus
9. Roger Staubach
10. O.J. Simpson
<sb>Numbers Don’t Lie
22—Jerry Rice’s NFL record for touchdowns in a season (1987)
<sb>Top 49er Clutch Performers
1. Joe Montana
2. Jerry Rice
3. Ronnie Lott
4. Dwight Clark
5. Steve Young
6. John Taylor
7. Roger Craig
8. Y.A. Tittle
9. Randy Cross
10. Jimmy Johnson
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism