More 49ers in Hall of Fame?
Peter King raised that question on SI.com this week, noting that only four 49ers from the 1981-94 dynasty are in the Hall of Fame, players Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott and Steve Young (as of July) and coach Bill Walsh, while the Pittsburgh Steelers from the Ď70s dynasty have nine players and coach Chuck Noll. The Raiders also have nine Hall of Famers from their 1967-83 dynasty.
Interestingly, the 49ers of the Ď50s, Ď60s and Ď70s, who never won anything more than a division title, have eight players in the Hall: Leo Nomellini, Joe Perry, Hugh McElhenny, John Henry Johnson, Bob St. Clair, Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wilcox and Y. A. Tittle. (Tittle's reputation advanced exponentially in his years with the New York Giants, but he played 10 years with the 49ers, four with the Giants.)
Jerry Rice is a certain first ballot pick from the 49er dynasty teams, if he ever retires. Riceís agent, Jim Steiner, sent out faxes last week to NFL teams saying Rice still wants to play, and Denverís Mike Shanahan expressed some interest.
Considering the success of the 49ers in that 1981-94 period Ė five Super Bowl wins in five tries Ė itís remarkable that only four players would be honored, but the only deserving 49er from that period who hasnít made it is Roger Craig, who was mentioned by King.
Roger was an integral part of three Super Bowl champions, setting a record with three touchdowns in the January, 1985 game. He was the first NFL player to have both 1000 yards rush and receiving in the same season. He is second only to Joe Perry in all-time rushing yardage with the 49ers, second only to Garrison Hearst in a one season total and third in careeer receptions. Why isnít he in the Hall? Probably because voters were blinded by the offensive brilliance of Montana and Rice and didnít notice Craigís less spectacular efforts.
But, thereís little question that Roger belongs.
Who else? Itís hard to come up with any other candidates. There were players who were great for a short period, like Fred Dean, who was a terrific pass rusher on the first two championship teams but didnít have a long career. I thought Michael Carter had a chance, but he, too, didnít have a long career.
John Taylor was an even more dangerous big play threat than Rice; his 97-yard touchdown (on a Young pass) against Atlanta in 1991 is a club record. But Taylor didnít put up the consistent numbers that Rice did for so many years. It probably also hurt that he wouldnít talk to the media, so there werenít many stories about him Ė and thereís nobody in the media who wants to launch a campaign for him. Dwight Clark was a vital part of the first 49er Super Bowl title, especially, and he was very popular, but was Clark a Hall of Fame receiver? I donít think so.
THE FACT THAT the 49ers success came over an extended period of time probably hurts the chances of players who are just below the Montana-Lott-Young-Rice level.
Most NFL dynasties have been shorter, and the same nucleus has propelled the team. The Steelers of the Ď70s, for instance, won four Super Bowls in six years and remain my choice as the best team during the almost 40 years Iíve been writing on the NFL. The star players of the Steelers were with the team for the whole run, so they became well-known to fans and media. When they became eligible for the Hall, they were easy choices.
The Green Bay Packers of the 1960-67 period, which some observers rank as the best ever (I canít comment because I saw very little of the Packers of that era), were much the same, with the same players responsible for their success.
In both cases, as the players aged, there was a dramatic falloff, and neither the Packers nor the Steelers had success for many years after their championship eras.
In contrast, none of the 49er stars played in all their Super Bowls. The closest were Montana and Lott, who played in the first four.
Walsh kept turning over the roster, bringing in younger players and urging older ones to retire, so the 49ers remained competitive even in the years they didnít win the ultimate championship. When he retired as coach after the 1988 season, and his third Super Bowl, he turned over a team to George Seifert that would win another Super Bowl and come agonizingly close to making another Super Bowl in the next season.
Even after that, the 49ers remained competitive, and when they shored up their defense with free agent acquisitions Deion Sanders and Ken Norton Jr. before the 1994 season, they were able to win their fifth Super Bowl. They remained competitive for four more years, though they couldnít get to the Super Bowl again.
THAT WAS REALLY an amazing run, only one losing season Ė the strike-shortened season of 1982 Ė in 18 years. It didnít have the concentrated success of the Steelersí run, and it didnít produce as many Hall of Fame candidates, but it is a source of pride for 49er fans, who can only hope Mike Nolan will start a new period of success.
NOTE: If you liked my nostalgia piece on Juan Marichal (May 22), youíd enjoy ďCity Scapes,Ē a look at the Giants of Mays-McCovey-Marichal-Cepeda through the eyes of Craig Carrozzi, who was then a young fan. Itís available on Barnes & Noble.com for just $3.58.
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