Category Archives: 49ers

Now it’s John Brodie’s turn for the Pro Football Hall of Fame


I was glad Ken Stabler finally got in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, unfortunately a few months after his death, but it was long overdue. Granted, his great period of play was pretty short — only about five or six years — but he was one of the great and most iconic quarterbacks of the 1970s, a Super Bowl champion and MVP.

This column was originally going to be about Stabler and another player who has been ignored by the Hall of Fame committee. I’m glad Stabler got in (as well as Eddie DeBartolo, who was one of the great owners in the history of the NFL), but I wish the NFL would correct another great oversight, a real injustice in my view. When I was a kid, one of the great quarterbacks in the NFL was a guy named John Brodie.

Ken Stabler finally got in the Hall of Fame after 33 years, seven months after his death.

I’m amazed at how many people don’t realize Brodie isn’t in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He’s in a  bunch of Hall of Fames — the NCAA Hall of Fame, the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, the Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame (which is based in the Bay Area), but not the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It makes no sense to me. He’s part of a great legacy of 49er quarterbacks from Frankie Albert to Y.A. Tittle to Brodie to Montana to Young. (Frankie Albert is another great quarterback passed over by the Hall of Fame, though his career was really short due to World War II, only about seven years.). In fact, this article says the 49ers have the fourth-best quarterbacking legacy in the NFL, and the story doesn’t even mention Frankie Albert or another very good quarterback, Jeff Garcia.

All I can think of is Brodie has simply been forgotten about. I see Brodie as the Gil Hodges of the NFL. A really great player who has been largely overlooked, at least outside the Bay Area, where he’s literally a legend. The 49ers retired his number decades ago, though Trent Dilfer wore his number for a while with the 49ers to help lobby for getting Brodie into the Hall of Fame.). He was nominated by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce for the Hall of Fame in July of last year, but I was really disappointed that yet again, the Hall overlooked him.

The 49ers have a legacy of great quarterbacking, from Frankie Albert to Y.A. Tittle, John Brodie, Joe Montana and Steve Young.

Here’s some things about Brodie I bet a lot of people don’t realize. When John Brodie retired in 1973, he was:

* Third all-time in passing yardage in the history of the NFL with 31,548 yards. Only Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton were ahead of him. That’s it, just Unitas and Tarkenton. Think about that!

* Fourth all-time in the NFL in passing touchdowns with 214. Only Unitas, Tarkenton and Sonny Jurgensen were ahead of him.

* Seventh all-time in wins as a starting quarterback with 74.

These rankings don’t include Len Dawson, Tittle or John Hadl because Hadl and Dawson racked up most of their stats in the AFL and Tittle played a couple of years in the All-American Football Conference. These are strictly NFL numbers, but still — third all-time in yards and fourth in TD passes? (Even including these guys who played in other leagues, Brodie still ends up fifth all-time in yards and seventh all-time in touchdowns at the time of his retirement.)

In addition, he:

* Won the NFL MVP in 1970 and was a first-team All Pro (he made two Pro Bowls total). In 1970, he was simply the best quarterback in football, hands down.

* Led the league in touchdown passes twice, led the league in passing yardage three times, led the league in completions three times, led the league in completion percentage twice, led the league in passer rating once and led the league in yards per attempt once.

His career passer rating wasn’t spectacular at 72.3, but for his time, that was pretty good — it’s higher than Hall of Famers Bobby Layne, Joe Namath, Bob Waterfield, George Blanda and Terry Bradshaw. Y.A. Tittle was 74.3. Stabler 75.3. Even Unitas, considered the best quarterback of that era, was 78.2. Not that much higher.

John Brodie and Sonny Jurgensen ended their careers with very similar numbers. Jurgensen is in the Hall, but Brodie isn’t. Check out those weird Washington uniforms.

The only real knock on Brodie is he didn’t win any championships. He didn’t play on bad teams for most of his 49ers’ career, but he played on mediocre teams, and back then, it was extremely hard to make the playoffs, so he only started five postseason games in his career. Brodie played from 1957 to 1973 and only two NFL teams made the postseason until 1967, then after that only four out of 16 teams made the postseason. Teams commonly went 10-4 and missed the postseason back in those days. Guess what? Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen never started a playoff game in his entire career.

So, in my opinion, you can’t beat him up for playing on mediocre teams in the 1960s. The 49ers were usually one of the top offensive teams in the NFL during his era (they led the NFL in scoring twice during Brodie’s tenure, were fourth two other times and sixth two other times), but they also usually had poor defenses. I checked and virtually every year in the 1960s, the 49ers were always 9th, 10th, 11th, 13th, etc. in scoring defense. Here’s just some of the scores those teams lost by — 20-61, 28-34, 41-42, 31-39, 34-35, 28-31, 21-33, 30-41, 24-45, 38-43, 20-30 (and a 30-30 tie) — and man that was in the 1960s … in the NFL, not AFL. They just had no defence for years. Their defence was never in the upper half of the NFL for about eight straight years. Still, without much help on the other side of the ball, Brodie managed to go a respectable 74-77-8 for his career. It’s not like he was Norm Snead filling a roster spot on a bad team year in and year out. Those 49er teams in the ’60s could light it up. They just couldn’t stop anyone.

John Brodie 'Banacek' (1972) 1.1
John Brodie in some 1970s George Peppard TV show called “Banachek:

He finally got to play with a decent defense in the early 1970s, winning three straight division titles from 1970-72. He won two postseason games and played in two NFC Championship games, losing twice to Dallas in 1970 and 1971. Then, he lost a legendary heartbreaker to Dallas again in the divisional playoffs 30-28 in 1972 when the 49ers had a 28-13 lead in the fourth quarter (I think this is one of the first NFL games I remember watching). That Cowboys team went to two Super Bowls and won one of them, so they were a serious powerhouse. Brodie and the 49ers simply couldn’t get past them. They likely would have won a Super Bowl or two if they could’ve. And I wouldn’t even be writing this post because Brodie would be in the Hall.

I think the most amazing thing about Brodie is he threw for 31,500 yards in an era in which teams hardly threw the ball, especially in the NFL, because the rules at the time didn’t allow for today’s wide-open passing games. This was also an era of 12- (until 1960) and 14-game seasons. So, to get to 30,000 yards in that grind-it-out period of running offences is really impressive (By comparison, Bart Starr threw for 24,700 yards and he started 156 games.).

On top of everything else, though it really shouldn’t matter for the  Hall of Fame … it’s just interesting …  he also turned into a champion golfer on the PGA Seniors Tour. He actually beat Chi Chi Rodriguez in a playoff once to win a PGA Seniors Tournament event, and had 12 top 10 finishes on the tour.

So, here’s one of the strangest things I don’t get about why Brodie’s been ignored for the Hall of Fame. I check the numbers and you know whose stats are really similar to Brodie’s? Sonny Jurgensen. Jurgensen played on mostly mediocre teams during the same era for Washington. His won-loss record as a starter was 69-73-7. And as I mentioned earlier, not a single playoff start. He did get to play on some good playoff Washington teams in the ’70s, but as a backup to Billy Kilmer. Jurgensen ended up only throwing for 700 more career yards than Brodie. He did throw a few more touchdowns — 255 vs. 214 — but Jurgensen also never won an MVP. So some of their numbers are virtually the same. In fact, Tarkenton, Brodie and Jurgensen really were the three dominant quarterbacks in the NFL from 1965-1970 (Unitas faded quite a bit after 1967).

Trent Dilfer is a big advocate of enshrining John Brodie in the Hall of Fame.

Yet, Jurgensen was elected in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983. What gives? Again, I scratch my head.

Bob Griese, whose career overlapped with Brodie’s by a few years, ended up with 25,092 passing yards and 192 touchdown passes and not once passed for as much as 2,500 yards in a season. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1990. I guess because he did a really good job of handing the ball off to Larry Csonka in a couple of Super Bowls. A high profile helps apparently. You’ll never convince me Griese was a better quarterback than Brodie.

John is getting pretty old. He’s 80 years old and had a major stroke in 2000.  I sure hope the Hall doesn’t make the same mistake they made with Kenny Stabler, of waiting until after a guy passes away to put him in the Hall of Fame.

My Candlestick memories

candlestickTonight is probably the final 49ers game in Candlestick Park, the oldest football stadium in the NFL (not sure I would count Lambeau since it’s been completely rebuilt), and probably the biggest dump in the NFL (Oakland is a close second). It’s possible the 49ers will play a playoff game or two in Candlestick, but unlikely unless a lot of weird stuff happens next week.

Candlestick was a weirdly configured baseball/football stadium (the 49ers didn’t play there until several years after it was built, they stayed in Kezar in Golden Gate Park for a few years), designed in 1961 before people knew how to design joint baseball/football stadiums. A whole bunch of cookie cutter baseball/football parks were built a few years later, and to my knowledge the only one of those still around is in Oakland. In Candlestick, some of the seats didn’t actually face the field, giving fans a crick in their neck.

bill madlock

Candlestick was a total disaster from the moment it opened. Somehow, the architecture of the stadium created winds off the San Francisco Bay that made baseball miserable there, especially at night. The Giants left Candlestick more than 10 years ago, but the 49ers have continued to play there. For football, the stadium was OK. The winds weren’t quite as big of a deal during the autumn and winter, but the field was basically right at sea level and always muddy and boggy.

The 49ers are moving 35 miles south to Santa Clara, a suburb of San Jose. It will be weird watching the 49ers play essentially in San Jose.

I personally went to three games in Candlestick — I remember all three clearly, but not necessarily fondly.

The first game I went to in Candlestick was in 1978. My dad took me to a Giants game. It was some kind of business trip that he took me on. The Giants were good that year. It was in May and it was staggeringly cold. When you hear people talk about how cold Candlestick was, trust me — they are NOT exaggerating. It was mind-numbingly cold, with 30- and 40-mile-an-hour gusts. The Giants were in first place, but only about 10,000 people showed up to the game, mostly because of the cold.

I remember the Giants were playing the Houston Astros and most of the people around us were hipsters, puffing away on pot. That was the first time I smelled pot. I couldn’t believe people were smoking it in the open. The fans were pretty unruly and foul-mouthed. I remember they kept screaming at Cesar Cedeno that he was a “murderer!” “Killer!” (Found out during the game that Cedeno had been implicated in the shooting death of a girl in the Dominican Republic, but he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter).

Anyway, I didn’t get along that well with my dad, but we got along great on that trip and during that game, which is what I remember most fondly The Giants scored three runs in the bottom of the 9th and won 3-2 on a walk-off double by Bill Madlock that missed being a home run by a few feet. The Giants stayed in first for a few more weeks, but collapsed down the stretch like they usually did and finished second to the Dodgers that year.


The next time I was in Candlestick would have been 1982. The 49ers won the Super Bowl the year before, but they had a rough season that year. They just never got on track. They had Joe Montana, but no defence and no running game. This was before Roger Craig and Wendell Tyler — long before Jerry Rice. The whole team was Montana and he couldn’t carry them single-handedly. They actually lost to the New Orleans Saints, and the Saints were being quarterbacked by all people — Kenny Stabler (bet you didn’t know Stabler briefly played for the Saints). It was a cold, very wet and rainy and miserable game. It was a momentary blip in the Niners dynasty. They were back in the NFC title game the following year and were Super Bowl champs two years after that.

dusty baker

The last time I was in Candlestick was 1984. The Giants were having a bad year, but we went to the game because there was a Neil Young concert after the game. We were late, didn’t show up until the middle of the game, but it was 0-0, so we didn’t miss anything. It was a ferocious heat wave.

It was actually 100 F in San Francisco (SF hits 100 about once a decade). Just blistering hot, and our seats in right field were right in the sun. We just kept waiting for that damned sun to set below the top of the stadium.

I remember Dusty Baker hit a three-run home run in the 8th inning and San Francisco went on to beat Atlanta, another bad team 4-0. By the time Neil Young hit the stage, the sun had set and it was comfortable in the shade.

Suck it, Everson Walls. This never gets old.
Suck it, Everson Walls. This never gets old.

I moved to the Eastern Sierra in 1988 and left Northern California for good in 1992, so never got the chance to go back to Candlestick after that. Good memories, except for that crappy football game.

walsh and montana

Why I have a love affair with the 49ers

Alex Smith

The 49ers and I grew up together

It’s just a damned football team, but like the Boston Red Sox, the San Francisco 49ers have a special meaning for me — and it has a lot to do with my dad.

My first memory of the 49ers was when they were shocked in the postseason in 1972, losing in the playoffs to the Dallas Cowboys when they had a 28-16 lead with two minutes left in the game. This was the beginning of a long slide and heartbreak for the Niners. In 1976, the Niners started 6-1 and were the hottest team in the NFL, but then they remembered they were the 49ers and ended up 8-6, missing the playoffs. The Niners went 15-43 over the next four years.

My dad died in 1981, I was just a kid. Obviously, it was a bad year for me, not only did my dad — a four-pack-a-day smoker — die of lung cancer, but my mom fell into a deep pit of despair. It went wayyy beyond normal grief, a lot of talk about killing herself and putting an end to it all. I felt ignored. I was too young to know how to deal with it, I was mostly just angry.

Patrick Willis
Patrick Willis

Then, along came the 49ers. My dad hated the 49ers, because he hated San Francisco, because it was full of liberals, hippies and gays … which is maybe why I became a 49ers fan — to spite him. But, it was something for me to care about and take my cares away from the real world, if only for three hours a week.

I remember when the 49ers became a big deal with early in the season, when they beat the Dallas Cowboys 45-14. The Cowboys were a consensus pick to win the Super Bowl that year and were obnoxious as all get out; this is when they began they asinine “America’s Team” bullshit. I started thinking, “hey, these guys might actually be for real.”

The Niners ended up crushing everyone that year behind this new kid Joe Montana and then won — for me personally — the greatest game in the history of the NFL in early 1982, beating the cocky-ass  annoying Cowboys in the NFC championship with Dwight Clark’s spectacular “catch” with 58 seconds left. For a moment, it was a respite of what I was going through with my mom and my dad’s death.

The Niners went on to win the Super Bowl, and my love affair began with the Niners. Honestly, when I think of the Niners, I think of that awful year after my dad died and dealing with a mom deep in the throes of clinical depression, while I was just beginning high school. It was too much, too young, but the 49ers actually helped get me through those difficult months.

Vernon Davis
Vernon Davis

As you know, they won 5 Super Bowls over the next 14 years. The entered an era of excellence no other team in the NFL has sustained for so long. They won 239 games in 22 years, made the postseason 18 times and the NFC title game 10 times. No one has ever been that good for that long.

There’s more memories than I can count. The goal line stand in the fourth quarter of the 1982 Super Bowl, the monster season in which they beat Dan Marino in the Super Bowl, the up-and-down season (which had 50-yard touchdown runs by both Roger Craig and Steve Young to win games and a 70-yard bomb from Joe Montana to Jerry Rice in the final seconds to win a game) in which they beat Chicago in the NFC championship in Chicago then won the Super Bowl in the final seconds on a pass to John Taylor, Joe Montana getting knocked out — twice — in the NFC championship game, the most dominant season ever by any team when they beat Denver in the Super Bowl 55-10, the incredible battles against the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.

Frank Gore
Frank Gore

After a couple of crushing, heartbreaking defeats in the NFC championship, the Niners rose again under Steve Young to beat the Cowboys in two incredible games in 1994, and went on to win the Super Bowl. Throughout this whole era, you simply expected the 49ers to win each and every game. They didn’t. But, you expected it … and when they didn’t, it was a shock. I could see why the rest of the NFL came to hate the 49ers during this era. Their swagger was unparalleled.

Then, disaster struck. First, their owner Ed DeBartolo Jr., got busted for trying to bribe the governor of Louisiana to build a riverboat casino, then the NFL took the team away from DeBartolo and handed it to his sister, Denise York.

DeBartolo was allowed by the NFL to take control of the 49ers again, but his sister and her husband, John York, would have nothing of it. Eddie was out of the picture … and with the Yorks running the team, the 49ers went into a long and painful decline beginning in 2002. The 49ers have not been in the playoffs for 9 years, and during that time, the team hasn’t just been bad, they’ve been an embarrassment. The Yorks are painfully inept owners; they hired bad general managers, and even worse coaches … and then, worst of all, after hiring bad people, they did the worst thing owners can do, they meddled. Several surveys listed them as the worst owners in the NFL.

During the next 8 years, the 49ers only won 46 games. They were arguably the worst franchise in the NFL. Frankly, it got hard to keep caring about them. Bad owners, bad team, bad coaches and shitty stadium. They hired an offensive coordinator, Mike Martz, who brought in his personal hand-picked quarterback from Detroit, some schmoe named  J.T. O’Sullivan, who proceeded to the turn the ball over 17 times in 7 games and had to be benched. I don’t think Martz’s “wunderboy” is even in the league anymore.

To me, the nadir of the team was Mike Singletary. Constant delay of game penalties. Unbelievably bad offences and play-calling. Horrendous play clock management. Constantly changing quarterbacks. He once called a running play up the middle in a close game when the 49ers were on the 3-yard with 10 seconds left to play and no time outs. The runner got stopped at the 2-yard-line and time ran out before the 49ers could spike the ball to stop the clock. And a field goal would have tied it. How bad is that?

The 49ers still play in a crap stadium, and are likely moving 40 miles south to Santa Clara, but this year, a funny thing happened. Despite the crap stadium, the crap owners, the team got good. All those high draft picks started paying off (plus two or three surprisingly good free agent signings — Justin Smith and Braylon Edwards.). A couple of years ago, co-owner John York was removed as President of the team by the team’s board of directors. That maybe had something to do with the 49ers finally getting on their feet.

The 49ers are 8-1 this year and have won two monster games against good teams — Detroit and New York Giants — arguably the two best games of the year in the NFL (they also beat a 6-3 Cincinnati team). They are winning with a ferocious defence that simply doesn’t let teams run the ball and a monster running game. They are No. 1 in the NFL for fewest points allowed — by quite a bit. Alex Smith, their No. 1 draft pick from 2005, is playing the best football of his career, and a fiery young coach, Jim Harbaugh, seems to have a plan. After the disasters of Dennis Erickson, Jim Nolan and Singletary, the 49ers seem to have found a coach with a semblance of a clue.

Alex has had a sad sack career. He was the No. 1 draft pick, taken about 20 picks ahead of Aaron Rodgers, but then floundered over the next several years. He has shown flashes (especially when Norv Turner was his offensive coordinator for one year), but he’s played for four head coaches and SEVEN offensive coordinators in seven years. None of those head coaches were offensive coaches until Jim Harbaugh came along. He had a major shoulder injury early in his career, then was forced to play with it when his idiot coach Nolan questioned his toughness. I remember the game. Alex came back to play and couldn’t throw the ball worth a damn because he was in so much pain. He screwed up his shoulder even worse and required surgery. Nolan was fired less than a year later. You don’t fuck with a permanent injury to your No. 1 draft pick like that. Nolan will never be a head coach again as a result.

Singletary was almost as bad, switching back and forth between Alex, David Carr and some guy named Troy Smith. It was like Singletary couldn’t figure out who he wanted to play quarterback. Troy Smith is a terrible QB and is barely in the league anymore.

Alex survived all that to have the best year of his career this season. He doesn’t throw a lot, but he doesn’t make mistakes — only three INTs in 9 games. He is on pace for his first 3,000-yard season and 20-TD season, and just keeps proving his detractors wrong every week.

The 49ers will definitely win their division and make the postseason and host a first-round game. They have a five-game lead with seven games left. One of the best descriptions I’ve seen of them is “a team no one wants to play.” The question now is, can they pick up the No. 2 seed in the NFC? That’s a distinct possibility, as they have a two-game lead over the next best team — New Orleans.

I seriously doubt the 49ers will make the Super Bowl this year. That would mean getting past Green Bay, at Lambeau, but this is an exciting year nonetheless, an incredible leap in one year from a laughingstock for nearly a decade to one of the most feared teams in the NFL. After a near decade of almost total ineptitude, the 49ers are fun … and interesting … and most all, relevant.

Takes me back to 1981!