Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The ALMOST All-Time San Francisco 49ers Defense

Defensive Tackle : Cleveland Elam

Cleveland was drafted in the fourth round by the Niners in 1975, the 85th player chosen overall.

Elam soon found himself starting in his rookie season, and quickly established himself as one of the best in the league.

He was honored with his first Pro Bowl appearance in 1976, as he scooped up a fumble and went 69 yards for the only touchdown of his career.

The 1977 season was his best. He went back to the Pro Bowl, and was named First Team All-Pro.

Elam had his knee severely injured in his fourth season, and was only able to start in four of the twelve games he played in.

He joined the Detroit Lions for the 1978 season, but retired after playing eight games. His knee was giving him too much trouble.

Ed White, the legendary offensive guard, said Hall of Fame defensive tackle Bob Lilly was the best player he ever faced, but also said Elam was just as good when healthy.

Remember, White faced Hall of Famers Alan Page, Carl Eller, and Fred Dean, as well as Jim Marshall, Gary Johnson and Louie Kelcher, in practice every day for years.

This is high praise for a man who knows greatness first hand.

Defensive Tackle : Bryant Young

Bryant was the 49ers first round draft choice in 1994, the seventh player chosen overall.

He was named a starter immediately, and started in every game he played during his 14-year career with San Francisco.

His rookie season saw him get six sacks, as the 49ers went on to win Super Bowl XXIX.

Young missed four games the next season, but had another six sacks.

The 1996 season was the best of his career. He had 61 tackles, 11.5 sacks, and two safeties. All are career high marks.

He was named First Team All-Pro, and to his first Pro Bowl.

The next two seasons saw him miss four games each year, and get 13.5 sacks.

The Associated Press named him the 1999 Comeback Player Of The Year, when he had 11 sacks and a safety. He earned his second Pro Bowl trip as well.

After nine-and-a-half sacks the next season, Young went to the Pro Bowl in both 2001 and 2002. He had five-and-a-half sacks over that time.

Young got six-and-a-half sacks the next two seasons, then was moved to defensive end in 2005. He played there until 2007, and had 20 sacks. He then retired.

His three safeties tie him with Charlie Krueger for the most in franchise history, and his 89.5 sacks are officially recognized as the most in team history.

Bryant Young was an excellent pass rusher, and is one of the best defensive tackles in 49ers history.

Defensive End : Charlie Krueger

Charlie was the Niners' first draft pick in 1958, the ninth player chosen overall that season.

Though Krueger played over 12 seasons at DT, he played his first three years at DE.

In his first three years, he recorded a safety each season.

He made his first Pro Bowl in his second season in 1960, and was moved to defensive tackle permanently in 1962.

Krueger returned to the Pro Bowl in 1964, a year after he missed half the season due to an injury.

He would only miss one game the rest of his career after that.

Krueger was named an All-Pro twice more in 1965 and 1970.

The 1965 season saw him score the only touchdown of his career, when he returned a fumble recovery for six yards.

He also intercepted the only pass of his career in 1969.

His younger brother, Rolf, was a defensive tackle who joined the 49ers in 1972 after having played three years for the Saint Louis Cardinals.

Rolf wore number 70 in Saint Louis, but switched to number 78 because his older brother had that jersey number already.

The brothers both played the same position, so Rolf backed up Charlie until 1973.

Charlie retired after that season, and is easily the greatest defensive linemen in 49ers history.

His three safeties tie him with Bryant Young for the most in franchise history.

Charlie Krueger's number 70 has been retired by the Niners.

Defensive End : Cedric Hardman

Cedric was the Niners' first round draft pick in 1970, the ninth player chosen overall.

He soon earned a starting job, and earned a Pro Bowl nod in his second season.

In 1973, he recorded a safety.

Hardman was one of the better defensive ends of his era, and he would go back to the Pro Bowl for the final time in his career after the 1975 season.

After the 1979 season, he joined the Oakland Raiders.

Used as a pass rush specialist, he had 24 sacks in the two years he played with them.

The Raiders would win Super Bowl XV in the 1980 season.

In 1981, he snatched up a fumble and scooted 52 yards for the only touchdown of his career. He also recorded the last safety of his career.

He then retired.

The United States Football League was formed in 1982, and their Oakland Invaders franchise made Hardman the first player they ever signed.

He played with them in their inaugural 1983 season as a player/coach, then retired for good.

Hardman is also a noted actor who has appeared in such movies like Stir Crazy and House Party.

In Cedric Hardman's 10 seasons with the 49ers, he recorded 106.5 sacks. It is the most in franchise history, though the NFL did not officially recognize sacks as a statistic during Hardman's playing career.

He might be the greatest defensive end in franchise history.

Tommy Hart deserves mentioning.

Outside Linebacker : Charles Haley

Charles was drafted in the fourth round of the 1986 draft by San Francisco, the 96th player chosen overall.

He only started in three games in his first two seasons with the 49ers, primarily used as a pass rusher. He did swipe the first of his two career interceptions as a rookie, along with 12 sacks. He had six-and-a-half sacks the next year.

Haley was named a starter in 1988, and responded with his first Pro Bowl season. He had 11.5 sacks, and recorded the only safety of his career. The 49ers would go on to win Super Bowl XXIII that year.

San Francisco repeated as champions the next year. Haley had 10.5 sacks and scored the only touchdown of his career off of a fumble recovery.

He had the best year of his career in 1990, after getting a career best 16 sacks. He was named to the First Team All-NFL Team, as well as the Pro Bowl.

Haley made the Pro Bowl again the next year, after having seven sacks. He had confrontations with head coach George Seifert and quarterback Steve Young that season, so San Francisco traded Haley to the Dallas Cowboys after the season.

Dallas moved him to defensive end, and he had 10 sacks over the next two years. The Cowboys would win the Super Bowl each season.

The 1994 season was the best year Haley ever had in Dallas. He had 12.5 sacks and the last interception of his career. Haley made the Pro Bowl and was named First Team All-Pro.

Haley made his last Pro Bowl the next year, after getting 10.5 sacks in the 13 games he played. The Cowboys would go on to win Super Bowl XXX.

He got injured in the fifth game on 1996, getting a career low one sack. He then retired from the game.

San Francisco lured him out of retirement in 1998 to help them in the playoffs. Haley decided to play the 1999 season, and had three sacks as a reserve player. He then retired.

Haley is the only player in NFL history to be a member of five Super Bowl winning teams.

His three Pro Bowl appearances are the second most by any linebacker in franchise history, and his 66.5 quarterback sacks are the second most in team history.

Charles Haley was a excellent pass rushing linebacker, and his place in Niners history is one to recognize.

Skip Vanderbundt, Keena Turner, and Lee Woodall deserve mention.

Middle Linebacker : Hardy Brown

This is a personal choice.

Hardy came up the hard way. He grew up in an orphanage after witnessing his father murdered when he was four.

After attending college at both Southern Methodist University and Tulsa University, the New York Giants drafted him in the 12th round of the 1947 NFL Draft. He was the 104th player chosen overall.

Brown opted to join the Army instead, and stayed in the service until 1948.

He then decided to join the Brooklyn Dodgers of the All American Football Conference that season.

This was the only year he was used as the primary kicker on a team. He made 25 of 29 extra point attempts, and missed the only field goal attempt of his career.

Brown also scored the only two offensive touchdowns of his career. He ran for one off of six attempts, and caught one off of three receptions.

He intercepted the first pass of his career that season as well.

Brown then joined the Chicago Hornets of the AAFC the next season.

He did catch one 10-yard pass, as well as punt 10 times for 397 yards. Brown also had a career high three interceptions.

Brown then went to the NFL in 1950, when he signed with the Washington Redskins. He lasted eight games with the team, before joining the Baltimore Colts for four games.

While with the Colts, he missed the last extra point attempt of his career and picked off a pass.

The Colts went defunct at the end of the year, so Brown joined the 49ers and was put in at MLB for the 1951 season.

Brown knocked out 21 players from games in 1951 alone. One game, he knocked the opponents entire backfield out of action.

He stayed with the team until 1955, and gained a reputation for being one of the hardest hitters in the league. He was nicknamed "Thumper" and "The Hatchet" by all.

The 49ers coach, Buck Shaw, banned Hardy from team practices, fearing he would lose players. Hardy Brown is the only man in NFL history to be banned from his own team practices without committing a transgression.

Brown had a technique where he would wind up his shoulder, and had sent players flying backwards as much as 10 yards from his impact.

He also almost took the eye out of Joe Geri, a Pittsburgh Steelers running back, in 1951. He fractured the face of one player, and crushed the vertebrae of another.

He was named to his lone Pro Bowl Team in 1952 as the MLB position. He then would play both of the other linebacker positions his last two years with the team.

Brown did punt the ball for the last 10 times of his career in 1954, totaling 384 yards. He also matched his career best of three interceptions.

He took one of the interceptions for a 41 yard score, the last touchdown of his career.

During that season, the Detroit Lions Gil "Wild Horse" Mains, a future professional wrestler, jumped into Brown's leg feet first. Brown needed 20 stitches, but refused to leave the game. He soon returned and broke the nose of running back Bill Bowman.

Brown moved on to the Chicago Cardinals for the 1956 season, and played eight games before retiring.

He was lulled out of retirement in 1960 to join the Denver Broncos in the newly formed American Football League, thus becoming one of just two men to have played football in the AAFC, NFL, and AFL.

Hardy Brown retired after that year, and is remembered as one of the most vicious defenders of his day. He destroyed numerous careers.

It is often said that he left a trail of broken bones in his wake. His exploits are documented in NFL Films in both their "Greatest Hits" film and their "San Francisco 49ers - The Complete History" film.

His childhood story is set to be told in the upcoming movie "Twelve Mighty Orphans".

Ken Norton deserves mention.

Hardy Getting Ready To Lay Out Otto Graham

Otto After The Game

Outside Linebacker : Matt Hazeltine

Matt was drafted in the fourth round of the 1955 NFL Draft by San Francisco, the 45th player chosen overall.

He soon found his way into the starting lineup, and intercepted the first pass of his career in 1956. He had a career best three interceptions that season as well.

Hazeltine scored the first touchdown of his career in 1958, after taking an interception in for a score.

He scored another touchdown the next year, after taking a fumble recovery for 42 yards.

The 1962 season was his first Pro Bowl year, an honor he would garner again in 1964.

After missing six games in 1965 because of injury, Hazeltine scored the last touchdown of his career off a fumble recovery in 1966.

He retired from the game in 1968, but decided to come back to the NFL in 1970 at 37 years old.

He joined the New York Giants for that season, and played every game. He also intercepted a pass.

He then retired from the game permanently.

His two touchdowns off fumble recoveries is tied with three others as the most in team history.

Hazeltine died of ALS in 1987, and is one of three 49ers from the 1964 squad to have lost their life to a disease most commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

Matt Hazeltine played 14 solid seasons in San Francisco, and is one of the best linebackers the team has ever had.

The 49ers have an award named after him. It is handed out annually to the 49er who demonstrates the most courage, and is the most inspirational player on defense.

Strong Safety : Tim McDonald

Tim was the second round draft choice of the Saint Louis Cardinals in 1987, the 34th player chosen overall.

McDonald played in just three games in his rookie season, the only year of his career where he did not create a turnover.

The Cardinals moved to Phoenix, Arizona, the next season, and McDonald had two interceptions and sacks in the 15 games he started.

He had a career high seven interceptions for 170 yards in 1989, and scored a touchdown. He also had a career high 155 tackles. McDonald went to the Pro Bowl.

After four interceptions the next season, McDonald returned to the Pro Bowl in 1991 and 1992 with the Cardinals. He had seven interceptions in those two years.

The 49ers then signed McDonald as a free agent for the 1993 season. He was a Pro Bowler his first three seasons with them.

The 1994 season saw San Francisco win Super Bowl XXIX, and McDonald scored two touchdowns that year. One was a career best 73-yard return off of one of his two interceptions, and the other was a 49-yard run on a fumble recovery.

McDonald scored a league leading two touchdowns off of four interceptions the next year.

He remained a consistent force and leader for the team from 1996 to 1999. He had 11 interceptions and seven sacks over that time. He retired after the 1999 season.

Tim McDonald only missed one game for the team in his seven years with them.

His three touchdowns off of interceptions is tied with three others as the most in franchise history.

Carlton Williamson and Tony Parrish deserve mention.

Free Safety : Dwight Hicks

Dwight was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the sixth round of the 1978 draft, and was the 150th player chosen overall.

He did not make the Lions squad, so he played that year with the Toronto Agronauts of the Canadian Football League.

Hicks signed with the 49ers for the 1979 season, and started in four of the seven games he played in.

He intercepted five passes, which led the team.

Now the starter, Hicks picked off four balls, which tied with Ricky Churchman for the team lead.

Hicks had his best season in 1981. He led the NFL with 239 return yards, which was on nine interceptions. He also scored a touchdown on a career long 72 yard return, and another on a 80 yard run off of a fumble recovery.

He went to the Pro Bowl, an honor he would achieve the next three seasons as well.

San Francisco went to Super Bowl XVI at the conclusion of the 1981 season, and Hicks was a big reason why they won over the Cincinnati Bengals 26-21.

The 49ers had just fumbled the opening kickoff, and the Bengals found themselves on San Francisco's five yard line. Hicks intercepted a pass and returned it 27 yards, which eventually led to a 49ers touchdown.

Hicks then had three interceptions in the strike shortened 1982 season.

He scored the last two touchdowns of his career, which led the NFL, on two interceptions the following year.

San Francisco would win Super Bowl XIX in 1984, as Hicks had three interceptions that season.

His last season with the 49ers would be 1985, and he even saw time at cornerback when injuries hit the secondary. He recorded his only official sack of his career, and swiped four balls.

Hicks joined the Indianapolis Colts for the 1986 season, and had two interceptions in the nine games he played. He then retired.

Dwight Hicks' four Pro Bowl games are tied with Merton Hanks as the most by any free safety in team history.

His three touchdowns off of interceptions is tied with three others as the most in franchise history.

Merton Hanks, Lowell Wagner, Dickie Moegul, Rex Barry, Dave Baker, Zack Bronson and Jim Cason all deserve mention.

Cornerback : Kermit Alexander

Kermit was the 49ers first round draft pick in 1963, the eighth player chosen overall.

He started right away at cornerback that year, and had five interceptions. He also returned 24 kickoffs at a career high 26.6 yards per return average.

San Francisco moved him to safety the next year, and he intercepted five more balls. He also led the league with five fumble recoveries, while returning 20 kickoffs. He also returned 21 punts, and took one a career long 70 yards for a touchdown.

The 1965 season saw Alexander lead the NFL with a career best eight fumble recoveries, 32 kickoff returns and 741 kickoff return yards. He also intercepted three passes and returned a career high 35 punts.

The 49ers moved him back to cornerback in 1966, and he responded with four interceptions and a touchdown off of one of his four fumble recoveries. Alexander also scored his last touchdown off a punt return, on 30 attempts, and returned a career best 37 kickoff returns.

He led the NFL with 1,182 kickoff and punt return yards, and matched his career best average of 26.6 yards per kickoff return. He also was second in the league with kickoff returns and kickoff return yardage.

Alexander only returned six punts and one kickoff in 1967, but he did manage to intercept five passes.

The best year of his career may have been 1968, the only season he would earn a Pro Bowl honor. He had a career best nine interceptions and 165 interception return yards. Alexander took one interception 66 yards for a touchdown as well.

It was also his last season used as the 49ers primary return specialist, with 24 punt returns and 20 kickoff returns. Some also may remember Alexander hit Gale Sayers that year, tearing Sayer's knee ligaments.

After intercepting five balls the next year, Alexander found himself on the Los Angeles Rams for the 1970 season. He would score a touchdown off of four interceptions.

The Rams then moved Alexander to strong safety the next season, and responded with three interceptions. He also scored the last touchdown of his career off of a career long 82 yards interception return.

He then joined the Philadelphia Eagles for the 1972 season, but was injured after seven games. It was the first year of his career he failed to create a turnover of any kind. After returning five punts and nine kickoffs the next year, he retired.

Alexander recovered 23 fumbles in his seven years with the Niners, the most in team history.

His 36 interceptions are the second most by any 49ers CB in franchise history, nine less than Hall of Famer Jimmie Johnson, and the third most interceptions overall by any 49er ever.

He is still fifth in team history in kickoff return yards, kickoff returns, and punt returns. His two punt return touchdowns is tied with five others as the most in team history.

Kermit Alexander is one of the most underrated defensive backs in NFL history, and he is certainly one of the best in San Francisco 49ers history.

Cornerback : Eric Wright

Eric was drafted in the second round by the Niners in 1981, the 40th player chosen overall.

He started right away, and intercepted three passes in his rookie year.

The 49ers won Super Bowl XVI that year, and Wright took a ball 25 yards off of an interception in the game.

After getting one pick in the strike shortened 1982 season, Wright had the best season of his career in 1983.

He had seven interceptions for 164 yards and two touchdowns. All were career high totals.

Wright was named to the UPI's All-Conference First Team.

He made his first Pro Bowl in 1984, after getting two interceptions.

The 49ers wound up winning Super Bowl XIX that season, and Wright had an interception in the game.

Wright's last Pro Bowl season was in 1985, when he had one interception. He was also named First Team All-Pro.

His next two years were injury plagued. He was able to suit up for just four games total, starting in three.

The 1988 season saw him bounce back. He started 10 of the 15 games he played, and had two interceptions.

He was used as a reserve the final two seasons of his career, starting one of the 20 games he appeared in. He intercepted two passes in 1989, and retired after the 1990 season.

For the first five years of his career, Eric Wright was a lockdown defender who was one of the best at his position in the NFC.

Don Griffin and Bruce Taylor deserve mention.

Kicker : Tommy Davis

Tommy was drafted by San Francisco in the 11th round of the 1957 NFL Draft. He was the 128th player chosen overall.

The 49ers used Davis as both their kicker and punter for the first eight years of his career.

He led the NFL with a 71 yard punt in his rookie season, and averaged 45.7 yards per punt on 59 attempts.

Davis had an NFL long punt of 74 yards the next season, and led the NFL in field goal attempts and field goals made.

He made his first Pro Bowl in 1963, after he led the NFL with a 45.6 yards per punt average, and a career best 82 yard punt.

Davis returned to the Pro Bowl the next year, his last, despite having the only two punts of his career blocked.

The 1965 season may have been his best. He had a career high 103 points, and a career best 45.8 yards per punt. He also led the NFL in extra points attempted and made.

After giving up his punting duties after 1966, Davis remained the 49ers kicker until he retired after the 1969 season. He also punted the ball 23 times in that final year.

His 350 extra point attempts and 348 conversions are the second most in team history, and his 99.4 percent success rate is the best by anyone with at least 105 attempts.

The 276 field goals he attempted in his career are the most ever in team history, and his 130 field goals made are the second most ever.

His 511 punts for 22,833 yards are the most in team history, though Andy Lee could pass those numbers in 2009.

His career average of 44.7 yards per punt is the best in team history by anyone with at least 20 attempts.

Davis' 82 yard punt is tied with Lee as the second longest in team history.

His two Pro Bowls are the most by any 49ers kicker, though he was named for both his kicking and punting prowess. Back then, only one kicking specialist made the Pro Bowl.

Tommy Davis is easily the greatest kicker and punter in 49ers history.

Ray Wersching, Mike Cofer, Joe Nedney, and Gordie Soltau deserve mention.

Punter : Tom Wittum

Tom was drafted by the Niners in the eighth round in 1972, the 200th player chosen overall.

His rookie season was his best. He averaged a career best 43.7 yards per punt on 77 attempts. He also ran one ball for a career long 63 yards.

He was named to the Pro Bowl that year, and would achieve that honor again the next season.

Wittum averaged 41.2 yards per punt that season. He also ran a ball 13 yards.

He caught the only two passes of his career in 1975, gaining 29 yards.

In 1976, Wittum attempted a career high 89 punts.

In 1977, he attempted three passes, and completed one for 15 yards. He also attempted two field goals, making one, and four extra points, making two.

He then retired from the NFL.

Wittum's 380 punts for 15,494 yards are the third most in team history. His nine kicks blocked are the most.

His two Pro Bowls are the most by any Niners punter.

He once punted a ball 64 yards in a Pro Bowl game, and it is tied as the longest ever. His nine punts in one Pro Bowl game is the second most ever.

Frankie Albert deserves mention.

Punt Returner : Dana McLemore

Dana was drafted in the 10th round of the 1982 draft by San Francisco, and was the 269th player chosen overall.

He rarely played in his rookie season, but he did take one of his seven punt returns for a career long 93 yard touchdown. He also returned 16 kickoffs.

McLemore returned 31 punts the next year, and returned one 56 yards for a score. He also returned a career high 30 kickoff returns.

He would return just 10 kickoffs for the rest of his career.

The 1984 season saw him return a 79 yard return for a touchdown off of a career high 45 attempts.

He also intercepted the first two passes of his career, returning one 54 yards for a score.

San Francisco would win Super Bowl XIX that season.

McLemore's 28 yard punt return in the second quarter set the table for the 49ers third touchdown of the game.

After returning 38 punts and intercepting a pass the next season, McLemore joined the New Orleans Saints for three games in 1986.

He returned 10 punts and two kickoffs before rejoining San Francisco for three games. He did not record a statistic with them.

The 1987 season would be his last in the NFL. He returned 21 punts, including one going for a 83 yard touchdown, and intercepted the last two passes of his career.

He then retired.

Dana McLemore's four punt return touchdowns are the most in team history.

John Taylor, Abe Woodson, Dexter Carter, Kermit Alexander, Hugh McElhenny, Bruce Taylor, and Freddie Soloman all deserve mention.

1 comment:

afrankangle said...

Another great trip down memory lane. Of the players you listed, I'll take Cedric Hardman. The guy played with a lot of motor!