The San Francisco 49ers were charter members of the All-America Football Conference, which began play in 1946. Had it not been for the Browns, who won four championships and lost only four games in the league’s four years of operation, the 49ers would have been the AAFC’s dominant team. Their cumulative record was an excellent 39-15-2. They handed the Browns two of their four defeats but finished second each year. Even in attendance, the 49ers were second best in the AAFC next to Cleveland.
Joe MontanaWhen the 49ers moved to the NFL in 1950 following the collapse of the AAFC, their original management team — co-owners Anthony J. Morabito and Victor P. Morabito and general manager Louis Spadia — remained intact. The 49ers in the 1950s boasted of some of the game’s great individual stars: quarterbacks Frankie Albert and Y. A. Tittle, running backs Hugh McElhenny, Joe Perry and John Henry Johnson, tackle Bob St. Clair and defensive tackle Leo Nomellini. But the closest they came to a championship in their first two decades of NFL play was in 1957, when they tied Detroit for the NFL Western division crown but lost in a playoff.
San Francisco flirted with success in 1970, 1971 and 1972, when the 49ers won three straight NFC Western division titles. Every year, they were eliminated by the Dallas Cowboys, in the NFC championship games 1970 and 1971 and in the first playoff round in 1972. In 1971, the 49ers moved their home games from antiquated Kezar Stadium to 68,491-seat Candlestick Park.
A bright new era dawned for the 49ers on March 31, 1977, when Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. became the new team owner. He dedicated himself to transforming a team that never won a league championship into a pro football power. In 1979, DeBartolo selected Bill Walsh, renowned as an offensive specialist, as the 49ers head coach. It took Walsh just three seasons to bring San Francisco its first-ever league championship with a 26-21 win over Cincinnati in Super Bowl XVI.
San Francisco also won the NFC West in 1983 and did even better in 1984 with 18 wins in 19 games and a 38-16 Super Bowl XIX victory over the Miami Dolphins. Walsh concluded his pro coaching career after a last-second 20-16 victory over Cincinnati in Super Bowl XXIII. In 10 years, Walsh compiled a 102-62-1 record and won six NFC West titles and three Super Bowls.
The 49ers of the 1980s were loaded with a group of young superstars including quarterback Joe Montana, receivers Dwight Clark and Jerry Rice, running back Roger Craig and defensive back Ronnie Lott. George Seifert, who replaced Walsh, continued to take full advantage of the existing talent. Careful personnel planning paid off as capable new players were on hand when veteran stars retired. A perfect example is the quarterback position where Steve Young was on hand to replace Montana, who battled a series of injuries before leaving the 49ers.
Seifert’s record as the 49ers head man was awesome, with two Super Bowl wins — a 55-10 win over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV and a 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX.