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San Francisco 49ers - Greatest Sports Franchises

VO: Rebecca Brayton
The San Francisco 49ers is the oldest professional sports team in that state. The team struggled in its early years, but by the time the 1970s rolled around, the Niners were getting better; however, two divisional titles in a row were all they could muster. Big changes came at the end of the decade, when Bill Walsh was brought in. He drafted Joe Montana, and by 1981 the team won its first Super Bowl. Four more came in the ‘80s, and one in the ‘90s, and this made the 49ers an all-time great franchise. In this video, continues our series on the Greatest Sports Franchises of All Time with a look at the San Francisco 49ers.

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The History of the San Francisco 49ers

This was the first team to win five Super Bowl championships. Welcome to, and today we’ll be continuing our series of the most successful sports franchises with a look at the San Francisco 49ers.

Storied History

The 49ers were named after gold prospectors that came to Northern California during the California Gold Rush around 1849. This football franchise was established in 1946, and – in fact – it was the first professional sports franchise in the Golden State.

Early Years

The club’s early years were woeful. This was epitomized by the death of owner Tony Morabito as the result of a heart attack during a game against the Chicago Bears on October 27th, 1957.

Coach Red Hickey

In the 1950s and ‘60s, Niners’ coach Red Hickey helped popularize the shotgun formation. This configuration gave the quarterback more time to pass the ball, since he was lined up seven yards behind the center.

Two Straight Divisional Championships

In 1970, the team won their first divisional title to become champions of the NFC West. The 49ers then moved from Kezar Stadium to Candlestick Park, and after that came their second straight divisional championship in 1971.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

Following a disastrous 2-14 1978 season, a light began to emerge at the end of the tunnel in the form of quarterback Steve DeBerg, running back Paul Hofer and center/guard Randy Cross, to name just a few. The biggest change actually came in the front office, when new owner Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. took over. He hired head coach Bill Walsh from Stanford University, who had also served under the Cincinnati Bengals’ Paul Brown from 1968 to 1975.

Bill Walsh

Walsh was credited with popularizing the “West Coast Offense.” Walsh’s Offense was an aerial version of the running game, with short, precise and timed passes that advanced the ball 6 to 8 yards at a time.

Joe Montana

Walsh was also ingenious at drafting well, and in his first draft he eyed Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana. While he lacked the physique scouts sought in QBs, he did have the intangibles and a calm demeanor.

First Super Bowl Win

In 1981, the Niners clashed with the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game. San Fran trailed late in the game, when Montana connected with another Walsh draft choice in the end zone, wide receiver Dwight Clark. The play that followed has since been labeled “The Catch,” and it remains one of the most memorable plays in NFL history. It also added to the drama as the club won its first Super Bowl Championship in 1981.

Another Championship

The 49ers won the Championship again in 1984 in Super Bowl XIX by defeating the Miami Dolphins 38-16. They managed this win even after Dolphins’ quarterback Dan Marino assaulted the record books.

Back-to-Back Wins

The Niners then won two back-to-back Super Bowls. The first came in 1988 against the Cincinnati Bengals in a tightly-fought 23-16 victory, where Montana connected with wide receiver John Taylor. The next season, the Niners crushed the Denver Broncos 55-10.

Fifth Super Bowl

At this point, the dynasty was firmly in place. By 1995, the 49ers were led by coach George Seifert and QB Steve Young. It was that year they Niners won their fifth Super Bowl championship by defeating the San Diego Chargers 49-26.


With five Super Bowl wins over 14 seasons, and sixteen straight winning seasons, the Niners cemented their place as one of the greatest sports franchises of all time.

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