Back in 1989, I got tickets for my birthday to see the Rams play host to the 49ers at Anaheim Stadium on "Monday Night Football." The Rams took an early 17-3 lead, but then John Taylor caught two (TWO) touchdown passes of more than 90 yards (90!) to nearly ruin my love for football, as the 49ers won 30-27. But this was the rivalry of the 1980s. And these remain two of the most storied franchises in NFL history.
So, with the Rams visiting the 49ers on "Thursday Night Football" (8:25 p.m. ET, NFL Network), let's take a look back at the best of the best from each organization. How do they stack up against each other all-time? Here's my examination, post by post.
Head coach: Bill Walsh vs. Chuck Knox
Knox led the Rams to five consecutive NFC West titles from 1973 to '77 before he bolted for Buffalo. He ranks 10th all-time in career regular-season wins. But Bill Walsh is credited with the invention of the West Coast offense, led the 49ers to four Super Bowl wins and is in the conversation for best coach ever.
Quarterback: Joe Montana vs. Norm Van Brocklin
All right, all right: Montana is considered by some to be the best quarterback ever. But Van Brocklin is a Hall of Famer himself -- and still holds the NFL record for passing yards in a game: 554 against the New York Yanks (that's right) in Week 1 of the 1951 campaign. So it's not that one-sided. But still ...
Running back: Roger Craig vs. Eric Dickerson
Listen, Craig is one of the most underrated running backs in NFL history. He was so key to those 1980s 49ers teams (and frustrating to watch, as an opposing fan). If you want me to co-sign a memo to get him into the Hall, I'm happy to do it. But E.D. is one of the best running backs in NFL history. Top five, easy. Hey, finally one for the good guys!
Wide receiver 1: Jerry Rice vs. Elroy Hirsch
Hirsch had 1,495 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns in 1951. A great season by today's standards -- and an absolutely ridiculous season by 1950s standards. Remember, teams only played 12 games in that day. "Crazy Legs" averaged a whopping 124.6 yards and nearly 1.5 scores per week in '51. How would you like that on your fantasy team? But still, he's going up against Rice. Damn it.
Wide receiver 2: Terrell Owens vs. Tom Fears
Thanks to the aerial evolution that has occurred over the past couple decades, it's hard to be wowed by Fears' numbers from the mid-20th century. But he did lead the NFL in receptions from 1948 through 1950. T.O. is a great player whose antics taint your recollection of how dominant he was. He should be in the Hall of Fame. But he's not (yet). Fears is. Still, I have to go with Owens. Even as it kills me a little inside.
Tight end: Vernon Davis vs. Billy Truax
Davis was legitimately one of the most impressive tight ends I've ever seen play. Also a clutch performer for the 49ers in the playoffs. And in all honesty, I had to go to Turf Show Times to help jog the memory regarding prominent Rams tight ends. (I was going to put Troy Drayton on this list.) Truax was good, and like most good Rams, he won a Super Bowl with somebody else. So, I'm going Davis.
Offensive line: '80s 49ers vs. '80s Rams
Defensive line: '80s 49ers vs. The Fearsome Foursome
Yeah, the line of the 1980s 49ers was pretty good. I get that. But I've ceded many positions to the Niners despite the Rams having Hall of Famers at the same spots. So, sorry, not sorry that I'm giving this to the defensive line of Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy -- a.k.a, the greatest freaking defensive line of all time.
Pass rusher: Charles Haley vs. Jack Youngblood
Haley was a beast. He's in the two-man club with Tom Brady as the only players in NFL history with five Super Bowl rings. The thing is, three of Haley's titles came with the Cowboys because he wore out his welcome in San Francisco. The Rams never got tired of Youngblood. And not only did he play in the Super Bowl with a broken leg, he played in the PRO BOWL THE FOLLOWING WEEK. Don't even.
Inside linebacker: Patrick Willis vs. Les Richter
The Ramstraded 11 players to get Richter back in 1952. He made it to the Pro Bowl in eight of his nine years in the league. But he also played both center and linebacker in 1962. Willis was one of the best of his era, and a key to the 49ers' most recent run of success. He was a Pro Bowler in seven of his eight NFL seasons. It's tough, but I'm going with Willis, who will one day be in the Hall of Fame.
Cornerback: Deion Sanders vs. Dick Lane
Deion was one of the most electrifying players in the NFL, not only as a shutdown cornerback but as a punt returner. He is also the only reason Steve Young won a Super Bowl title. Lane broke the NFL record with 14 interceptions during his rookie season. I'm going Lane because he was much more physical.
Better nickname: Prime Time vs. Night Train
Are you kidding me right now? No contest. Much love, Deion, but even you must acknowledge "Night Train" is one of the greatest nicknames in human history.
Safety: Ronnie Lott vs. Nolan Cromwell
Kicker: Ray Wersching vs. Greg Zuerlein
Am I really talking kickers here? Wersching won two Super Bowls with the 49ers and nearly put up 1,000 points for them. But Zuerlein has earned the nickname "The Leg" -- partly because it rhymes with his first name, but also because he's got such a strong leg.