Interested in rooting for one of the NFL's 32 teams -- but don't know where to start? Adam Rank has you covered with this series, which will present a handy guide to becoming an instantly rabid fan of each organization in the league. Below, find out why you should root for the San Francisco 49ers.
What you need to know so you don't sound stupid
Joe Montana is the G.O.A.T., and Tom Brady is right -- he's not at Montana's level. I'm not saying this personally. I'm just saying, if you are going to be a fan of the 49ers, it comes with an agreement that you acknowledge Montana as not only the greatest quarterback who ever lived, but the best football player ever. Hell, let's triple down and say best athlete in any sport. (Which, come on folks. Serena, amirite?) Consider this like the damage waiver on renting a car. You could be a 49ers fan without signing it, but it's not advised. (Just kidding. Don't ever get the damage waiver. Huge scam. And I worked for one of the big companies for a while.)
But it's not like 49ers fans are wrong, necessarily. I don't agree with them, but Montana's credentials are pretty great. Four Super Bowl wins. Three Super Bowl MVP awards. Never threw an interception in the Super Bowl. Beat John Elway and Dan Marino in Super Bowls. Had to battle the 1980s Bears and Redskins. And hell, I feel like that Chief of Staff in "The Rock" who read off the credentials for General Hummel, the man who has taken over Alcatraz and is threating to fire VX rockets into San Francisco. (We don't find out until later in the movie that the intended target is a 49ers game. But rest easy: Montana was either retired or in K.C. during the movie's timeline. So they will get either Steve Young or Jeff Garcia.)
So if you're comfortable saying Montana is the best ever, I won't debate you. I will, actually. A bit later.
Notice the list of Montana's accomplishments are from the Super Bowl. Meaning he played his best when it mattered the most. He was the coolest dude, ever. For instance, the 49ers trailed the Bengals with just over three minutes left in Super Bowl XXIII. The 49ers huddled in their own end zone when Montana looked up in the crowd and said, "Isn't that John Candy?" He then completed eight of nine passes for 92 yards, including the winning touchdown strike to John Taylor with 34 seconds left.
First to five
The 49ers were the second team to four Super Bowls but the first to five, thanks to a 213-3 shellacking of the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. (I might have exaggerated the score.) Prior to No. 5, it should be noted the 49ers had been beaten in back-to-back NFC Championship Games by the Dallas Cowboys. So they bent (maybe finessed) the rules to sign a s---ton of free agents. The most noteworthy being mercenary Deion Sanders. It was like when the Warriors signed Kevin Durant, but if the Warriors also signed six other All-Stars, too. So you can either defame the 49ers for spending so much money or respect an owner who cared enough to go the extra mile. I prefer the latter. Don't be hating. (BTW, as a Rams fan in my youth who saw his team trade away its best offensive player ever because they didn't want to pay him, I was sort of jealous.)
Super Bowl XXIX was also vindication for Steve Young, who assumed the throne from Montana. He was on the sidelines and literally asked his teammates to remove the monkey from his back. The monkey was figurative, though. I mean, it would have been baller had he brought a real monkey, like the one from "Friends", to the sideline to have somebody take it off his back. It would have made me feel better about the knife he put in Montana's. (The knife was also figurative.)
Wait, so it wasn't a peaceful transition?
NO. Listen. Young wanted to be the starter. Montana was the starter and didn't want to give it up. It happens. It's like Ted and Barney from "How I Met Your Mother" fame. Both longed for Robin, but only one could have her. And through it all, they were friends -- but willing to throw each other under the bus. (And for the record, I've never seen the finale, so I'm going to assume Barney and Robin stay together. The mother never dies. Actually, here's the real ending.)
The franchise's best
Tough call, but you have to go with Jerry Rice. Obviously Joe Montana is in the mix. (The 49ers had an embarrassment of riches at quarterback, with back-to-back Hall of Famers under center.) But it has to be Rice. He shattered just about every conceivable receiving record. And some might consider him not only the greatest NFL player of all time, but the greatest pro athlete. (But again, Serena, amirite?)
Take a T.O.
Like I just said, the 49ers have obviously done well at quarterback. But they also boast two of the best receivers of the Super Bowl era. And while his antics might have been a bit much -- especially when you consider Rice rarely showboated, while Terrell Owens one time danced with pom-poms and pulled a Sharpie out of his sock to sign a football -- Owens was a damn good football player. One who clearly deserves a bust in Canton, too.
When talking about these great players, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the man who built it all -- Bill Walsh. (You might not know Walsh honed his craft as an assistant to Paul Brown with the Cincinnati Bengals in the late 1960s and early 1970s.)
Walsh took over a downtrodden 49ers franchise in 1979, spent a few years building it up and then created one of the NFL's top dynasties ever. Some might say it's the best dynasty in NFL history. Well, you should say this if you end up rooting for this team. Again, I don't agree, but you need to be able to say this.
The key to Walsh's success was the West Coast offense, which overwhelmed defenses with a quick-hit passing attack. As Chris Wesseling noted in his fine feature, "The Ohio River Offense", Walsh's high-percentage system produced both the regular-season MVP (Ken Anderson, who ran it in Cincy) and the Super Bowl MVP (Montana) in 1981. That is pretty damn impressive.
Walsh would guide the 49ers to three of their Super Bowl wins before he retired. You wonder if the 49ers would have struggled in the 1990s with Walsh at the helm. (My conjecture: Nope. And by "struggle" I mean, "losing in the NFC Championship Game.")
The turning point
The 49ers became a dynasty in the 1980s with a win over the Cowboys, but it wasn't the 1981 NFC Championship Game. Well, I mean "The Catch" is The Catch, so that was obviously important. But the 49ers absolutely beat the (stuff) out of the Cowboys in Week 6 of that season. A beating so bad, they wouldn't even show the highlights on "Monday Night Football" the next day. Walsh used this as motivation, and you have to feel that it worked. The NFL would never be the same after that.
A new architect?
Kyle Shanahan will head the 49ers this season. Many feel this could be similar to Walsh's arrival. Kyle's dad, Mike, was the offensive coordinator for the 49ers in their Super Bowl XXIX victory.
The 49ers have had a lot of coaches post-Walsh, some of them noted more for their attire than anything else. Mike Nolan liked to wear suits on the sidelines. Jim Harbaugh had 98 pairs of khakis. And Mike Singletary liked to pull his pants down to motivate his team.
Don't ever talk about ...
The 49ers did pretty well under Coach Harbaugh, who brought the team back to respectability after it had fallen under disrepair with Nolan and Singletary at the helm. The latter was known for his epic postgame rant after he had sent TE Vernon Davis to the locker room during the game.
Harbaugh did have a soft spot for fades to Michael Crabtree in key situations. They ran that play on fourth down against the Ravens in the Super Bowl. And lost. Then they ran it again against the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game the next year. And lost. (And Richard Sherman was having none of that in his postgame interview with Erin Andrews.)
So let's not bring that up again.
What if ...
Alex Smith was much-maligned during the bulk of his tenure with the 49ers, but Harbaugh worked wonders with him, too. Dude put the 49ers in a position to win the 2011 NFC Championship Game. If Kyle Williams didn't fumble on that punt return, the 49ers could have advanced. And what would that mean for Smith's career?
Also, what if the 49ers brass had sided with Harbaugh instead of GM Trent Baalke? Sorry, this should be happy times.
Not given enough credit
John Taylor was a pretty (deity)damn good receiver. But was the Goose to Rice's Maverick. The Slash to Rice's Axl Rose. The Dick Grayson to Rice's Batman. (You do know that Grayson was Robin? Well so was Tim Drake, Jason Todd and Damian Wayne. But I'll move on.)
There are a few Taylor moments that always stand out to me.
The year was 1989. The date was Dec. 11 -- the day after my birthday. My parents got me tickets to "Monday Night Football" in Anaheim, California. I was thrilled. The Rams jumped out to a huge lead, and it looked like they were going to sweep the season series. But then Taylor caught two 90-yard touchdown passes from Montana as the Niners rallied to win. TWO! Ninety-two yards and 95 yards, to be exact. Damn it.
The other was his winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. Funny because two of the biggest grabs (this one by Taylor and "The Catch" by Dwight Clark) were not collected by Rice. (Just saying.) And this catch from Owens when he nearly died catching this football? Wow.
George Seifert won two Super Bowls as head coach of the 49ers. Yeah, he Barry Switzer'd those Super Bowls. Shoot, he beat Barry Switzer to win one. His time in Carolina pretty much illustrated that he was very good at driving a car that was already speeding down the freeway. He wasn't a mechanic who could get it running.
Roger Craig's No. 33.
Craig was the first running back in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards and have 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. He was the perfect running back for the West Coast offense. And I tell you right now: He belongs in the Hall of Fame. He's a much better back than Jerome Bettis. If Craig and not Bettis had gone into TV, the situation would be reversed.
But be careful with this. Some 49ers fans still harbor a grudge for his crucial fumble in the 1990 NFC Championship Game. The 49ers lost a chance for a three-peat after they were defeated by the Giants. But if your biggest problem with him is that he kept you from winning anotherSuper Bowl after he'd already helped you earn three rings, well, then you people suck. That's akin to the people who get upset when the open bar gets closed at a wedding. I mean, you had like four hours of free drinks. You're fine. In fact, go home and go to bed.
Hipster jersey II
Look, the 49ers have a lot of great ones. Dwight Clark's No. 87 would also be a special jersey to have, too. Especially now.
Closing fun fact
The 49ers were founded in 1946 in the All-America Football Conference, a league that was dominated by Paul Brown and his Cleveland Browns. Brown would eventually found another team, the AFL's Cincinnati Bengals, and hire Bill Walsh, who would (don't jump ahead) become the coach of the 49ers. Time is a flat circle.