As an avid 49ers fan, I frequently reminisce about my fond memories of 49ers teams from years passed. In 1994 the 49ers fans were desperate for something good to happen. The team had been in a slump since losing the two previous NFC Championships to the hated Dallas Cowboys, and fans were clamoring for another chance to face them and hopefully beat them. Little did fans know that they would again get that chance and be in for an amazing season that would go in to the record books in more ways than one.
The season started with the 49ers adding quite a few big name free agents in the offseason, most notable Deion Sanders, Ken Norton Jr. and Gary Plummer among others. The 49ers also drafted a few players that would end up playing large roles in their rookies seasons. The 49ers drafted Bryant Young and William Floyd in the 1994 draft and both players ended up seeing significant time in the regular season and playoffs. This Niner team seemed to be destined for big things from the start of the 1994 season and they did not disappoint.
1994 was the 75th anniversary of the NFL and most teams donned throwback jerseys for much of the season and the Niner were no different. The white pants and 3D style numbers of the 49ers “throwback” jerseys were a matter of some debate, some thought they were ugly and others thought they were horrendous. I personally love them, the jerseys at least. In the first 5 weeks of the season the 49ers played the Raiders, Chiefs, Rams, Saints and Eagles. They came in to Week 6 at 3-2 with wins against the Raiders, Rams, and Saints and losses against the Chiefs (with former QB Joe Montana) and a embarassing 40-8 loss against the Eagles at Candlestick Park. Following the week 5 debacle the 49ers definitely took notice and put together a string of 10 consecutive victories including 8 where they scored more than 30 points. The 49ers ended the 1994 regular season with a loss to the Minnesota Vikings on the road, a game where most of their starters sat because they had already wrapped up home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Other accomplishments of note for the 1994 regular season where Steve Young won his second league MVP for the second time, recording the highest passer rating for a full season (at the time) at 112.8. He also threw for 35 touchdown passes in the regular season to just 10 interceptions along with 7 rushing touchdowns and 3,969 yards passing and a 70.3% completion percentage. Jerry Rice again eclipsed 100 receptions (112) and caught for almost 1,500 yards and 13 receiving touchdowns. Deion Sanders was also awarded the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award for his 6 interceptions, 3 of which were returned for touchdowns, and his all around dominant play on the field. Not so much as a tackler, just a fearsome defensive back in coverage. Rookie Defensive End Bryant Young also won Rookie of the Year honors for his outstanding play and 6 sacks as a rookie. The 49ers also can boast about the 3 future head coaches that were on the roster in 1994, Mike Shanahan, Gary Kubiak, and Ray Rhodes.
More than the stats of the regular season, more than the record setting offensive performances and the (at the time) record for most points scored in a season at 505, the 49ers were a team, they were undoubtedly a throw back to the Bill Walsh teams of the 80’s with a little new school thrown in. What Bill Walsh invented in the West Coast Offense, the 49ers of the 1994 season most certainly perfected. At it’s core, the West Coast style is short to intermediate passes mostly replacing the running game, with occasional shots down the field when the defense starts to try and jump those short routes. It’s genius and still works to this day, but that 1994 squad were masters of it. They showed other teams what it really meant to be “West Coast” throughout the regular season and their dominance only continued into the playoffs where Steve Young and the rest of the 49ers put on one of the greatest team playoffs (stats and points wise) in the history of the NFL.
The 49ers were the #1 seed in the playoffs in 1994 affording them home field advantage throughout the playoffs and a first round bye. In the divisional round, they faced the Chicago Bears led by Erik Kramer and Lewis Tillman. The game was a blowout with the 49ers only allowing the Bears to score 3 points until the 4th quarter and eventually beating them 44-15 behind the 3 rushing touchdowns by William Floyd and a smothering performance by the Niners defense. Up next was the hated rivals the Dallas Cowboys, whom the 49ers had faced in the two previous NFC Championship Games and lost to. This game would prove to be different however. The week previous, the Cowboys had absolutely smothered the Packers in a 35-9 rout on the backs of Alvin Harper, Michael Irvin, and Jay Novacek’s 100+ yard receiving performances and Troy Aikman’s precision passing. But on January 15th, 1995 the 49ers were ready, Steve Young was ready to silence his critics, and the Niners as a whole were ready to make their 6th trip to the grandest stage of them all.
In the 1994-95 NFC Championship Game, the 49ers capitalized on 3 first quarter turnover by Dallas and turned them in to three touchdowns, the Cowboys would not go quietly though and made it a game, while Troy Aikman set a playoff record with 380 yards passing and Michael Irvin set a record with 192 receiving yards, the 49ers proved to be too much for the Cowboys that day and punched their ticket to Miami for Super Bowl XXIX with a 10 point victory 38-28.
So the stage was set, the “Cinderella” team in the San Diego Chargers, with their stout defense against one of the most prolific scoring offenses in NFL history in the 49ers. On January 29th, 1995, at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami, Florida the 49ers absolutely demolished the Chargers 49-26. You have heard the stats before so I won’t bore you with them here. Of course the biggest story line was Steve Young, since his promotion to starting quarterback of the 49ers, he was told he could not replace Joe Montana and until the 1994-95 season, the critics were right, he couldn’t win the big one, losing two straight NFC Championships to the Cowboys. Imagine that for a second, imagine you are Steve Young and you are replacing quite possibly the greatest clutch quarterback to ever put on a uniform. Imagine how daunting of a task that must have been, how emotionally and physically draining it must have to constantly be compared to Joe Cool. Steve Young put the 49ers on his back in 1994, he took the memory of Joe Montana off his back, and put the team on his back and led them to a 6th Lombardi Trophy for the greatest organization in history with 6 touchdown passes (still a record in a SB) and a unequivocal, unanimous selection for Super Bowl MVP. That 49ers team is my favorite, they are so probably because it is the last great team we had and therefore the freshest one in memory, that being said, I look forward to writing about another great 49ers team (hopefully from this decade) and another 2 or 3 Lombardi trophies in the case.