Record: 16-3 (Won Super Bowl XXIX over San Diego)
Head Coach: George Seifert
Starting Quarterback: Steve Young
Best Players: QB Steve Young, WR Jerry Rice, RB Ricky Watters
There’s some argument about whether the early 1990s teams are part of the same 49ers dynasty that goes back to 1981, or if the change in head coach, quarterback and the rise of the Dallas Cowboys makes them their own separate thing. I consider them one long dynasty, but your mileage may vary.
One way or another, 1994 was the year Steve Young got the proverbial monkey off his back. Winning the NFL MVP in 1992 and back-to-back All Pro seasons were apparently not quite enough for 49ers fans, who still longed for the departed Joe Montana. Until he finally brought home that Super Bowl ring, Young was going to play second-fiddle in 49ers’ fans hearts.
1994 was Young’s greatest single season—and, I’d argue, better as a season than anything Montana ever put up. His 70.3 percent completion percentage not only lead the league, but is still one of the five best seasons of all time. He also lead the league in touchdowns with 35 while throwing only 10 interceptions, and his 112.8 quarterback rating was the highest in his career and, at the time, and NFL record which stood for a decade.
On the ground, Ricky Watters rushed for 877 yards and six touchdowns. He also contributed significantly in the passing game with 719 yards receiving and five more touchdowns; it’s easy to forget because he left town so soon, but Watters was one of the most dynamic threats the 49ers have ever had. He actually led the team in yards from scrimmage that season, and any year you can top Jerry Rice is worth celebrating, even if it was only by four yards. It was Watters’ best season.
It was arguably Rice’s best season, as well—and when you have players like Young, Watters and Rice all putting up great seasons, you’re going to be pretty darn hard to stop. Rice led the league in receiving for the fifth time in his career on his way to yet another All-Pro nod. Add in Pro Bowlers Jesse Sapolu and Bart Oates on the offensive line, and you can see why the 49ers’ offense was top in the league.
The defense wasn’t quite as great as the offense, but that’s far from a major criticism. Dana Stubblefield dominated at the point of attack, while Deion Sanders, Merton Hanks and Tim McDonald all made the Pro Bowl out of the secondary.
We haven’t even mentioned Harris Barton, Brent Jones, John Taylor, Bryant Young, Derrick Deese or Ken Norton yet. This was a heck of a team, and they proved it by absolutely demolishing the San Diego Chargers. They have the second-greatest point differential in franchise history.
So why is it all the way down at number six? Well, they weren’t consistently great all throughout the year; they were absolutely embarrassed by Philadelphia in a 40-8 blowout early in the year, and the loss to Montana’s Chiefs in Week 2 stung. Mostly, however, it’s their defense, which gave up the sixth-most points and eighth-most yards in the league—very good, but a rung short of the best the franchise has put up.
This is the third greatest season in franchise history, but I think the team was even better the next season.