Mount Rushmore is a historical monument which depicts the images of four of the greatest presidents in American history. The 49ers have a Mount Rushmore of their own, figuratively speaking. The 49ers have had many influential players, coaches and front office personnel over the years of this long and storied franchise.
What separates the best from the best from the others? Is it the championships won or the records set? Or could it be the money spent and the innovation for a chance at that elusive championship? Perhaps it could be the development of an iconic passing scheme which changes the way football is played forever?
Whatever the reason, there are four individuals who have had the greatest impact on a proud franchise. These four have set the standard for how the 49ers present themselves to this day. Here is the gold standard for which the everybody looks to as the 49ers Mount Rushmore.
49ers Mount Rushmore: The Four Most Influential People In Team History
Owner: Eddie DeBartolo Jr.
The 49ers of the 1980s were a memorable dynasty with many great players. None of this would have been possible without the money Eddie DeBartolo was willing to invest to make this franchise great. His father, Edward DeBartolo Sr, bought the team for his son and daughter, Denise, in 1977.
DeBartolo Jr. was in charge from the start but he struggled due to his inexperience in the NFL and his youth as he was only 30 years old. He hired Joe Thomas as the general manager but after winning just seven games in seasons, it was time to make a change.
After firing Thomas, Debartolo Jr. hired Bill Walsh as head coach and later brought in John McVay as GM. While Walsh scouted the players it was up to McVay and DeBartolo to deal with the business side of contract negotiations.
This is where DeBartolo’s true genius lies. He sat back and listened to Walsh explain the prospects to him. Debartolo trusted Walsh’s expertise and would open up the checkbook to get the player his future Hall of Fame coach wanted.
Debartolo’s savvy to make deals was how the 49ers acquired Steve Young among other players. He trusted Walsh’s genius in talent evaluation and it usually paid off. He also earned the players’ respect by treating them as more than just guys on his football team. He realized it was more than just a game and got to know his players on a personal level.
During the season he would book the best hotels and always flew first class. This was perhaps the reason why between the 1988 and 1990 seasons, the team set an NFL record with 18 consecutive road wins. The players loved him and were motivated to win for him because of how they were treated.
While Debartolo often wore his emotions on his sleeve, he was passionate about his team and about winning. His devotion to the 49ers is a key reason why the team won five Super Bowls in the 1980s and 1990s. He was finally selected to the Hall of Fame in 2016 and was recognized for his contributions to a great dynasty.
Head Coach: Bill Walsh
The 49ers of the 1980s were known for their innovative offense which revolutionized football. Walsh was the architect of the highly successful West Coast offense and helped start a dynasty in San Francisco by building a roster around his scheme.
He was an excellent talent evaluator and was a master scout in the draft. Walsh selected Joe Montana in the third round even though many felt he was too small to win in the NFL. He took Jerry Rice out of tiny Mississippi Valley State in the first round despite the lack of competition he had faced in college.
What truly separates Walsh from his coaching peers is his innovative passing-oriented offense, the West Coast offense, which revolutionized football. He truly made the quarterback position into an art by emphasizing their footwork and timing with their receivers.
Before his offense became well known, quarterbacks typically dropped back and threw to an open receiver. By focusing on timing routes, quarterbacks can almost throw with their eyes closed if their timing is just right with their receivers. This makes things even more difficult for a defensive back because the receiver will be a step ahead of him every time.
Walsh’s coaching tree features a number of excellent coaches including Mike Holmgren and George Seifert. These two coaches combined for four Super Bowl appearances and three Super Bowl victories thanks in large part to Walsh’s offensive system. The 49ers dynasty is the pinnacle of Walsh’s career but his innovations and coaching tree reverberate throughout the NFL to this day.
Quarterback: Joe Montana
Possibly the greatest quarterback of all time, he made winning four Super Bowls look easy with his calm demeanor in the midst of adversity. He was seen as too slight in the NFL but his nimble feet and the impeccable timing of his throws proved to be too much for defenders.
With all of the patterns involved in the West Coast offense, his feet were a great asset and they helped him march the 49ers to four Super Bowl victories. He had an underrated toughness and proved to be an excellent field general in crunch time.
A fantastic example of this was in 1989 when he was sacked eight times by the Philadelphia Eagles but then led the 49ers to four touchdowns in the fourth quarter to seal a 38-28 victory. He also had an iconic last-minute scoring drive in Super Bowl XXIII. During that possession, he led the 49ers 92 yards for a game-winning touchdown with barely half a minute left in the game.
There are countless other tales to tell of the legendary career Montana carved in San Francisco which will be told and retold for decades to come. Between 1979 and 1992, Montana won over the hearts of the 49er Faithful through grit and grace. In the midst of adversity and he raised the expectations in San Francisco by leading one of the greatest dynasties of all time. Joe Montana holds a special place in the heart of every 49er fan because of the hope he gave them.
Wide Receiver: Jerry Rice
Often regarded as the greatest football player of all time, he inspired a generation of fans to work for their dreams and to never stop until they have exhausted their potential. He led by example by working out in unconventional ways such as running the famous hill which is known for being a challenge even to the players in the greatest condition.
He set the league record for touchdowns scored in a career in 1994 and still played another 10 seasons. He retired with virtually every receiving record, many of which will never be touched. His greatest contribution to the game is how he impacted the 49ers dynasty of the 1980s.
Before he arrived in San Francisco, the 49ers had developed a good passing attack with quality receivers. When he came to the 49ers, their passing attack turned from good to great. While it took them a few years to win a Super Bowl after drafting him, when they finally won in 1988 they never looked back and cemented their status as one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history.
Rice won three Super Bowls with the team and set the Super Bowl record for touchdowns scored in a career as well as most yards gained in a game. He was named Super Bowl MVP in 1989 with 11 receptions and 215 yards.
Rice made the West Coast offense exciting and showed the world what could be done with a so-called finesse style of play. He showed players that they do not have to go downfield on big long pass plays to make an impact, they can use their skills to make a good catch and then gain yardage after the catch.
Rice was great at this and the NFL still incorporates many West Coast offensive concepts thanks to his style of play. He inspired generations of players to maximize their potential by training year round and focusing on getting better every day. Due to this, players come into the NFL better prepared because Rice showed the work in takes to become and maintain greatness. The NFL will never be the same because of Jerry Rice.