The 49ers have retired several numbers of players who represent the finest elements of the franchise. One number that has not been retired is number 94.
Yet, the 49ers currently have a player on their roster that has the potential to be better than all of those aforementioned players. Solomon Thomas is only in his second season but has the intangibles to be great.
This number has featured some of the most dominant defensive players in franchise history. Let’s explore the greatness represented in this number.
The lone Hall of Famer of this list, thus far, Haley was an enigma throughout his NFL career. He played both outside linebacker and defensive end while rushing past bewildered offensive tackles.
Quarterbacks feared him and offensive coordinators were helpless in devising schemes to slow him down. He played with a tenacity only seen in players that were previously overlooked.
He came from a small school, James Madison University and was determined to prove his critics wrong. Over the course of his career, he recorded 100.5 sacks and collected an astounding five Super Bowl rings. He and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady are the only players in NFL history to have amassed that many championships.
Haley was also prone to extreme mood swings due to his diagnosis of bipolar disorder. His erratic behavior was a key reason why the 49ers traded him to the rival Dallas Cowboys prior to the 1992 season. The 49ers later regretted that decision as the Cowboys went on to win three Super Bowls in the next four years.
During that span, the 49ers just won the one Super Bowl while losing to the Cowboys in the NFC Championship game twice. Haley proved to be the missing piece for the Cowboys as they cemented their dynasty of the 1990s.
The 49ers deeply missed Haley’s playmaking ability and brought him back to San Francisco in 1998, playing his final two seasons. While his skills had deteriorated, this move brought closure to both parties regarding the trade to Dallas.
The two sides were able to reconcile and Haley eventually had former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. introduce him as he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015. Haley represented number 94 well and set a standard for future bearers of the number to follow.
The 49ers were a championship caliber team in 1992 but were lacking a playmaker at defensive tackle. Stubblefield was drafted in 1993 to fill that void and he made an immediate impression on the NFL by being named Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The 49ers won the Super Bowl in 1994 partly due to his great pass rushing ability. In his first two seasons, he recorded an incredible 19 sacks. His career was skyrocketing and 49er fans were sure they were watching a Hall of Fame career unfold.
He was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1997 after producing 15 sacks. It is unusual for a defensive tackle to have that sort pass-rushing production from the interior. Stubblefield was the exception and was rewarded with three Pro Bowls in the mid-1990’s.
After being named Defensive Player of the Year, Stubblefield chased a larger contract and left the 49ers for the Washington Redskins. He never reached another Pro Bowl after 1997.
He returned to the 49ers in 2001 and played his last game with the Oakland Raiders in 2003 but his best days were behind him. He was like a shooting star crossing the sky. The best years of his career were brief but produced some lasting memories for the 49ers.
One of the toughest players in franchise history, Smith set the tone for the 49ers defense during their three year run of dominance in the early 2010’s. He was selected to five Pro Bowls while proving to be one of the strongest players in the NFL. Teams fruitlessly tried to double team him but were left with bruised bodies and broken spirits.
Smith left a lasting image in the 2011 playoffs when he pulled down Saints quarterback Drew Brees while still entangled with the left tackle. At times he showed surprising speed like when he chased down Eagles wideout Jeremy Maclin and stripped him of the football for a game-clinching fumble recovery.
This was at a time when the 49ers boasted one of the best defensive units in the NFL. He brought leadership and relentlessness needed for the defense to dominate.
Sith did not collect a record number of sacks and his career statistics are not the most impressive but he brought fear into the hearts of the players he battled against every week. This is the kind of fear defenses feast on and is a key reason why the 49ers were so dominant in the early 2010’s. He left a lasting impression on the 49ers franchise which will not soon be forgotten.
Much expectation is placed on a top pick in the draft and Thomas is no different. He was drafted third overall in 2017 in hopes that he could be a playmaker on the defensive line. The 49ers bestowed upon him number 94 as a way of anointing him as the next great defensive lineman for the proud franchise.
Thomas showed promise during his rookie season. The 49ers enjoyed his 41 tackles and 3 sacks as they further developed what could be the next great defensive line unit in the NFL. At 6 feet 2 inches and 280 pounds, he is big enough to stop the run and quick enough to run down elusive ball carriers. Only time will tell if he can live up to the expectations the number on his jersey carries.