The San Francisco 49ers are one of the greatest teams in NFL history. The Bay Area ballers have put together impressive rosters over their storied history. Even though the team has been boom or bust for most of the past decade, they are still making big moves to be a dominant team. The team has been home to legendary quarterbacks such as Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Colin Kaepernick. These names are recognizable to even casual football fans. Yet, the tradition of success in the 49ers organization goes all the way back to the 1940s. This is the story of the San Francisco 49ers, from their early beginnings to the present day.
Here’s a brief 49ers history
The 49ers didn’t make their debut in the NFL. Instead, they were charter members of the All-American Football Conference, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The 49ers and AAFC made their debut in 1946, just after World War II as most veterans were returning home.
The 49ers were a premier team in the AAFC. Their cumulative record was 39-15-2. The team was also a hit with local fans. Throughout the history of the AAFC, the 49ers had the second-best attendance rates. During most games, Kezar Stadium was packed with locals cheering on their hometown heroes.
However, the 49ers were often second-best in the AAFC; they always played second fiddle to the Cleveland Browns. Every year, the Browns won the AAFC championship, according to Pro Football Reference. The 49ers could be considered the second-best team in the AAFC, as they handed the Browns two of their four defeats.
Unlike the 49ers, the All-American Football Conference wasn’t built to last. In 1950, the league collapsed, resulting in the 49ers — along with the Browns, Colts, and Rams — migrating to the National Football League. In the NFL, the 49ers would continue to be an embodiment of excellence.
49er definition: What, exactly, is a 49er?
People who are unfamiliar with California history often wonder, “What the heck is a 49er anyway?” The team’s nickname is a nice nod to some of the founders of California and the Bay Area.
In 1848, gold was discovered in the small town of Coloma, about 36 miles northeast of Sacramento. As the news spread across the United States, hundreds of thousands of prospectors migrated into California. As most of these prospectors arrived in 1849, they became known as “49ers.”
The population boom was so influential that it permanently changed California’s history. The population nearly quadrupled in a 10-year period, according to Britannica Encyclopedia. The gold rush ushered in statehood for California, and was officially made a state in 1850. As the 49ers were gold prospectors, the 49ers football team thought it would be appropriate to wear gold helmets.
The 49ers have racked up monumental accolades
After joining the NFL, the 49ers were a mediocre team plagued by many losing seasons. They would only qualify for the playoffs three times between 1950 and 1976. But the team’s fortunes would change with new ownership.
In 1977, Edward J. DeBartolo purchased the franchise. He was committed to turning the 49ers into a powerhouse, even though they’ve never won a championship before. It took some time to turn the team around, but DeBartolo made a key hire in head coach Bill Walsh in 1977.
Walsh’s contributions to the 49ers, and football as a whole, can not be overstated. His “West Coast” style offense permanently changed how the game is played. During his tenure as head coach, he won 5 division titles and three Super Bowl Championships. Along the way, he mentored NFL legends Jerry Rice and Joe Montana.
While Walsh started the 49ers dynasty, it didn’t end with his retirement in 1988. The 49ers would continue to be a juggernaut across numerous NFL statistics. Such accolades include 19 division championships, six conference championships, and five Super Bowl victories; according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. With such a storied legacy, the expectations for the 49ers are sky-high.
What does the 49ers’ schedule for 2021 look like?
After finishing last in their division in 2020, the San Francisco 49ers have plenty of room for improvement this season. By finishing last, they do have somewhat of an easier schedule per the NFL’s scheduling guidelines.
The winners of the division were the rival Seattle Seahawks. Anytime these two divisional rivals square-off, it’s “much watch football.” Perhaps even more so this season given that the Seahawks are reigning champs. The first head-to-head match comes in week four on Oct. 10 in Santa Clara. The next matchup comes in week 13 on Dec. 5 in Seattle. Both of these games will assess if San Francisco is a playoff team or if they need more time to develop.
The NFC West will be teeing off with the NFC North this season, which could be good news for the 49ers. The only NFC North team with a winning record last season was the Green Bay Packers. With a very disgruntled Aaron Rodgers, the Packers should be much more distracted and dysfunctional than in prior years. They’ll face the Packers in week three on Sunday Night Football.
The most critical stretch of the 49ers schedule comes between weeks four and 10. During this six-week stretch, they will have four divisional games. By the end of week 10, we should know if the 49ers are playoff contenders or not.
What are the rookie expectations?
QB Trey Lance: The 49ers made national headlines in trading up to draft a QB in the first round. That quarterback ended up being Trey Lance. Being drafted third overall brings sky-high expectations for the North Dakota State Alum. However, it seems Jimmy Garoppolo will be starting week one, per CBS Sports.
G Aaron Banks: In the second round, the 49ers drafted Banks from Notre Dame. This is part of Kyle Shanahan’s strategy of having a premier offensive line. No matter who the quarterback will be, they’ll surely want a strong O-line. Banks is likely to start this season.
RB Trey Sermon: Sermon was rated as a top-five running back in this year’s draft. It’s a miracle that Shanahan and Lynch were able to draft the Ohio State RB so late. Granted, they had to trade up a few spots to get him, but he was still a bargain pick.
CB Ambry Thomas: The 49ers were hurting for cornerbacks entering the draft, and added Thomas to fill this depleted position. While the Michigan Alum probably won’t start this year, he will likely be developed into a starter for future seasons.
OL Jaylon Moore: Adding more depth to the O-line is Jaylon Moore from Western Michigan. More is quite versatile, playing both guard and tackle in his career. Moore probably won’t make the starting lineup, and may even become trade bait given how much depth the 49ers have at the offensive line.
What possible trades could be in store for the 49ers?
It’s never too early to start talking about trade rumors. While most NFL trades occur in the winter, it never hurts to speculate in the late summer.
Right off the bat, let’s dismiss the possibility of any quarterback trades. With training camp and the preseason already underway, it’s very unlikely that Garoppolo will be traded to make room for Trey Lance. There may be a swap of third-string quarterbacks, but nothing that would make headlines.
If anything, the 49ers may trade away an offensive lineman. They are a bit overstocked on the O-line. It would make sense to ship away a guard or tackle for more rooster room in exchange for a pick in the 2022 draft. Most of the 49ers’ second string o-line could be starters on other NFL teams.
With that said, here is a look at the 49ers’ key starters for the 2021 season.
What a wild ride it has been for Jimmy Garoppolo, aka Jimmy G. Before donning the red and gold with the San Francisco 49ers, he was the backup for Tom Brady in New England. Since being traded to the 49ers in 2017, his results would have been excellent if it weren’t for injuries.
Jimmy G’s arrival in San Francisco was odd timing, as he didn’t become a 49er until the midpoint of the season. Given the time it takes to learn a new offense and playbook, most experts were patient with the Eastern Illinois alum. Despite arriving mid-season, he did put up decent numbers.
In the following season of 2018, the expectations were quite a bit higher. Garoppolo got off to a lukewarm start, but it’s not too uncommon for players to be rusty in the early season. It seemed he would be coming out of his rust in week three against the Kansas City Chiefs by putting up 250 yards and two touchdowns. Sadly, Jimmy G tore his ACL in that game and was unable to play the rest of the season.
Garoppolo put on a real air show in 2019. The 49ers won the first eight games off Garoppolo’s arm. They finished the regular season at an impressive 13-3, clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They marched all the way through the playoffs to face the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. The quarterback struggled in the big game, throwing two interceptions and only one touchdown. The 49ers ended up losing 31-20.
Nevertheless, it seemed that the 49ers had their franchise quarterback. At least that was the popular thought until the 2020 season. Jimmy G would struggle in the strange 2020 season that was overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The quarterback would suffer a nagging ankle injury in week two. While the injury didn’t end his season, it surely hurt his performance. So much so that he was benched mid-game in a week five matchup against the Dolphins.
Garoppolo’s injury susceptibility has led many to wonder if he really is the future of the 49ers. GM John Lynch certainly thought this, and traded up to draft QB Trey Lance third overall in the most recent draft. Despite bringing in the highly valued rookie, Garoppolo is still expected to start this season, per official team reports.
George Kittle is undoubtedly a fan favorite, even though he was almost traded to the rival Seahawks. Oddly enough, the two-time Pro Bowl tight end had rough beginnings in the NFL. He wasn’t drafted until the fifth round, and it was unclear if he could play at the professional level.
In his rookie season, he had to battle with other tight ends for the starting position. Kittle eventually earned the role of starter, but only put up mediocre numbers in his first season.
He would truly break out the following year in 2018. In total, he had 1,377 reception yards — which included an 85-yard touchdown reception against the Los Angeles Chargers. For his accomplishments, he was nominated to the Pro Bowl for the first time.
In 2020, Kittle got a big payday for all his hard work. He signed a five-year, $75 million contract. This deal made him the highest-paid tight end in the NFL. He missed most of the 2020 season due to injuries, but is expected to make big contributions in the upcoming season.
Returning to the 49ers lineup is journeyman running back Raheem Mostert, who oddly enough could have been a pro surfer. This will be Mostert’s fourth season with the 49ers. While the running back had a fairly impressive 2019 season, injuries slowed him down in 2020.
Mostert still has explosive speed and great catching abilities for a running back. However, he may be nearing the end of his NFL days. Mostert is 29 years old, which is quite old for running backs.