49ers Ultimate Draft: Defending Bill Walsh over Joe Montana, Jerry Rice


Editor’s note: The voice of the 49ers, Greg Papa, takes on NBC Sports Bay Area 49ers Insider Matt Maiocco in the 49ers Ultimate Draft. They both chose a stacked squad full of legends from the past and your favorite players from today. Our team of experts will dissect and analyze the merits of each team until a winner is crowned.

The 49ers Ultimate Draft has been finalized. Now, it's time to defend the picks.

Matt Maiocco and Greg Papa argue for why their teams are better written here below, and in the video player above.

The rosters for Team Maiocco and Team Papa can be found here.

Team Maiocco

In compiling my Ultimate 49ers Draft board, there was one person who ranked above everyone else in franchise history.

The most important player in the eight decades of professional football in San Francisco never put on a uniform.

That’s why when I won the coin toss for the No. 1 overall pick, I did not defer in favor of taking pick Nos. 2 and 3 in the snake-format draft.

I wanted coach Bill Walsh on my side.

Long after his coaching days were over, Walsh watched from the sideline as the 49ers practiced at their Santa Clara facility.

“That’s interesting,” Walsh told another onlooker. “I started that drill more than 20 years ago, and they’re still using it.”

The person standing next to Walsh replied, “Wow, that’s great that they’re still using your drill.”


Walsh did not see it that way.

“No, it’s not,” Walsh shot back. “The game has evolved. The drills should evolve, too.”

Walsh was a visionary. Basic elements of his offense and organizational structure are still widespread across the NFL. He ran every aspect of the 49ers, including the drafts that brought Joe Montana and three rookies, including Ronnie Lott, who were in the starting defensive backfield on the first Super Bowl team.

He engineered the trades for edge rusher Fred Dean, who pushed the 49ers over the top in 1981, and Steve Young, whose MVP play helped deliver the 49ers’ last Super Bowl title 25 years ago.

On my team, Walsh’s offensive expertise makes Young, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, an even better player.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Team Papa has the flash on offense with Montana, Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens. But I’ll take my group behind a better offensive line, which includes the top two tackles in franchise history, Bob St. Clair and Joe Staley. (Moreover, Montana will never be able to set his feet to deliver the ball down the field with my defensive ends, Cedrick Hardman and Fred Dean, screaming off the edges.)

The wide receivers on Team Maiocco provided the two most-important catches in franchise history.

Dwight Clark was going to be on my team. That was never in question. Papa graciously never considered selecting Clark out of deference to our history.

When my time as a 49ers beat reporter runs out, I will have no hesitancy in declaring my most memorable time. Two weeks before D.C. passed away, I was part of a small group who gathered around his bed to read letters from his fans. He asked that day if it were possible for those letters to become a book to raise money for the Golden Heart Fund.

First, there was a documentary. More than a year later, the book, “Letters to 87,” was released on Aug. 7. Yes, 8/7.

Taylor is technically my return specialist, but he delivered the 49ers’ biggest catch in a Super Bowl with his 10-yard touchdown reception from Montana with 34 seconds remaining for the winning points in a 20-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII.

But there’s another receiver I was determined to add on my team – even if it meant allowing Team Papa to select the top two receivers on his board.

One of my first books was entitled, “San Francisco 49ers: Where Have You Gone?” It was essentially, a where-are-they-now compilation of profiles of some of the greats in 49ers history. I contacted Walsh in 2004 and we spoke at length about a lot of the greats.


He saved his most glowing assessment of past 49ers for Billy Wilson, a 6-foot-3 end (or wide receiver) who played with the organization from 1951 to ’60.

“He was one of the most-admired players and respected player in football,” Walsh told me. “I’ve thought Billy should have been enshrined (in the Pro Football Hall of Fame) years ago. He deserves it as much as a lot of people who have gotten into the Hall of Fame, myself included.”

Wilson led the NFL in receptions three times. At the time he retired, Wilson ranked second in NFL history behind Green Bay’s Don Hutson in receptions. And, remember, the 49ers were primarily a running team with the Million Dollar Backfield during those years.

Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry was a defensive back with the New York Giants before he got into coaching. He described Wilson as “almost impossible to cover.”

I will never make the argument he had the strength, speed, training and athletic prowess of the receivers that have played the game in recent decades. But this was the beauty of our exercise.

Team Maiocco consists of players who were dominant in their eras. Wilson was every bit as great in the 1950s as Owens was during his time with the 49ers.

My team focuses on longevity and consistency while playing for the 49ers. I wanted to include players from every decade, including current 49ers tight end George Kittle.

That is why I love my team. St. Clair and Staley are the tackles. Joe “The Jet” Perry and Frank Gore are together in the backfield. Leo “The Lion” Nomellini and my wild-card pick, DeForest Buckner, line up side-by-side at defensive tackle.

Wilson, who never got the credit he deserved, is catching darts from Young.

And, best of all, Walsh is designing the offense, dialing up the plays and continually evolving to take full advantage of everyone’s skills to truly make this a team for the ages.

[RELATED: 49ers Ultimate Draft: Why Maiocco, Papa both earn A's]

Team Papa

I love my roster. I think it's a juggernaut. I don't know how you’re going to stop it. I’m going to get first downs all the way down the field, and touchdowns.

Why am I going to win? Well, I've got Joe (Montana), I’ve got Jerry (Rice), and I’ve got T.O. (Terrell Owens).

And I've got Roger Craig. And I have Hugh McElhenny. And I've got Brent Jones. 

Over on defense, I’ve got the very underrated Jimmy Johnson. Who, by the way, I can use on offense as well. He not only was a shutdown corner and a Hall of Famer’s Hall of Famer, but he also dabbled playing wide receiver. 


As did my other corner. A guy you may know: Prime Time, Neon Deion (Deion Sanders).

I know he was a 49er for only one year. But he’s Kyle Shanahan’s favorite guy!

Good luck to Team Maiocco, Matt. You’re going to need it!

If you want to buy your favorite 49ers jersey from the past or present, click here.