Ranking top 49ers plays in franchise's storied history: No. 15-11
15. Hail Jerry
The 49ers trailed the Cincinnati Bengals 26-20 with :06 remaining on Sept. 20, 1987. Cincinnati coach Sam Wyche opted to run a fourth-down play, anticipating the clock would run out to ensure the victory.
But 49ers defensive lineman Kevin Fagan broke through the line to tackle James Brooks in the backfield with :02 remaining. The 49ers had one final play.
Joe Montana found Jerry Rice in single coverage against rookie cornerback Eric Thomas in the end zone. Rice made the leaping catch with no time remaining to supply the 49ers with a 27-26 victory.
Coach Bill Walsh and Roger Craig locked arms and literally skipped off the field at Riverfront Stadium in delight.
14. High-stepping through the Rams
The signature play of Roger Craig’s career took place against the Los Angeles Rams on Oct. 16, 1988.
After taking a handoff from Joe Montana in the first quarter, Craig found a small opening before getting met by defenders for what should have been a 2- or 3-yard gain. But Craig kept his knees churning.
He broke through those tackle attempts. Then, two more Rams had their chances and missed. He got stood up, head-on, by another Rams defensive back but would not go down. Craig ended up breaking away again for a 46-yard touchdown as part of a 190-yard, three-TD performance that day at Anaheim Stadium.
13. The King reigns
The 49ers were told they did not belong in the NFL until they could beat the Chicago Bears. After three losses to Chicago after coming from the All-America Football Conference, the 49ers showed they belonged in convincing fashion on Oct. 19, 1952.
Rookie Hugh “The King” McElhenny, who would go onto the Pro Football Hall of Fame career as one of the best open-field runners in NFL history, highlighted the day with a zig-zagging 94-yard punt return for a touchdown in the 49ers’ 40-16 victory at Wrigley Field.
Longtime Bay Area sportswriter Dave Newhouse described McElhenny’s play: “He starts upfield, and his body reacts as if it's filled with jumping beans. He feints, he cuts, he jukes. Bears tacklers grope for him, but fail to touch him as his hips, knees and legs play a samba on their best intentions.”
12. The Catch II
Legendary offensive line coach Bobb McKittrick called it the best pass of Steve Young’s life. But it quickly became known more for the grab Terrell Owens made on the other end of "The Catch II."
In the closing seconds of an NFC wild-card playoff game against the Green Bay Packers on Jan. 3, 1999, Owens turned around what had been a bad day with a difficult catch between three defenders for a 25-yard touchdown with :03 remaining.
The 49ers' 30-27 victory was especially meaningful because the Packers had ousted the 49ers from the playoffs the three previous seasons.
11. Alley-Oop for the win
The basketball term “alley oop” originated from R.C. Owens of the 49ers, who as a rookie in 1957 began leaping over defenders to catch passes that Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle intentionally threw high.
None of Owens' alley-oops were more important or memorable as on Nov. 3, 1957, when he soared over Detroit Lions defenders Jim David, Jack Christiansen, and Carl Karilivacz to haul in the game-winning touchdown pass on the final play for a 35-31 victory.
Tittle, who unleashed the throw from near midfield at Kezar Stadium, called it “the greatest catch I had ever seen in football.”