Ranking top 49ers plays in franchise's storied history: No. 5-1
5. "The Jet" breaks barrier
Joe “The Jet” Perry became the first Black player in 49ers history. And before he took the field for the first time in 1948, 49ers owner Tony Morabito had a confrontation with Buffalo Bills owner Jim Breuli at Kezar Stadium.
“It makes it tough on all of us who don’t sign a negro,” Breuli told Morabito, according to Dave Newhouse’s book, The Million Dollar Backfield. “Besides, they’re troublemakers. Why did you do it, Tony?”
On Perry’s first carry with the 49ers, he took the ball on a sweep around the right side. Perry turned the corner and raced 57 yards for a touchdown. Morabito immediately sought out Breuli and said, “That’s why!”
It was a historical moment for the 49ers’ organization and Bay Area sports. Perry, whose career ended in 1963, was the 49ers’ all-time leading rusher until Frank Gore broke the club record in 2011. Perry was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969.
4. Pick Six at the ‘Stick
The final game at Candlestick Park was Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. And in the closing minutes, the 49ers were in danger of losing to the Atlanta Falcons, who trailed by just three points and had the ball at the 10-yard line.
Then, the game turned in an instant.
Eric Reid brought pressure up the middle and hit Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan as he was throwing. Cornerback Tramaine Brock managed to dislodge the ball from receiver Harry Douglas. Bowman demonstrated tremendous athleticism. He was stopped on a blitz and recovered to pick the ball out of the air.
“What makes him think in his instincts he could go get in on that play when it’s 10 or 15 yards away?” coach Jim Harbaugh said afterward. “His training, his instincts, just make him go.”
Bowman returned the interception 89 yards and punctuated the memorable play with a plunge across the goal line and into the end zone for the clinching points in the team’s final game in San Francisco.
3. Bunz’s memorable stop
The Cincinnati Bengals seized momentum against the 49ers in Super Bowl XVI in Pontiac, Michigan, on Jan. 24, 1982. The Bengals were on the doorstep of cutting the 49ers’ 20-point lead to a six-point game late in the third quarter.
The Bengals had a first-and-goal situation at the 3-yard line, when the 49ers came up with the best goal-line stand in franchise history. On third down from the 1, Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson faked a handoff and threw quickly to Charles Alexander on the right side.
Alexander caught the pass just inches from the goal line, and 49ers linebacker Dan Bunz made sure that’s as far as he got with a solid tackle. Bunz met Alexander just as he was turning toward the end zone. Bunz dropped Alexander on his back.
On fourth down, the Bengals went for it and the 49ers’ entire defensive line was credited with stopping 252-pound fullback Pete Johnson short of the goal line. The stand was the key sequence in the 49ers’ 26-21 victory for the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
2. Montana to Taylor for the win
Jerry Rice had 11 catches for 215 yards, but he was a decoy on a what was actually an imperfect execution of the game-winning play of Super Bowl XXIII against the Cincinnati Bengals.
In the backfield, Tom Rathman and Roger Craig switched positions, as they often did. One was supposed to remain in to block. But they both left the backfield to serve as outlets for Joe Montana. Perhaps because of that, Montana had a window to find John Taylor for his only reception of the game.
Rice went in motion to get the attention of Bengals safety Ray Horton. When Taylor broke to the inside, Horton was a half-step behind Taylor and unable to defend Montana’s perfectly thrown pass for the winning points in the 49ers’ 20-16 victory at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami.
Montana, who began the drive by coolly pointing out to his teammates that comedian John Candy was on the sideline, completed eight of nine attempts for 97 yards on the drive. He showed his flair for the dramatics with the 10-yard touchdown pass to Taylor with 34 seconds remaining.
1. The Catch
The history of the 49ers was an anguished one, as the franchise suffered three consecutive playoff losses to the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1970s.
And there was reason to believe nothing would change on Jan. 10, 1982, in the NFC Championship Game at soggy Candlestick Park. But everything changed that day. Joe Montana rolled out and pump-faked to buy time after primary receiver Freddie Solomon slipped on “sprint right option.”
Montana unleashed a throw to the back of the end zone. At first, it appeared out of reach for anyone. But Dwight Clark leaped above Cowboys defensive back Everson Walls to secure the ball in his fingertips. Clark landed safely in the back of the red-painted end zone for a 6-yard touchdown with 51 seconds remaining.
It remains one of the most iconic plays in NFL history.
Then, two defensive plays – which each could have made this list, too – secured the victory. Eric Wright grabbed Drew Pearson by the back of his collar to prevent a touchdown on the Cowboys’ first play after Clark’s touchdown. On the next play, Lawrence Pillars sacked Cowboys quarterback Danny White and forced a fumble that Jim Stuckey recovered.
The 49ers won 28-27, then went on to their first Super Bowl title two weeks later.