The San Francisco 49ers began as charter members of the All-American Football Conference back in 1946 alongside the Cleveland Browns and the original Baltimore Colts. They became the first professional sports team based on the Pacific Coast before being joined by the Los Angeles Dons of the AAFC and Rams of the NFL. The 49ers were always second best to the Browns during their time in the AAFC and never made it to the title game due to sharing a conference with Cleveland.
The 49ers eventually joined the NFL along with Cleveland and Baltimore following the collapse of the AAFC. The 49ers lost their first NFL game to the New York Giants 21-17 and struggled to a 3-9 finish in 1950. In 1951 things would get better in a hurry and the 49ers finished 7-4-1, nearly making it to the title game.
Despite some spots of success in the early 60s and 70s, the 49ers were never able to make it past the Conference Championships. They lost in 1970 and 1971 to the Cowboys in the NFC Championship and wouldn’t make it back for 10 years. Since then, the 49ers have been one of the most successful teams in the NFL.
The major turning point for this franchise came in 1979 when new owner Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. and head coach Bill Walsh decided to employ the West Coast offense. Walsh selected Joe Montana in the 1979 NFL Draft and went 2-14 during his first season.
As Montana developed, the 49ers dominated the 1980s with four Super Bowl victories between 1981 and 1989. After winning it all in 1981, the team fell back into despair and went 3-6 in a strike-shortened 1982 season. San Francisco finished 10-6 in 1983 but won the Super Bowl again in 1984 with Montana taking home MVP honors for the second time.
Then, in 1985, the already amazing 49ers got a boost in the form of rookie wide receiver Jerry Rice. The combo of Rice and Montana would dominate the NFL and win back-to-back Super Bowls in 1988 and 1989. Montana would miss the entire next two seasons due to an elbow injury, but Steve Young and Rice still managed to go to the NFC title game in 1992.
Young was given the starting job in 1993 and went on to lead the 49ers to another Super Bowl victory in 1994 alongside Rice and the defensive rookie of the year, Deion Sanders.
The 49ers would go on to have several more winning seasons but fell into an extended funk during the 2000s. Between 2000 and 2010, the 49ers had just two winning seasons and one playoff win.
It wasn’t until Jim Harbaugh was brought in as head coach in 2011 that things began to turn around. But the franchise has yet to make it back to the winner’s circle. San Francisco came close in 2019 but lost to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV 32-20. In 2021 they were defeated by the eventual champion LA Rams in the NFC title game. But, with a talented crop of players, the 49ers might not wait much longer before getting back to the title game.
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