Pac-12 Football Championship Rivals Share Link to 49ers
By Joe Hession
49ers Museum Historian
Stanford and USC, opponents for the 2015 Pac-12 championship game at Levi’s® Stadium, have one notable thing in common. Both universities have provided the San Francisco 49ers with a steady stream of top-notch football players.
Since the 49ers first year of operation in 1946, Stanford seemingly has supplied the strong-armed quarterbacks, while Southern California contributed the defensive muscle.
In fact, the list of 49ers signal callers from Stanford is a virtual who’s who of collegiate aces. It includes Frankie Albert, John Brodie, Steve Stenstrom, John Paye, Guy Benjamin and former Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett.
On the defensive side of the ball, a crackerjack cast of former USC Trojans have worn the 49ers red & gold. Among them are linebacker Riki Ellison, safety Tim McDonald, defensive back Lowell Wagner and Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott.
But that’s just the foundation of a potential 49ers all-star team. Add in Stanford greats like guard Bruno Banducci, fullback Norm Standlee, receiver Gene Washington and linebacker Milt McColl, or Southern California immortals like guard Jeff Bregel, tight end Charle Young and running back Verl Lillywhite.
And, a great club needs an accomplished gridiron leader with organizational skill and play-calling acumen. Of course, USC and Stanford have provided those men, too, chipping in with high-caliber 49ers coaches likes Bill Walsh (Stanford), Mike Holmgren (USC), Monte Clark (USC), and Paul Wiggin (Stanford).
Artifacts and film highlights of many of these former stars are featured in the 49ers Museum presented by Sony.
Albert holds the distinction of being the 49ers first quarterback in 1946. Prior to joining the 49ers for the club’s inaugural season, he led Stanford to a perfect 11-0 record in 1940 including a win over Nebraska in the Rose Bowl. His gridiron exploits inspired a Hollywood film entitled The Spirit of Stanford (starring Frankie Albert).
“Albert did things we’d never seen before,” former 49ers quarterback Y.A. Tittle said. “He could run, pass, kick. And he was unpredictable. He could make something out of nothing.”
Albert spent seven years at quarterback for the 49ers then was hired as head coach in 1956. He guided the 49ers to their first NFL playoff appearance in 1957.
Brodie quarterbacked the 49ers to their first NFC West title in 1970 and was the catalyst behind the team’s three straight playoff appearances from 1970-1972. He joined the 49ers as a first-round draft pick in 1957 after breaking Frankie Albert’s Stanford passing records and earning All-America honors. Brodie threw for over 31,000 yards during his 17-year career with the 49ers. He was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1970.
Brodie was also a spitfire on Stanford’s acclaimed golf links. He starred on the university golf team during football’s offseason.
Benjamin was the first Stanford quarterback to win a Super Bowl ring with San Francisco, albeit as a backup to Joe Montana in 1981. Benjamin led the nation in in passing as a senior while playing under Cardinal Head Coach Bill Walsh in 1977. He fired 48 career touchdown passes at Stanford, capping his collegiate career with three scoring strikes in the Cardinal’s 24-14 Sun Bowl win over LSU in 1977.
Ellison was a starting linebacker on USC’s 1978 National Championship team that beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl, 17-10. The 49ers selected Ellison out of USC in the fifth round of the 1983 NFL draft. He earned a starting role in his rookie season. In his first NFL playoff game he registered two of the 49ers five intercepted passes in a tense 24-23 playoff win over the Detroit Lions. Ellison played six years in San Francisco and was a member of two 49ers Super Bowl championship teams (1984, 1988).
Lott was a unanimous All-America selection at USC (and a pretty good Trojans’ basketball player during his junior year) before the 49ers picked him in the first round of the 1981 NFL draft. He cracked the 49ers lineup immediately, intercepting seven passes as a rookie and returning three for touchdowns.
Lott received nine Pro Bowl invitations in San Francisco as a safety and cornerback, and played on four Super Bowl championship teams. He intercepted 51 passes with the 49ers, including a league-leading 10 picks in 1986.
He was selected to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time team, the 1980’s All-Decade team and the Super Bowl Silver Anniversary team. He was enshrined at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
McDonald was a three-year starter at safety for Southern California and earned All-America honors as a senior in 1986. He was a second-round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1987 NFL draft. The 49ers acquired McDonald as a free agent prior to the 1993 season and he quickly established himself as an aggressive, hard-hitting safety with a knack for the big play. During seven seasons (1993-1999) with the 49ers McDonald was the cornerstone of the secondary, totaling 20 interceptions, scoring four defensive touchdowns and earning three straight Pro Bowl berths (1993-1995). He started at safety for the 49ers at Super Bowl XXIX.
Artifacts and memorabilia from many former USC and Stanford football stars are on display in the 49ers Museum presented by Sony. Included are Frankie Albert’s original game-worn 49ers jersey, John Brodie’s 1970 Player-of-the-Year Trophy, Gene Washington’s All-Pro Trophy and Ronnie Lott’s defensive playbook.
Museum guests can also stroll through the life-sized 49ers Hall of Fame statues and a re-creation of (former Stanford coach) Bill Walsh’s 49ers office, or watch interactive highlight videos of every 49ers season.
For more information on Museum tickets, hours and content, visit levisstadium.com/Museum. For group pricing call 415-GO-49ERS.