Friday, October 10, 2014

By Joe Hession, 49ers Museum historian

The 49ers feast on Monday Night Football opponents. The Rams have been a frequent victim. San Francisco has won more games (64) against the Rams than any other team in the NFL. Four of those victories came on a Monday Night.

Wide receiver John Taylor entertained a prime time audience in 1989 with one of the NFL’s greatest receiving performances against the Rams. But it took a little goading from Rams owner Georgia Frontiere to get the 49ers rolling.

Late in the 1989 Super Bowl season, Los Angeles built a 27-10 fourth quarter lead over the 49ers when Frontiere suddenly appeared on the Rams sideline with a chilled glass of premium white wine. She raised her glass in a toast to the hometown fans, delighting the Anaheim Stadium crowd. Players on the 49ers sideline took notice. Unwittingly, she sparked a 49ers rally. Taylor was San Francisco’s catalyst.

Earlier in the game, Taylor nabbed a short pass from quarterback Joe Montana and sprinted 92 yards to score. Midway through the fourth quarter, he did it again. Montana found Taylor on a crossing route and the shifty receiver outran a herd of Rams defenders for a 96-yard touchdown. Taylor finished the game with 11 receptions for 286 yards as the 49ers erased a 17- point deficit to beat the Rams, 30-27. Frontiere left the field with a glass of wine vinegar.

San Francisco’s defense dined on the Rams on a Monday Night in 1976. Rams quarterback James Harris spent the evening running for his life. The 49ers defensive front four, nicknamed “The Gold Rush” that season, mauled Harris, collecting 10 sacks on the way to a 16-0 shutout of Los Angeles. Tommy Hart spent most of the evening in the Rams backfield. He collected six individual sacks, forced two fumbles and recovered one loose ball.

Harassing the quarterback was a San Francisco specialty in 1976 as defensive linemen Hart, Cleveland Elam, Cedrick Hardman and Jimmy Webb (“The Gold Rush”) bullied opposing quarterbacks and set an “unofficial” NFL record by collecting 57 sacks (sacks became an official NFL statistic in 1982) during the 14-game season. Hart notched 16 sacks, was named All Pro, and won the Len Eshmont Award.

Of course, great sports rivalries involve a bit of geographic jealousy and the Rams-49ers clashes are no different. The animosity originated in 1950 when the Los Angeles Rams and 49ers were the only NFL teams on the west coast. Long before the Giants and Dodgers brought baseball to California, contests between the 49ers and Rams attracted upward of 100,000 spectators at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Both teams featured a pack of future Hall of Famers. The 49ers Million Dollar Backfield of Y.A. Tittle, Hugh McElhenny, Joe Perry and John Henry Johnson was running at full steam. The Rams highly touted aerial attack included quarterbacks Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin throwing to All-Pro receivers Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch and Tom Fears.

The real star of those early matchups, however, was 49ers kicker and receiver Gordy Soltau, who generally stole the show. Nicknamed “the Rams killer” by former 49ers President Lou Spadia, for his uncanny knack of playing his best games against Los Angeles, Soltau set a team single-game scoring mark against the Rams in 1951. He tallied three touchdowns that day, kicked a 23-yard field goal, and added five extra points in a 44-17 victory over the Rams. The record stood for nearly 40 years until Jerry Rice broke it in 1990. Soltau led the NFL in scoring in 1952 and 1953, and was a three time All Pro. After retiring Soltau moved to the

Kezar Stadium press box and served as a commentator for 49ers games.

Artifacts from the 49ers history, including Gordy Soltau’s uniform, memorabilia from the 49ers 65-year rivalry with the Rams, and items from the Million Dollar Backfield can be seen at the 49ers Museum presented by Sony. For more information on Museum tickets, hours and content, visit levisstadium.com/museum.


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