Artifact of the Game: 49ers vs. Chiefs
49ers and Chiefs First Met on Monday Night Football
This story appears in the Oct. 5 issue of the San Francisco 49ers Gameday magazine.
By Joe Hession, 49ers Museum historian
Monday Night Football was in its infancy in 1971 when San Francisco hosted its first primetime game, a matchup between the 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs. Today’s contest marks just the 12th meeting between the two clubs since that initial Monday Night appearance.
The 49ers moved to Candlestick Park in 1971 after 25 years at Kezar Stadium. The Monday Night Football broadcasting crew of Howard Cosell, “Dandy Don” Meredith and Frank Gifford found the twinkling lights of San Francisco an irresistible setting for nighttime football. After its debut in 1970, Monday Night Football quickly became a weekly viewing spectacle. The 49ers Faithful were eager to welcome the ABC television crew to San Francisco on December 6, 1971.
The 49ers and Chiefs had never met in an NFL game and both teams were in a period of resurgence. 49ers coach Dick Nolan, a former defensive coordinator under Dallas Cowboys skipper Tom Landry, had molded his club around solid defense and a pass-happy offense that featured the 1970 NFL Player-of-the-Year, QB John Brodie. Nolan’s 49ers advanced to the NFC Championship Game in 1970 but lost a heartbreaker to the Cowboys. They had visions of another Super Bowl run. Brodie was in the midst of a solid 1971 season, throwing for 2,642 yards and 18 touchdowns. He had the 49ers atop the NFC Western Division with a 7-4 record.
The Chiefs, under Coach Hank Stram, were one year removed from their only Super Bowl championship. They came to Candlestick with an impressive 7-3-1 mark. Future Pro Football Hall of Fame QB Len Dawson sparked the Kansas City offense. His favorite target was Otis Taylor, who led the league with 1,110 receiving yards in 1971. Cosell, Meredith and Gifford anticipated a high-scoring, barn-burner by the bay.
The Candlestick parking lot filled early as eager tailgaters reveled in the first 6 p.m. kickoff in 49ers history. Despite a chilly, windy December evening, electricity was in the air as 45,306 fans, a capacity crowd at the time, filed into their seats. A year later Candlestick Park would be expanded to hold over 60,000.
San Francisco struck first. Mixing short passes to running back Vic Washington and quick openers to Ken Willard, the 49ers marched to the two-yard line where the drive stalled. Bruce Gossett booted an 18-yard field goal to give the 49ers an early 3-0 lead.
The Chiefs responded with 13 unanswered points before the 49ers scored their first Monday Night Football touchdown on a 35-yard pass from Brodie to tight end Ted Kwalick, who went on to have a sterling six-year career in San Francisco. The former Penn State star was the 49ers first-round draft pick in 1969 and he appeared in three Pro Bowls. The quick and sure-handed Kwalick averaged over 15 yards per reception with San Francisco before moving across the bay to the Oakland Raiders.
The 49ers fought back against the Chiefs and made it close in the fourth quarter after Vic Washington added another touchdown on a three-yard burst. It wasn’t enough however. San Francisco dropped its first game with Kansas City, 26-17.
It was a small glitch in a charmed Monday Night Football existence for San Francisco. Since the 49ers initial appearance in 1971, and the start of the 2014 season, they have won 44 Monday night games, more than any other NFL team. Along the way they have left a number of primetime highlights. Among them are Jerry Rice’s record-setting 127th touchdown against the Raiders in 1994, which snapped Jim Brown’s 30-year-old mark. A more recent moment was NaVorro Bowman’s “Pick at the Stick,” his interception in the waning seconds of the 49ers final game at Candlestick in 2013 to secure a win over Atlanta.
Artifacts from these historic 49ers moments can be seen at the 49ers Museum presented by Sony. Included in the collection are the football from Bowman’s “Pick at the Stick,” a program from the 49ers first Monday Night Football game, Brodie’s Player-of-the-Year trophy, and memorabilia from Dick Nolan’s three consecutive playoff teams from 1970-72.
For more information on Museum tickets, hours and content, visit levisstadium.com/museum.