Artifact of the Game: 49ers vs. Rams
This story will appear in the Nov. 2 edition of the 49ers Gameday magazine.
George Seifert: From Kezar Stadium Usher to 49ers Hall of Famer
By Joe Hession, 49ers Museum historian
George Seifert’s heart skipped a beat when he arrived in New Orleans for Super Bowl XXIV and realized he’d forgotten his lucky sweater. He was on the verge of living every football fan’s dream: leading his hometown team onto the field for a Super Bowl.
A quick-thinking secretary, a desperate phone call and an express mail delivery ensured Seifert’s sweater arrived in plenty of time. With his anxiety finally soothed the rookie head coach fulfilled a deep-rooted quest. Seifert guided his beloved San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl championship.
Seifert’s journey began as a San Francisco Mission District school boy. He played pickup football games at Douglass Playground and spent his Sundays at Kezar Stadium working as an usher, selling peanuts and collecting seat cushions to put a few bucks in his pocket. More importantly, Seifert relished the opportunity to watch his favorite football team battle the NFL’s elite.
“Having grown up in San Francisco in the early 1950s, I was a 49ers fan,” Seifert said. “My high school (Polytechnic) was right across the street from Kezar Stadium. I used to usher games at Kezar. I was there during the period of time when the 49ers didn’t win much. We had some great players, Hugh McElhenny, Joe Perry, Leo Nomellini, Bob St. Clair. But we really didn’t win. I remember running down on the field after the games when I was a kid trying to get the chin straps of Matt Hazeltine or any of the players.”
Seifert was first hit with the coaching itch as a high school player watching Poly’s legendary Coach Milt Axt work his sideline magic. Years later Seifert hooked up with another coaching heavyweight, Bill Walsh, at Stanford University. When Walsh took command of the 49ers, Seifert joined him as defensive backs coach, and later served as defensive coordinator.
“When I finally went to work for the 49ers,” Seifert said, “I’d go into the office and actually be in the same building and working with my childhood heroes, guys like R.C. Owens and Billy Wilson. That was a special thing to me.”
Under Walsh’s tutelage, Seifert earned his first Super Bowl ring after the 1981 season. It was one of the highs he experienced on a life-long 49ers roller coaster ride. Seifert accumulated five Super Bowl rings in San Francisco but the pilgrimage began with an unforgettable bump that shaped Seifert’s yearning for a championship.
“I was at that game for the 1957 playoff (as an usher) when we were way ahead of Detroit,” Seifert said. “The Lions came back in the second half at Kezar Stadium and took that game away from us. That hurt for a long time. There was gloom all over the city. But then I was there at Candlestick (as a coach) for Dwight Clark’s catch and the tremendous emotion afterward. I can’t even describe that feeling.”
Clark’s catch led to the club’s first Super Bowl appearance, a 26-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The parade up Market Street after the Super Bowl XVI victory brought home to Seifert the enormity of the accomplishment. It was the 49ers first championship in 36 frustrating years.
“When we turned the corner on to Market Street, there’s this explosion of people,” Seifert said. “They see Joe Montana, and the mayor, and Bill Walsh. I was near the back and I remember seeing in the crowd people from the city that I knew, kids that I grew up with in San Francisco. I realized they were all waving at me.”
After Walsh’s retirement Seifert was asked to fill the shoes of a coaching genius. He was up to the task. The kid who learned to throw a spiral at Douglass Park on 26th Street was the mastermind behind two 49ers Super Bowl championships and retired as the winningest head coach in team history with a 98-30 record.
Today, Seifert stands with his childhood heroes as the newest member of the Edward J. DeBartolo Sr., 49ers Hall of Fame.
Memorabilia from Seifert’s career is displayed in the 49ers Museum presented by Sony. Included is a 1988 “World Champions” jacket emblazoned with the name George. The jacket was designed for President George Bush and the 49ers planned to present it to the Commander-in-Chief at a White House reception. However, the jacket was left in George Seifert’s room and Seifert mistakenly thought the gift was for him. After wearing it, Seifert refused to give it up. “It’s got my name on it!” Seifert claimed. Bush received an autographed 49ers football instead. The jacket can be seen at the 49ers Museum presented by Sony. For more information on Museum tickets, hours and content, visit levisstadium.com/museum.