Pac-12 Rivals Share Link to 49ers
By Joe Hession
49ers Museum Historian
Colorado and Washington battle Friday for the 2016 Pac-12 championship at Levi’s Stadium but they have one notable thing in common. Both universities have provided the San Francisco 49ers with a steady stream of exceptional athletes.
Artifacts and film highlights of many of these former stars are featured in the 49ers Museum presented by Sony. Among the Colorado and Washington student/athletes who appeared in a 49ers uniform are hometown heroes and Pro Football Hall of Famers.
Hugh McElhenny, a sensational running back from the University of Washington, was selected by the 49ers in the first round of the 1952 NFL draft.
Playing in just his fourth NFL game he fielded a punt on the six-yard line, juked a couple of Chicago Bears, and scampered 94 yards to score. At the time it was the longest punt return in 49ers history. He also gained 136 yards from scrimmage that day as the 49ers posted their first-ever win over the Chicago Bears, 40-16.
“Afterward, in the locker room, Frankie Albert gave me the game ball and said, ‘You’re The King,’” McElhenny recalled.
That’s when the legend was born. “The King” was finally coronated. And McElhenny was definitely royalty. In the open field he had no peer, dancing past bruising tacklers with the grace and beauty of Baryshnikov, an artist unleashed on a canvas of green grass.
He finished the 1952 season with a league-leading 1,731 all-purpose yards, averaged seven yards per carry, and earned the NFL’s Rookie-of-the-Year honor. McElhenny later teamed with Y.A. Tittle, Joe Perry and John Henry Johnson to form the 49ers “Million Dollar Backfield.” All four men are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The 49ers championship culture and no-nonsense standard of excellence was a bit intimidating to rookie defensive end Dennis Brown, a second-round draft pick out of the University of Washington in 1990.
“When you walk into the 49ers facility for the first time, there’s a sense of awe when you see all those Super Bowl trophies,” Brown said. “You immediately understand what the expectations are around here.”
Those expectations were hammered home for Brown when he registered his first professional sack. The 6-foot-5, 295-pound defensive lineman jumped, skipped and pumped his fist while making his way to the 49ers sideline. There he was confronted by the scowling and visibly angry Michael Carter. San Francisco’s stern and business-like Pro Bowl nose tackle was annoyed at Brown’s over-exuberant display.
“I ran over to the bench and sat near Michael Carter and figured he’d be happy for me,” Brown said. “Instead, he yelled at me. He said, ‘What are you so excited about rookie? That’s your job.’ He told me to get off the team bench. He actually kicked me off the bench and told me to go sit on the cooler.”
Team trainer Lindsy McLean overheard the conversation, agreed with Carter’s assessment, and pointed Brown to a Gatorade cooler where Brown found refuge. “After I was banished to the cooler I just made a habit of sitting on it,” Brown said. “It became my personal seat.”
Kevin Gogan, a Pro Bowl offensive linemen with the 49ers in 1997 and 1998, was born in San Francisco, attended the city’s Sacred Heart Cathedral High School, then matriculated to the University of Washington. The 6-foot-7, 318-pounder started all 32 regular season games during his two years with the 49ers.
In 1997, Gogan graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and was proclaimed one of the NFL’s dirtiest players. Despite his reputation, Gogan earned Pro Bowl recognition, and anchored the line on some of the 49ers’ most productive offenses. He helped open holes for 49ers running back Garrison Hearst, who registered back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 1997 and 1998.
“That was as good an offensive line as I’ve ever seen,” Hearst said of the group which paved the way for his 1,570 yards in 1998. “They laid people on their behind on every play.”
The 49ers led the NFL in rushing yardage that season.
The 49ers selected Cody Pickett as a quarterback out of Washington in the seventh round of the 2004 NFL Draft, but the former rodeo cowboy earned legions of local fans as a special teams ace. He eagerly covered kickoffs and punts, an odd and dangerous role for a signal caller, and earned hearty cheers from the Candlestick Park faithful.
Pickett, who threw for a Pac-10 record 4,458 yards as a junior at Washington in 2002, began the 2005 season near the bottom of the 49ers quarterback depth chart. But after a series of injuries to the club’s QBs, Pickett was thrust into his first NFL starting role against the New York Giants. He responded by completing 12 of 21 passes for 102 yards, while rushing for another 15 yards.
Off the field, Pickett remained true to his country roots. He qualified for the National Finals Rodeo as a team roper in 1997-1999. His father, Dee Pickett, was named 1984 World Champion Cowboy and is in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame
Defensive back Derrick Johnson contributed to one of the quickest and kookiest scoring outputs in NFL annals. The 49ers and Arizona Cardinals met at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca before 103,000 fans in 2005, the first NFL regular season game ever played on foreign turf. San Francisco jumped out to a 14-0 lead early in the first quarter despite running just three plays, gaining five yards on offense, and failing to complete a pass.
It started when 49ers linebacker Derek Smith recovered an Arizona fumble in the end zone to score on the first play from scrimmage. Moments later Johnson scooped up another Cardinals fumble and raced 78 yards for a second touchdown. That turned out to be all the scoring for the 49ers. They lost 31-14.
San Francisco selected Johnson out of Washington in the sixth round (205th overall) of the 2005 NFL Draft. He started five games as a 49ers rookie.
Eddie Dove was primarily a running back at the University of Colorado when San Francisco selected him in the third round (29th overall) of the 1959 NFL draft. As a senior at Colorado, Dove ran one of the fastest hurdle times in the nation. On the gridiron, he led the Buffaloes in rushing and receiving yardage, averaging 6.4 yards per touch.
Before joining the 49ers, Dove displayed his defensive ability in the East-West Shrine game at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium, where he thrilled the crowd by returning an intercepted pass 72 yards for a touchdown. The 49ers moved Dove to the secondary where he developed into an outstanding safety and shifty punt return specialist from 1959-1963.
Dove, a native of Hygiene, Colorado, earned a Pro Bowl berth with the 49ers in 1961 after posting three interceptions and averaging over eight yards per punt return.
Carroll Hardy, a wide receiver with the 49ers in 1955, earned a place in Major League Baseball history. He’s the only player ever to pinch-hit for Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams.
After a stellar college baseball and football career at Colorado, Hardy was selected by the 49ers in the third round (34th overall) of the 1955 NFL draft. He became one of quarterback Y.A. Tittle’s favorite deep threats as a rookie, nabbing 12 passes for an astounding 28.2 yards per reception and four touchdowns.
Hardy spent one year in the NFL, then turned to pro baseball. Late in the 1960 season Hardy was on the Red Sox bench when teammate Ted Williams fouled a pitch off his foot and limped back to the dugout.
“Someone yelled, ‘Hardy get a bat,’” Hardy recalled jokingly, “so I ran out there and hit into a double play.”
He spent eight years in major league baseball with Cleveland, Boston, Houston and Minnesota.
Defensive back Donald Strickland is another local product who found his way back to his hometown 49ers. Raised in San Francisco’s Bayview District, and educated at the city’s Archbishop Riordan High School, Strickland earned a starting spot on Coach Gary Barnett’s 2001 and 2002 Colorado squads.
The 5-10, 185-pound speedster was a well-known ball hawk at Colorado, returning four interceptions for touchdowns during his college career. Originally a third-round selection (90th overall) of the Indianapolis Colts in the 2003 NFL draft, Strickland signed with the 49ers as a free agent in 2006 and continued to show a nose for the football. In a 2008 contest against Philadelphia, Strickland scooped up a blocked field goal attempt as the first half ended and raced 41 yards to score, giving the 49ers a 17-16 halftime advantage.
A mechanical engineering major at Colorado, Strickland took advantage of the NFL’s Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program, studying at Harvard in 2006, Stanford in 2007, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in 2008. He is currently a Bay Area business entrepreneur.
Artifacts, film highlights and memorabilia from many former Colorado and Washington football stars are on display in the 49ers Museum presented by Sony, including Dennis Brown’s Gatorade cooler seat. Guests also can see the life-sized 49ers Hall of Fame statues, stroll through a re-creation of 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.