For better or worse, I’ve always been a man of blatant honesty. I reserve my feelings when the situation calls for it, but if an opportunity to give the truth presents itself, I provide it. If I have a loyal reader or two (hard to believe) you know that I grew up in the state of Nebraska. I still live live there now as I do my best to raise a family with my wife. I didn’t have the opportunity to become an NFL fan based on geographical location. My passion for the San Francisco 49ers arose because they were good during the years I grew up. It just makes sense doesn’t it? The obvious guys like Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, and Jerry Rice drew me in as a fan, and I’ve never left the 49ers side since.
I’ve always had a strong appreciation for the 49ers fans that I consider historians. There’s personal jubilation hearing from folks that have been to Kezar Stadium. Reading stories about former 49ers like John Brodie or Frankie Albert takes me to a mindset that I wish I could have seen live. Who in their right mind wouldn’t love hearing stories about former 49ers tackle Bob St. Clair wring the neck of a live dove just to eat the heart out of it? Yeah, go ahead and look that one up if you have to. I’ve always thought that to have a true appreciation of the present, you’d better get an understanding of the past.
So as a fan base who gets to revel week in and week out what Jim Harbaugh and the current San Francisco 49ers provide us, let’s take a look at 10 of the most under appreciated 49ers of the past 30 years. For the sake of this post, I’m only going to cover the years I got to see first hand and I’ll indicate the years spent as a 49er.
10. Harris Barton (1987-1998)
On this list, there’s an automatic infinite increase in bonus points if you spend you’re entire career with the San Francisco 49ers. Believe you me, it isn’t very common. None of the faces of the 49ers Mt. Rushmore (Montana, Rice, Steve Young, Ronnie Lott) did it. Roger Craig, Tom Rathman, or Charles Haley didn’t dawn the red and gold their entire professional careers either. Harris Barton did and that, in itself says something. Harris was the 22nd overall pick in the 1987 draft by the 49ers and played his whole 12 year career with the team. In his 138 career games with the Niners, he started 134 of them and racked up three Super Bowl rings during that time span. He was also the rookie of the year runner up in 1987.
9. Derek Smith (2001-2007)
My most vivid memory of Derek Smith’s career with the San Francisco 49ers was his innate ability to always find the football and make the tackle. Smith had tackles totaling over 100 for five consecutive seasons for the 49ers. He also started every game but two that he appeared in during his seven seasons as a Niner. He’s that consummate guy in the league that probably isn’t the most talented but through shear hard work became an overly effective, professional middle linebacker. He was also voted as the Bill Walsh Award (team MVP) by his peers in 2005.
8. Michael Carter (1984-1992)
Of course we all remember in the not so distant past a guy by the name of Lawrence Okoye. You know, the fella (still on the official roster by the way) that was all the rave during preseason with his raw potential, his sterling physique, and his background as an English discus thrower. Well, back in the 49ers heyday we had Michael Carter. Carter was a silver medalist in the shot put in the 1984 Olympics and also a Super Bowl champion that very same year. Carter was one of those guys that could create pass rush, if need be, while exceling at freeing up his linebackers to make plays. He’s also one of those select few that spent his entire career with the San Francisco 49ers. Carter attended the Pro Bowl three times, accumulated three Super Bowl rings, and garnered 22.5 sacks from the nose tackle position in his career.
7. Tony Parrish (2002-2005)
Ronnie Lott is a constant in the discussion for the greatest 49er of all time. Shortly after Lott, Tim McDonald roamed center field for the 49ers secondary and had a stellar career. Recently we had an All-Pro in Dashon Goldson, and of course now we have what looks to be a keeper in Eric Reid. Well, somewhere in between there was a guy by the name of Tony Parrish. Tony Parrish was a hard hitter, sure tackler, and had good hands as a safety. Teams took into account where Tony Parrish was on the field at all times. Safeties usually can either cover OR they can hit. Parrish was one of those guys that could do both. In 2003, Parrish tied for the league lead in interceptions with nine.
6. Bruce Miller (2011-present)
There had to be a representative of today’s success for the San Francisco 49ers. I’m rolling with Bruce Miller as that guy. No he doesn’t have the stats, and he plays a position in today’s NFL that is practically obsolete. But, ask Frank Gore what he thinks about Bruce Miller, and he’ll preach just how vital Miller is to the 49ers present day offense. It also speaks volumes that Miller is the best fullback in the league, and he played his entire collegiate career on the defensive side of the ball. Miller is an excellent blocker, a good receiving fullback, and has pretty good overall speed. His ability to create holes and read the defense is adding carries to Frank Gore’s career. That in itself is priceless.
5. Garrison Hearst (1997-2003)
I want to start this synopsis off by cursing repeatedly. Ah, that damned 1998 season still haunts me. The first play from scrimmage in the divisional game against the Atlanta Falcons is a vivid memory for me. Garrison Hearst completely obliterated his ankle on that play, and it cost him two whole seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. In my opinion, the Niners take that Super Bowl with a healthy Garrison Hearst. But, that’s neither here nor there anymore. Hearst was complete running back for the 49ers in every sense of the word. Excluding that freak injury, he was durable. He was fast, he was powerful , he had good hands, and he was a solid blocker as well. In 1998, Hearst had 1,570 rushing hards and 535 receiving yards…..a 49ers yardage record at the time. Garrison Hearst is one of only two men to be the Comeback Player of the Year twice. He was also a two time attendee in the Pro Bowl and an All-Pro once.
4. Guy McIntyre (1984-1993)
If there’s one thing that sticks in most minds of all 49ers fans, it’s probably the “Elephant” formation implemented by Bill Walsh. McIntyre was the very first lineman utilized in the backfield during the modern era. Yes, the Niners did it before the Chicago Bears and William Perry. In today’s NFL, it’s a common occurrence to use linemen in the backfield, and it’s often utilized by Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman. But, Guy McIntyre was much more than that. There was a reason McIntyre was a five time Pro Bowl selection and a three time All-Pro. He was damn good! He protected Montana. He protected Young. He cleared paths for Rathman and Craig. Starting for seven consecutive years and working with/for those guys…..now, that says something!
3. Brent Jones (1987-1997)
When you talk about the greatest tight ends in NFL history, Brent Jones doesn’t enter the discussion. He was a guy that lingered in between eras where the position was prominently used. Brent Jones has just been tossed aside in the discussion. But, Brent Jones was so reliable as a blocker and a pass catcher that overlooking him is a grievous mistake! He had a toughness as a tight end that’s been drastically understated for years. He was Steve Young’s reliable outlet throughout their careers and the guy seemed like he didn’t drop a thing. Jones was full of hustle, and excellent route runner, and played the game like most would want it to be taught. All those attributes showed in the form of four Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams.
2. Bryant Young (1994-2007)
Maybe I’m way off base here, but I feel like I need to become a pioneer for the greatness of Bryant Young. Was it the tragic broken leg that allows us to cast aside Bryant Young’s greatness? Or maybe it’s the fact that B.Y. played through the recent years of utter futility that allows him to be overlooked? As a four time Pro Bowler and All-Pro and a member of the 1990’s All-Decade team, Bryant Young was a mainstay of the 49ers defense for his entire 14 NFL seasons. Bryant Young is THE GUY that made the quarterback sack, while playing exclusively from the defensive tackle position, reputable. He averaged over 6 sacks per season from the position. That’s almost unheard of throughout the entire history of the league! It’s common for those who lay claim to the defensive tackle position to garner their sack totals while switching out to defensive end. That’s not the case with Bryant Young. The most spectacular part of Young’s game was the fact that he was equal part sack master and equal part run stuffer. There really is no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it…..Bryant Young was the total package and the consummate lifelong San Francisco 49er.
1. Jeff Garcia (1999-2003)
There is no other franchise in NFL history that has the pantheon of quarterbacks like the San Francisco 49ers. The list is prestigious and long comparative to every other team. There’s Frankie Albert, Y.A Tittle, John Brodie, Joe Montana, and of course, Steve Young. The odd man out, who deserves to be listed in that group with the rest of the greats is Jeff Garcia. Jeff Garcia was just a flat out ballplayer. That’s an understated compliment meant with all of the highest possible praise I can generate. Underlying the fact that Garcia was just plain good and talented was all the grit and toughness he brought to the quarterbacking position for the 49ers. Jeff Garcia got beat up in his tenure in the National Football League. And, more often then not, he popped back up to take the snap under center. Garcia was an admirable competitor in every sense of the word, but look at the stats and awards. Because as they say, numbers never lie. As a 49er, Jeff Garcia threw for 16,408 yards, 113 touchdowns, and also rushed for 1,553 yards. He was a three time Pro Bowl player with the Niners and voted as the league’s Most Improved Player after the 2000 season. All inclusive, Jeff Garcia is my man as the most under appreciated San Francisco 49er of the last 30 years.