Golden Football Magazine
Football Profiles


Bill Walsh 1987


Eddie DeBartolo 1987


Joe Montana 1987


Steve Young


Jerry Rice


Sam Wyche


Stanford Jennings returns kickoff for TD in SB XXIII


Boomer Esiason


Roger Craig


John Taylor's Super Bowl catch

Bill Walsh - XI
As the 1987 season approached, most everyone in the NFL assumed there would be a player strike.
  • The 49ers worked harder than most teams to be ready when the strike occurred. We established a complete subprogram to secure and develop replacement talent, recalled Bill. That took much more time and effort by our coaches and staff, but it ultimately paid off.
  • When the strike hit after two regular season games, the 49ers were ready with players who had been on the squad previously or in the preseason camp.
  • In addition, Walsh had a major group of eleven players who wanted to come back, including stars like Joe Montana, Dwight Clark, RogerCraig, Jeff Fuller, and Russ Francis. But he was caught in the middle between these players and the team leaders, who urged him to wait a week when a larger contingent of players would return. Bill was torn because he figured his replacement team could beat the ersatz Giants in the first game after the strike.
  • Against the wishes of the league, which wanted to welcome any stars who wanted to play in Week 4 but with the backing of owner Eddie DeBatolo, who said, "I don't care what the NFL tells us to do. We're going to do what's right for our squad," Bill persuaded the eleven veterans to wait a week and beat the Giants handily, 41-21, with his replacement squad.
  • The Montana group returned the following week and beat the Falcons in Atlanta 25-17 before coming from behind at home to down the St. Louis Cardinals 34-28 the next week.
Putting Humpty Dumpty back again after the strike required some skillful diplomacy. Some players who stayed out throughout the strike said they could never feel the same way about their teammates who had returned.
  • Walsh called a team meeting and explained his position of trying to keep the team together and told the adamant strikers that players who returned early did so because (a) they were loyal to the 49ers organization, (b) they didn't agree with the union's position, or (c) they experienced dire financial circumstances.
  • Bill recalled, During my presentation, positions began to soften. ... When that meeting ended, there was still some animosity, but most of it had begun to subside.

San Francisco finished the season with the best record in the league, 13-2.

  • They won the NFC West by one game over the upstart New Orleans Saints, who made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
  • But after enjoying a bye week, the 49ers were shocked 36-24 by the Minnesota Vikings, who had eliminated the Saints the week before. Walsh called it as bitter and difficult a loss as we've ever had.
  • How did it happen? asked Bill in his autobiography. It was a combination of meeting a Minnesota team that was playing very well and not being ready for the game ourselves, for a variety of reasons, many of them originating with me.
  • One of the reasons he cited was overconfidence following their clobbering of the Rams 48-0 in the final game of the regular season. Bill regretted not calling off the dogs in the final period. He also admitted that he worked the team too hard in practice during the two weeks before the playoff game.

    1987 Vikings-49ers action
As the 49ers moved into a new facility for the 1988 season, Walsh faced a QB controversy.
  • Steve Young had come to the 49ers for the 1987 season in a trade from Tampa Bay, where he had been considered a bust.
  • But Young, in Walsh's words, had shown that he had the ability to be the 49er QB. Whenever he'd played as a 49er, he'd been not only productive but exciting. The former Brigham Young star provided a dimension that Joe Montana didn't - the ability to beat a defense with his feet.
  • However, Bill insisted that Montana was his starter for the 1988 season despite the fact that Steve performed better in the preseason. My only concern about Montana was his health, recalled Bill.

That concern came to the fore in the first game of the regular season.

  • In the Niners' thrilling 35-34 victory over the Saints, Joe hurt his elbow when he banged it on the artificial turf in the Superdome. To make matters worse, Joe suffered from dysentery the following week.
  • So Young started Game 2 against the Giants in New York. But with the scored tied at 10 at halftime, Bill sent in Joe who pulled out the 20-17 victory with a 78y pass to Jerry Rice with 42 seconds left.
  • While still not at full strength, Joe continued to start. After a shocking loss to Atlanta, the Niners - and Montana in particular - played an excellent game against Seattle.
  • But SF lost four of their next seven to sink to 6-5. During that stretch, Walsh decided that Montana would never regain full health without some rest. So he started Steve in back-to-back games against Minnesota and Phoenix - a win and a loss.
  • With Joe back in the saddle for the stretch run, the Niners lost to the Los Angeles Raiders, then ripped off four straight wins, including a 30-17 triumph over the Saints to wrap up the NFC West with a week to play.

Their 10-6 record was good enough to give the 49ers a first round bye in the playoffs.

  • They got revenge on the Vikings 34-9 before thumping the Bears 28-3 on a cold and windy day in Chicago to earn a trip to Super Bowl XXIII. Walsh called them two of the very best games ever played by the 49ers.
  • Montana was sensational: 33-for-54 for 466y, six TDs, and only 1 INT.

Walsh had privately decided to retire as coach after the Super Bowl, win or lose.

  • The stress of the strike season of '87 and the up-and-down '88 year had taken their toll on him.
  • He didn't announce his decision because he did not want to create a distraction heading into the Big Game.

The opponent in the Super Bowl was the same one the Niners had faced in their first Super Bowl in 1982 - the Cincinnati Bengals.

  • The difference, though, was that Paul Brown's former team was now led by Walsh's protege and old friend, Sam Wyche. Sam had presided over the Bengals' sensational turnaround from 4-11 during 1987 to 12-4.
  • While telling everyone that the Bengals posed an enormous challenge, Bill privately thought that he had a much stronger and more experienced team.

In the end, the 49ers won because they had Superman, AKA Joe Montana, on their team.

  • The first half was surprisingly low scoring, ending in a 3-3 tie.
  • After the teams exchanged FGs in Q3, Cincinnati took the lead on a 93y kickoff return by Stanford Jennings.
  • But Montana found Jerry Rice on a 14y TD pass to complete an 85y drive to tie the game for the third time.
  • The Bengals started a possession on their own 32 with 8:47 left in the game. Boomer Esiason completed only two passes but Icky Woods gained 21y rushing to set up Jim Breech for a 40y FG to make it 16-13 with only 3:20 on the clock.
  • But that was more than enough time for Montana to work his magic. He completed five straight passes to place the pigskin on the Cincy 48 with 1:54 to go.
  • After an incompletion and a penalty, he hit Jerry Rice for 27y to the 18. After a short one to Roger Craig for 8, Montana found John Taylor in the EZ to complete the greatest clutch drive in Super Bowl history and take a 20-16 lead with 0:34 on the clock.
  • When Esiason's 4th down pass fell incomplete, the Niners wrapped up their fourth Super Bowl victory without a defeat under Bill Walsh.

Walsh quit while on top and became a commentator on NBC's football broadcasts.

  • But he couldn't resist returning to coaching in 1992 when he started a second stint as head coach of Stanford. After a successful first season in which the Cardinal went 10-3 and ranked as Pac-10 co-champions, he retired from coaching for good after two losing seasons.
  • Walsh became Vice President and General Manager for the 49ers from 1999 to 2001 and continued for three years after that as a special consultant.
  • In 2004, he became a special assistant to the Stanford AD.
  • Bill died of luekemia in 2007.
References: Building a Champion, Bill Walsh with Glenn Dickey (1990)
The Genius
, David Harris (2016)

Return to Football Magazine

 

Football Profiles Archives - I

John Heisman
Sammy Baugh
Glenn Presnell
Mac Speedie
Wahoo McDaniel
Stephen Neal
Chris Cagle
Brad Van Pelt
Jake Delhomme

Football Profiles Archives - II

Paul Brown

Football Profiles Archives - III

Earl Blaik

Football Profiles Archives - IV

Ernie Nevers
Riley Skinner
Brian Kelly
Alex Karras
Merlin Olsen
Ryan Who?
Joe Bellino
Chris Long

Football Profiles Archives - V

Don Shula
Joe Don Looney
Charlie Justice
Jimmy Taylor
Jesse Harper

Football Profiles Archives - VI

Dak Prescott
Bill Walsh - I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII

Golden Rankings Home