1994 — the San Francisco 49ers were coming off of two consecutive NFC Championship losses to their NFC rivals, the Dallas Cowboys. After the second loss in January of 1994, then owner Eddie Debartolo’s had a conversation with then GM Carmen Policy and stated:
“We cannot lose to that team again.”
Coming into the 1994 season, one thing was clear — the two best teams in the NFL resided in the NFC. The defending Super Bowl Champions Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers.
To get to the level of the Cowboys and unseat them as the champions, the 49ers front office was going to have to come up with a plan. Their goal was to build through both the draft and free agency to shore up their defense, as it was clear the offense had no such deficiencies.
The Cowboys and 49ers offensive starters practically mirrored one another in matchups that were littered with future hall-of-famers. The defense however, was coming up short and it was prohibiting the organization from securing a fifth Lombardi trophy to Niner Nation. The front office rolled up their sleeves and went to work.
The plan to unseat the Dallas Cowboys for NFL supremacy began in earnest in April 1994 at the NFL Draft. It was no secret the 49ers were going to go heavy on defense — and they didn’t disappoint. Bryant Young and Tony Peterson were drafted from Notre Dame. The late Kevin Williams was drafted out of Syracuse. Tyronne Drakeford from Virginia Tech. Lastly but certainly not least, Lee Woodall was drafted out of tiny division 2 West Chester college in Pennsylvania. After the draft, the flood of free agents began to populate the 49ers locker room.
A couple of years earlier in a trade that the 49ers organization would later openly admit was a mistake, had sent future hall-of-famer Charles Haley to the Cowboys. So in a major twist of irony, the 49ers secured pro bowl linebacker Ken Norton Jr. from the Dallas Cowboys via free agency. Also brought in was a proverbial who’s who across the landscape of the NFL — all-time Saints great and future hall-of-famer Rickey Jackson was brought in along with his Saints teammate Toi Cook. Gary Plummer from the Chargers. Charles Mann from the Redskins. Super Bowl XX MVP Richard Dent from the Chicago Bears. Rhett Hall from the Buccaneers. Tim Harris returned to the team after a one year stint with the Eagles. And finally, the most sought after free agent of them all — Deion Sanders from the Atlanta Falcons. Sanders didn’t participate in training camp or the preseason. He also missed the first two games of the regular season due to his obligations as a center fielder for the Cincinnati Reds (totally not joking).
Now the 49ers roster was complete and ready for a run at Super Bowl XXIX, and more importantly, a fifth championship.
Not only were the 49ers expecting a special season, the NFL was expecting one as well. This was the 75th anniversary of the inception of the NFL and they planned to honor it with a commemorative 75th anniversary patch on the jerseys and the birth of throwback uniforms. Each team would honor a year for their respective franchise in a throwback uniform. The 49ers chose the year 1955.
The first two games of the 1994 season were nothing short of memorable. The season began on a Monday night at home against the then-Los Angeles Raiders. The subplot for this game was Jerry Rice’s pursuit of the all-time touchdown record, held by the great Jim Brown at the time. Needing two scores to tie and three to break it, Rice delivered a virtuoso performance. Scoring the three touchdowns needed, two receiving and even one on a 23 yard rushing score, Rice got the special season off to a record breaking start!
Week two brought a road trip to Kansas City and a showdown with 49ers legend and four-time Super Bowl champion Joe Montana. The head-to-head battle between Montana and Young was won by the Chiefs 24-17. Unfortunately there was only redemption for Montana, and heartbreak for Young and the 49ers.
Week three the much anticipated throwback uniforms made their debut on a road trip to the Los Angeles Rams — a game won by the 49ers 34-19.
The following week the 49ers returned home wearing the throwbacks and defeated the Saints 24-13.
Standing with a 3-1 record, the 49ers hosted the Philadelphia Eagles and returned to the traditional red jerseys with the gold pants and were promptly drubbed 40-8 in an absolute debacle of a game! A game so one sided that head coach George Seifert benched eventual 1994 NFL MVP for his own safety. Which is exactly what Young was sacked for, until he was pulled for backup Elvis Grbac.
At 3-2, the 49ers returned to the road and back to the throwbacks in a trip to play the Detroit Lions. Once again the 49ers fell behind early 14-0. Young was sacked and practically crawled off the field in excruciating pain. The highly-anticipated season was teetering towards disaster. Miraculously, Young returned to the field after missing only one snap and the 49ers eventually prevailed to a 27-21 victory.
They were scheduled to wear the throwbacks all the way up until their bye week, all 49ers wins. Due to the superstitious nature of Coach Seifert, and the desire of the team, the 49ers petitioned the league to wear the throwbacks for the remainder of the season.
The 49ers won ten games in a row, including a week eleven showdown with the Cowboys, the team this version of the 49ers were constructed to beat! The only loss suffered was a Monday night setback to the Minnesota Vikings when the majority of the starters played sparingly, if at all, because the number one seed in the playoffs had already been secured.
The 49ers beat the Bears 44-15 in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs, and finally after two heartbreaking, season-ending, NFC championship losses, defeated the Dallas Cowboys 38-28 and advanced to Super Bowl XXIX, where they defeated the San Diego Chargers 49-26.
The 1994 San Francisco 49ers had fulfilled the lofty expectations that were born on a disappointing evening in Texas Stadium.
So as we begin the 2018 season and this version of the 49ers pay homage to that special team, that brought us our last Super Bowl-winning season in those iconic throwbacks, let’s hope they can produce the same magic that made us so proud back then, and we can indeed, party like it’s 1994.