It’s been a while since Joe Montana and Steve Young were winning Super Bowls for the San Francisco 49ers. But the Niners are finally back in title contention, and interestingly enough, they have another quarterback competition on their hands.
The 49ers have been around since 1946, when they were part of the brand-new All-America Football Conference (AAFC) that would merge with the NFL four years later. Aside from a brief spell of success in the early 1970s, the Niners were barely a blip on the radar screen until 1977, when businessman Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr. bought the club.
DeBartolo is still a beloved figure in San Francisco for the care and attention he gave to the team. He hired Bill Walsh to be his head coach in 1979, and one of the first things Walsh did was draft Montana to be his starting quarterback. They won Super Bowl XVI in Montana’s sophomore campaign and again three years later, making Walsh’s “West Coast offense” famous.
Once the right system was in place, the 49ers were able to extend their dynasty by adding the right personnel. George Seifert was groomed to replace the retired Walsh as coach, Young eventually took over for Montana, and Jerry Rice would become the best wide receiver of all-time as the Niners went on to win three more Super Bowls. They’re a perfect 5-for-5 at the Big Game.
But it’s been almost 20 years since the last one. Ownership changes and increased parity destabilized the franchise; however, the Niners have been reborn since hiring former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh as their head coach in 2011. They made the playoffs last year at 13-3 (12-3-1 ATS) for the first time since 2002, and they’re on the cusp of doing it again at 7-2-1 (6-4 ATS) after Week 11.
There’s still some work to be done, though. San Francisco only has a 1.5-game lead over the pesky Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West Division. Four of the remaining six games are on the road, including tough dates with the Seahawks and the New England Patriots. But it’s very likely the Niners will at least earn an NFC Wild Card spot in the playoffs – likely enough that Bovada has San Francisco fourth on the Super Bowl XLVII futures market at 13-2.
Harbaugh is the key figure here. He was outstanding in his stint as a college football coach, turning around the Stanford Cardinal program (Walsh also coached there) before getting his shot at the pros. Harbaugh did have the luxury of inheriting a team with a stockpile of high draft picks, but he’s also worked wonders with quarterback Alex Smith, who has improved to fourth in the league with a 104.1 passer rating.
Now Harbaugh has two quarterbacks at his disposal, just like Walsh did. Smith suffered a concussion in Week 10, and rookie Colin Kaepernick has been brilliant in relief, posting a 108.3 passer rating in limited action while also rushing for 7.5 yards per carry. The 49ers are already among the NFL’s best in defense and running, so Harbaugh will no doubt be very happy with this developing quarterback “controversy.” So will Niners fans who want to bet on the 2013 Super Bowl.