The San Francisco 49ers have had some humble places to call home. The first of those venues was Kezar Stadium which was known for mud and seagulls. It was also known for its long, dark tunnel where fans would dump beer on players from both teams as they entered the field. While it was not the best looking of NFL stadiums, it stood in the heart of San Francisco and provided a lifetime’s supply of memories for the fans. These memories reside in the hearts of the 49er Faithful and are held with pride.
49ers Greatest Games at Kezar Stadium
October 6, 1957- 49ers vs. Rams
The 49es had a fierce rivalry with the Rams and had a difficult time beating them. San Francisco had drafted R.C. Owens out of the College of Idaho in 1956 in hopes that he could help them as a receiver. The 49ers got more than a receiver; they got a one of a kind player.
Owens had the unique ability to jump over defenders to snag the ball higher than other receivers of the era. This stunt is called the “Alley Oop” pass and is commonly used in basketball but rarely in football. At first, it was merely a gimmick in practice but soon it was being used in games.
Their October 6 meeting with the Rams was the first game where they used this tactic. In a closely contested game, the 49ers were able to use the Alley Oop pass on multiple occasions and defeated the Rams 23-20.
Fans in attendance realized that this gimmick might be the key to finally winning an NFL championship. This was the beginning of a remarkable season in San Francisco, a season filled with many wonderful memories at Kezar Stadium.
October 27, 1957- 49ers vs. Bears
The 49ers were in the midst of their best season of the 1950s when tragedy struck. During the first half of their game against the Chicago Bears, Tony Morabito, the 49ers founding owner, had a heart attack in the press box at Kezar Stadium and was pronounced dead at halftime.
The 49ers were down 17-7 at that point and were stunned to learn of the sad news. They came out of their tunnel on a mission to honor their fallen leader.
On the first play of the third quarter, Leo Nomellini pressured the Bears quarterback and forced an interception by Bill Herchman who returned it 54 yards for a touchdown. The rest of the second half was a defensive struggle but the 49ers continually had the upperhand by savagely rushing the passer.
After another interception set up the 49ers offense at the Bears 19-yard line, quarterback Y.A. Tittle threw the game-winning touchdown to Billy Wilson. The 49ers were able to hold off the Bears for the remainder of the game and won 21-17.
The defense proved itself by intercepting Chicago five times and inspired the rest of the team to step up their performance for their fallen owner. This was a game 49er fans will never forget.
November 3, 1957- 49ers vs. Lions
The 49ers had already made the Alley Oop pass famous a month earlier against the Rams but this game gave it even more publicity. While the Lions would eventually win their last NFL championship later on in the year, this was the 49ers day.
The 49ers sensed the urgency of the situation and quickly scored two touchdowns from Clyde Connor and Tittle. The 49ers continued to score in the second half on rushing touchdowns by Hugh McElhenny and Gene Babb to increase the lead to 28-10.
The Lions were not about to bow out easily and stormed back with three straight touchdown passes from Rote in the fourth quarter. The 49ers suddenly found themselves trailing 31-28 with little time left.
Tittle led the 49ers on a last minute drive and launched a 41-yard desperation pass in the end zone. Owens leaped over the Lions defenders and caught the game-winning touchdown pass with no time remaining. This turned the Alley Oop pass from a gimmick and into a legend in the annals of the history of the 49ers.
December 14, 1958- 49ers vs. Colts
The Baltimore Colts of the late 1950s were great teams led by legendary quarterback, Johnny Unitas. The Colts won their first championship in 1958 but the last team to beat them that year was the 49ers at Kezar Stadium.
While the 49ers were an average team that year, they stepped up and beat the eventual NFL champion. Despite having two Hall of Fame quarterbacks in each huddle, the game was a tough defensive struggle. The 49ers held Unitas to just 157 passing yards and one touchdown.
After the Colts kicked an early field goal, Tittle gave the 49ers the lead by throwing a touchdown pass to Conner. J.D. Smith later punched in two touchdowns from the one-yard line as the Niners dominated the game.
While upsets are not uncommon, this game proved that even one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time had trouble winning at Kezar Stadium.
December 10, 1961- 49ers vs. Packers
The Packers of the 1960s were a legendary machine led by the immortal coach, Vince Lombardi. Green Bay imposed its will on the NFL and won five NFL Championships including the first two Super Bowls. This was their first championship year under Lombardi but before they started their playoff run, they had to get past the 49ers at Kezar Stadium.
The 49ers jumped to an early 14-point lead before the Packers clawed their way back to take a 21-19 lead in the fourth quarter. The 49ers Tommy Davis kicked the deciding field goal to win the game 22-21. This was the last loss the Packers would suffer before winning the NFL Championship that year.
October 20, 1963- 49ers vs. Bears
The 49ers were horrible in 1963, winning just two games, but they had a terrific upset against the eventual NFL Champion Chicago Bears. This Bears team had a stingy defense led by Doug Atkins and Bill George. They also had a physical offense which featured the legendary tight end Mike Ditka.
The 49ers stunned the Bears by jumping to an early 17-0 lead, forcing the Bears out of their element. Historically, the Bears have relied on the run and have rarely relied heavily on the pass. Due to the 17-point deficit quarterbacks Billy Wade and Rudy Bukich were forced to pass 40 times with minimal results.
The 49ers held on for a 20-14 upset victory over a very talented Bears team. The Bears may have overlooked San Francisco and the Niners came away with a shocking victory.