A History Of The Rams And 49ers Rivalry

The Rams and the 49ers have been trading punches since 1950. They have played twice a year every year for 70 seasons, making it one of the oldest and dense rivalries in NFL history. This Sunday night marks the 142nd meeting of these two NFC West institutions. The 49ers lead the series by four wins. The collective record stands at 71-67-3.

This close record shows the level of competition throughout the years, but a closer look reveals how NFL franchises can ebb and flow from decade to decade. Going from the top, all the way to the bottom, in sometimes, a blink of the eye.

Both of these teams have been to the mountaintop, but also have wallowed in the basement. Both have been called dynasties and within a few years look like abject dumpster fires. 2020 sees both teams on the ascent, which will only serve as fuel to fire of the Rams and 49ers rivalry for another generation of fans. 

Of course, there is also the preternatural instinct for the two cities to feud. Whether its’, Giants vs. Dodgers or Taquerias vs. Taco Trucks. There is no love between the City of Angels and the City by the Bay. 

While the cities couldn’t be more different, the two teams find themselves in nearly identical situations. Of course, both are coming off recent Super Bowl losses after dominating the regular season. They also have two of the best young offensive-minded coaches in the league, dominating defensive lines, often scrutinized quarterbacks, and both are attempting to meld these things into long term success. 

Last season, the 49ers swept the two-game series against the Rams, but this season the Rams are favored to win this first meeting as the 49ers are still trying to find their footing after several key injuries. 

But divisional rivalry games have a way of bringing out the best in each team. Of course, any hotly contested rivalry makes winning and losing a much more personal endeavor. Add to that, how well divisional opponents know each other and, very practically, that this team stands directly in the way of your team winning the division, i.e. probability of making the playoffs. 

But, as former Rams defensive back, LeRoy Irvin, put it during an LA Times article concerning the state of the rivalry, “It’s only a rivalry when both teams are playing well.” It has been a while since these two teams have been good at the same time. 2019 was the first time the two had met with winning records since 1989.

During the Harbaugh Era in San Francisco, the Rams were at their nadir in St. Louis. From 2011-2014 the 49ers took three trips to the NFC Championship game. Meanwhile, the Rams went 22-41-1, going 2-5-1 against the 49ers. 

The birth of the Greatest Show on Turf coincided with the end of Steve Young’s tenure as the QB in San Francisco. In 1998, the 49ers completed their 8th consecutive sweep of the Rams and their 17th straight win. With that win, they would take a one-game lead in the overall record. The 49ers first lead in the long history, but the lead wouldn’t last long. 1999 saw the Rams first season sweep of the 49ers since 1980. They would sweep the series for three straight seasons and retake the overall lead. 

You would have to go back to the ’80s to see the last time the feud was truly red hot. The Rams entered the decade looking like a juggernaut. They were on a seven-year streak of winning their division and in 1979 they made it to the Super Bowl. The next season, they were favored to represent the NFC again. In 1980, they steamrolled the 49ers by a collective score of 79-43 in the two games, on their way to an 11-5 record. They were edged out of winning the West by the Falcons. (Remember when Atlanta and New Orleans were in the NFC West?!) 

Of course, by this time, Bill Walsh had drafted Joe Montana and they were about to revolutionize offensive football. They would win the NFC West seven times in the ’80s and win four Super Bowls. But the Rams were always right on their heels and always showed up to play. The Rams were second in the west 6 times and won it in 1985. In the 21 games they played, 11 were one-score games. 

The Rams tried what they could to keep up with the 49ers. They traded two players and three draft picks for a gunslinger QB of their very own, Jim Everett. Jim played great, but never well enough to get over the hump in the playoffs. 

The decade culminated in the team’s only postseason meeting and the result was pretty much how the ’80s went for the Rams. The 49ers played bully big brother, winning 30-3 on their way to their fourth Super Bowl victory. 

But before anyone starts to feel bad for the Rams, before 1981 the Rams record was 41-19-2 against San Francisco. When the pendulum swung in the other direction, the 49ers and their fans took delight in finally reversing fortunes against their Southern Californian foes. Eric Dickerson recounted a story about Coach John Robinson instructing him to keep his helmet on when visiting Candlestick Park and those instructions were for a good reason. “They were throwing stuff at us. Fruit. Hard dog bones, Dickerson said, “They were like a bunch of gangsters. I thought they were Raider fans.” 

Northern California native and 49er tight end (1987-97), Brent Jones took joy in getting one back for the bay. He said of the Niners’ two-decade dominance, “To finally be a part of a team that would just pound L.A., it felt good. And it felt a little bit better for me in the locker room. For all the born-and-bred San Franciscans and Bay Area folks, it’s just a little, `Yeah, take that. Finally, we’ve got something to talk about.”

But that was then and now these rivals look to rekindle that flame. The newest chapter of the rivalry was kicked off at a Thursday night game in week three of 2017. It was the first season for both Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay. Of course, the two teams have changed a lot of personnel, but at that point in the season, Jimmy Garoppolo was still in New England. The 49ers starting QB was another former Patriot, Brian Hoyer.  

2017 ended with the Rams in the playoffs and the 49ers lost 10 games. But this game was high drama and high scoring. It set the mark for the highest-scoring Thursday Night Game. 80 total points

The game started with Brian Hoyer being picked on the very first play of the game. The Rams easily converted that into a touchdown. The Rams came into the game 2-1 and the 49ers 0-3. This looked like a blowout it was supposed to be, but San Francisco tied it up on the subsequent drive and the Rams answered back with a TD of their own. 

By halftime, the Rams were up 24-13 and by the end of the third quarter, they extended their lead to 14 points. But at the very end of the third quarter, Hoyer connected with Marquise Goodwin for a 50-yard pass which set up a touchdown two minutes into the fourth quarter. Robbie Gould missed the extra point. The Rams responded on the ensuing drive, with Goff again taking them down the field 75 yards for a touchdown, 41-26. 

After trading punts, the 49ers are able to narrow the gap scoring a touchdown, 41-33. The Rams then muff the resulting kickoff and the 49ers recovered at the Rams 29. The Rams then give up a touchdown on a fourth and one from the one-yard line. Because Gould missed an extra point earlier in the game, the 49ers are forced to go for two to tie the game at 41. The conversion attempt fails. Michael Brockers intercepted the pass attempt. 

But the game isn’t over. There is 2:13 left and San Francisco just recovered the onside kick at midfield. The Rams defense came up big on this series, holding the 49ers to no gain. Aaron Donald put the cherry on the drive with an 8-yard sack on fourth down. 

Since then the teams have traded haymakers. The series is locked at 3 all. From the look of it, this may be the most competitive era for the battle for California, and let’s hope so. Football is better when these two teams are ebbing at the same time.

The Rams head into Levi’s Stadium a three-point favorite, but be sure the 49ers will have something to say about that. 

Levi's Stadium. Photo Credit: Jim Bahn | Under Creative Commons License

Levi’s Stadium. Photo Credit: Jim Bahn | Under Creative Commons License

Ryan Anderson

Author Ryan Anderson

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