This is the one in a series of posts about the best teams that never won a championship in the NFL.
Although a lot of people will be quick to jump and say that the 49ers don’t deserve any part in this series, winning 5 Super Bowls in their history and going to four in the 1980’s, but the 1992 team was probably one of the best in franchise history.
Although George Seifert never smiled, he had every reason to. Under hist tenure, the 49ers never finished with a losing record, and only finished with 10 or fewer wins twice. 1992 was Seifert’s third year at the helm, and he finished with a 14-2 record, identical to his 1989 and 1990 seasons. He had all the offensive weapons he needed at his disposal, and the defense was still very tough.
Steve Young had arguably his second best year in his career to only his 1994 season, completing 66.7% of his passes for 3,465 yards, 25 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions for a rating of 107.0 on the season. Unbelievable numbers considering the league’s averages and the general offensive heights the NFL was used to. However, it wasn’t so unbelievable when you saw what Young had to generate those numbers with.
Ricky Watters rushed for over 1,000 yards, and although his stats weren’t great, he still was a very necessary cog in the machine. He finished with 1,013 yards on 206 carries for 9 touchdowns and was 0.1 away from averaging 5 yards per carry. Watters also caught 43 passes for 405 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Of course, no 49er team of this era was complete without Jerry Rice. Although his last years as a Raider is absolutely blasphemous, Rice was still very much in his prime and producing amazing numbers in ’92. He caught 84 passes for 1,201 yards and 10 touchdowns, ripping off an 80-yarder at one point. His 14.3 yards per reception is fantastical, but shockingly it wasn’t even close to leading the team.
Other important guys included TE Brent Jones, who caught 45 passes for 628 yards and 4 touchdowns. Mike Sherrard and John Taylor combined for 1,035 yards and 3 touchdowns, while FB Tom Rathman was another backfield threat and former Giant Odessa Turner was a good depth man, catching 9 passes for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns, leading the team with a 22.2 yards per reception average.
Unfortunately, the one missing piece the 49ers could not find was a reliable kicker. Although Klaus Wilmsmeyer anchored the special teams, Mike Cofer was inaccurate and had a tendency to crack under pressure, connecting on only 18 of 27 field goals on the year and costing the 49ers a legendary game and a possible 15-1 record.
This legendary came was in Week 2, on September 13th, 1992. The 49ers played the two-time defending AFC Champion Buffalo Bills at home, and what ensued was a shootout for the ages. Steve Young finished with 449 passing yards and 3 touchdowns, while Buffalo’s Jim Kelly finished with 403 yards and the same amount of touchdowns. The teams also combined for 263 rushing yards, bringing the combined total yards for the game to 1,096 yards, tying for third all-time highest at the time. This was the first NFL game in history to not feature a single punt.
With the 49ers trailing 34-31 and the final drive of the game coming up, San Francisco calmly drove down the field with Steve Young converting a 4th and 1 on a rollout. Although the drive was stalled by a holding penalty, Mike Cofer had a chance to tie the game and send it into OT with a 47-yard field goal. But alas, much like Scott Norwood’s shank in Super Bowl XXV, Cofer’s kick sailed wide to the right, and San Francisco was handed only one of two losses on the year.
Their only other loss came in Week 9, a surprise upset loss to the Cardinals in Phoenix. After that, the 49ers never lost again, rattling off an 8 game winning streak to earn themselves the No.1 seed in the NFL.
In all, the offense ranked No.1 in the league. Did I mention the defense also collected 41 sacks and only gave up 14.8 points per game to the offense’s 26.9? They were pretty good too.
In the Divisional Playoffs, the 49ers faced the seemingly-vulnerable defending champion Redskins, but were given a close game that was mainly decided on a humongous Michael Carter interception return for a touchdown. The 49ers escaped with a 20-13 win and advanced to the NFC Title Game against 13-3 Dallas.
The NFC Title game was one of the greatest games ever, and is still a game I love to watch. The 49ers could have raced out to an early lead off a 63-yard Jerry Rice touchdown pass, but it was unfortunately called back for holding and ultimately swung the game. Dallas featured an explosive offense and the league’s No.1 defense, and it was incredibly difficult to win against them. The 49ers moved the ball all day, but thanks to penalties, turnovers, and Mike Cofer’s shenanigans (he missed a crucial field goal before halftime), San Francisco ultimately lost 30-20.
In theory, if Jerry Rice scores the 63-yarder, Cofer doesn’t choke and Dallas misses their final extra point (which they did), the game could have been sent into a 30-30 tie and taken into overtime where San Francisco could have possibly won the game. Unfortunately, that’s not how things went, and the high-powered 49ers were sent home like a dog with its tail between its legs, unable to fulfill their dreams at the end.
Although the ’92 49ers aren’t really remembered all that much (because of Buffalo’s comeback and Dallas’ awesome season that year), I would rank them the 3rd best team in their history, behind the 1989 and 1984 teams but above the 1994, 1981 and 1988 squads. This was a team that tragically lost a game they should have won, and my guess is (presuming Buffalo made the Super Bowl) they would have shellacked them about as thoroughly as the Cowboys did.