5. Ronnie Lott (1981-1990, 1995)
Defense wins championships. When you talk about the San Francisco 49ers defensive line-up in the ’80s, you must talk about the great Ronnie Lott. The 1980s were a glorious decade for the 49ers; Lott was a leader. The young Lott snatched seven interceptions in 1981, his first year in the league. He was the runner-up for the Rookie of the Year Award. Lott was moved from cornerback to safety midway through his time with the 49ers; he continued to excel, winning four titles in his nine years with the franchise.
4. Dwight Clark (1979-1987)
Another San Francisco mainstay in the 1980s was wide receiver Dwight Clark. He spent his nine-year NFL career in San Francisco. The two-time Pro Bowler was vital in the 49ers’ first two Super Bowl titles in 1981 and 1984. The highlight of Clark’s career would have to be “The Catch” in the 1981 NFC Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys. Clark made a historic catch in the dying moments of the game which brought the squad to its first Super Bowl. “The Catch” is one of the most important plays in NFL history.
3. Steve Young (1987-1999)
The 49ers have had quite a number of elite quarterbacks and it’s no question that Steve Young is at the upper echelon of that list. Young had a shaky start to his professional career. He played his first two professional years in the United States Football League and eventually moved to the NFL in 1986 to suit up for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After two lowly years with the Buccs, the signal-caller was finally on his way to San Francisco where he won his first two Super Bowl trophies as a backup QB to Joe Montana. Young was pushed to the spotlight in the 1991 season when Montana was out for an elbow injury and he did not disappoint. It took Young another year to finally win the league MVP in 1992. He became the star quarterback of the 49ers after the departure of Montana and grabbed another Super Bowl trophy in Super Bowl XXIX where he was also the league’s MVP for the second time.
2. Joe Montana (1979-1992)
Joe Montana was the face of the San Francisco 49ers franchise when they were at the top of the league for almost the entire 1980 decade. The 6’2″ signal-caller spearheaded the 49ers dominance, winning a total of four Super Bowl trophies in 1981, 1984, 1988 and 1989 where he was named the Super Bowl MVP thrice. The eight-time Pro Bowler was also the league MVP in in both the 1989 and 1990 NFL seasons.
“Joe Cool” was one of the most clutch players the league ever saw. He was at the dispensing end of “The Catch” where he threw a six-yard touchdown to Dwight Clark (#4 on our list) in the last minute of the 1991 NFC championship game. He also had a magnificent 92-yard touchdown heave to receiver John Taylor in the dying seconds of Super Bowl XXIII to clinch what would be his third Super Bowl crown. Montana was inducted at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the very first year of his eligibility. His #16 jersey was also retired by the franchise.
1. Jerry Rice (1985-2000)
At the top of our list is none other than wide receiver Jerry Rice, one of the best wide receivers to have ever played in the NFL. He still currently holds the league record for most receptions (1,549), touchdown receptions (197) and receiving yards (22,895). Rice was a 13-time Pro Bowler and a 12-time All-Pro selection in his 20 seasons in the NFL and has been constantly nodded as part of the best ever players in the league.
His best season with the 49ers was his first Super Bowl season in 1988. In that year, he averaged a career-high of 20.4 yards per catch. He had five incredible catches in the NFC Championship game against the Chicago Bears but still found a way to outdo himself with a masterful Super Bowl XXIII performance. Rice had 11 catches for 215 yards, which are both Super Bowl records. His pivotal 4th quarter TD, along with his other game accolades, earned him that year’s Super Bowl MVP. He would go on to win two more Super Bowls for San Francisco to cement his name as one of the best 49ers to ever play for the city.