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1981 San Francisco 49ers season
Owner Eddie DeBartolo, Jr.
Head Coach Bill Walsh
General Manager Bill Walsh
Home Field Candlestick Park
Results
Record 13–3
Place 1st NFC West
Playoff Finish Won Divisional Playoffs (vs. Giants) 38–24
Won NFC Championship (vs. Cowboys) 28–27
Won Super Bowl XVI (vs. Bengals) 26–21
Uniform
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Timeline
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1980 1982

The San Francisco 49ers 1981 season was their 32nd season in the National Football League, and 36th overall. The season was highlighted by their first Super Bowl victory. A big turning point for the franchise was the drafting of Free safety Ronnie Lott from the University of Southern California. Joe Montana began the season as San Francisco's starting quarterback. The season would be the franchise's most successful season to that point. Montana was influential as he helped the 49ers win two of those games with fourth-quarter comebacks. One of the most famous moments of his career was part of the winning drive in the NFC Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys, which culminated by the ending, a touchdown pass play to WR Dwight Clark in the closing seconds that has been forever immortalized both by NFL Films and in news video archive footage as "The Catch". Under the tutelage of Bill Walsh, the team finished the regular season with a 13–3 record.

Offseason[]

NFL Draft[]

Round Pick # Player Position College
1 8 Ronnie Lott Defensive back USC
2 36 John Harty Defensive tackle Iowa
2 40 Eric Wright Defensive back Missouri
3 65 Carlton Williamson Defensive back Pittsburgh
5 121 Lynn Thomas Defensive back Pittsburgh
5 122 Arrington Jones Running back Winston-Salem
6 147 Pete Kugler Defensive Tackle Penn St
8 203 Garry White Running back Minnesota
11 286 Ron DuBose Tight end UCLA
12 313 Major Oglivie Running back Alabama
12 322 Joe Adams Quarterback Tennessee St

Personnel[]

Staff[]

1981 San Francisco 49ers final staff
Front Office
  • Owner/President – Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr.
  • Director of Football Operations – John McVay
  • Director of College Scouting – Tony Razzano

Head Coaches

Offensive Coaches

  • Quarterbacks – Sam Wyche
  • Running Backs – Billie Matthews
  • Receivers – Milt Jackson
  • Offensive Line – Bobb McKittrick
  • Assistant Offensive Line – Cas Banaszek
  Defensive Coaches
  • Defensive Coordinator – Chuck Studley
  • Defensive Line – Bill McPherson
  • Linebackers – Norb Hecker
  • Defensive Backs – George Seifert
  • Assistant Defensive Backs – Ray Rhodes

Special Teams Coaches

  • Special Teams – Milt Jackson

Strength and Conditioning

  • Strength and Conditioning – Al Vermeil

Preseason[]

Date Opponent Result Score Record Att. Location
August 5 at Seattle W 27-24 (OT) 1-0 56,958 Kingdome
August 15 San Diego L 31-28 1-1 41,667 Candlestick Park
August 22 Seattle W 24-17 2-1 37,563 Candlestick Park
August 29 at Oakland L 21-7 2-2 51,192 Oakland Coliseum

Regular season[]

With the offense in good shape, Walsh and the 49ers focused on overhauling the defense in 1981. Walsh took the highly unusual step of overhauling his entire secondary with rookies and untested players, bringing on board Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright and Carlton Williamson and giving Dwight Hicks a prominent role. He also acquired veteran linebacker Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds and veteran defensive lineman and sack specialist Fred Dean.

These new additions, when added to existing defensive mainstays like Keena Turner, turned the 49ers into a dominant team. After a 1-2 start, the 49ers won all but one of their final games to finish with a 13-3 record, easily the best record in the team's history. Additionally, the 49ers defense yielded more than 20 points in only three games. Dean made the Pro Bowl, as did Lott, in his rookie season, and Hicks.

Led by Montana, the unusual offense was centered around the short passing game, which Walsh used as ball control. Both Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon had excellent years receiving; Clark as the possession receiver, and Solomon as more of a deep threat. The 49ers running game, however, was among the weakest for any champion in NFL history. Ricky Patton led the 49ers with only 543 yards rushing. The 49ers' most valuable running back, however, might have been Earl Cooper, whose strength was as a pass-catching back (he had 51 catches during the season).

Schedule[]

Week Date Opponent Result Score Record Att. Location
1 September 6 at Detroit L 24-17 0-1 62,123 Pontiac Silverdome
2 September 13 vs Chicago W 28-17 1-1 49,520 Candlestick Park
3 September 20 at Atlanta L 34-17 1-2 56,653 Atlanta Stadium
4 September 27 vs New Orleans W 21-14 2-2 44,433 Candlestick Park
5 October 4 at Washington W 30-17 3-2 51,843 RFK Stadium
6 October 11 vs Dallas W 45-14 4-2 57,574 Candlestick Park
7 October 18 at Green Bay W 13-3 5-2 50,171 Milwaukee Cty. St.
8 October 25 vs Los Angeles W 20-17 6-2 59,190 Candlestick Park
9 November 1 at Pittsburgh W 17-14 7-2 52,878 Three Rivers Stadium
10 November 8 vs Atlanta W 17-14 8-2 59,127 Candlestick Park
11 November 15 vs Cleveland L 15-12 8-3 52,445 Candlestick Park
12 November 22 at Los Angeles W 33-31 9-3 63,456 Anaheim Stadium
13 November 29 vs New York Giants W 17-10 10-3 57,186 Candlestick Park
14 December 6 at Cincinnati W 21-3 11-3 56,796 Riverfront Stadium
15 December 13 vs Houston W 28-6 12-3 55,707 Candlestick Park
16 December 20 at New Orleans W 21-17 13-3 43,639 Louisiana Superdome

Standings[]

NFC West
Team W L T PCT PF PA
San Francisco 49ers 13 3 0 .813 357 250
Atlanta Falcons 7 9 0 .438 426 355
Los Angeles Rams 6 10 0 .375 303 351
New Orleans Saints 4 12 0 .250 315 408

Regular season results[]

Week 1: at Detroit[]

1 2 3 4 Total
49ers 0 3 0 14 17
Lions 0 10 0 14 24



Scoring

Second Quarter
Fourth Quarter

Week 2: vs Chicago[]

1 2 3 4 Total
Bears 0 10 7 0 17
49ers 7 7 7 7 28



Scoring

First Quarter
Second Quarter
Third Quarter
Fourth Quarter

Week 3: at Atlanta[]

1 2 3 4 Total
49ers 0 10 0 7 17
Falcons 17 7 10 0 34



Scoring

First Quarter
  • ATL - Alfred Jackson 29 yard pass from Steve Bartkowski (Mick Luckhurst kick)
  • ATL - Mick Luckhurst 47 yard field goal
  • ATL - Lynn Cain 18 yard pass from Steve Bartkowski (Mick Luckhurst kick)
Second Quarter
Third Quarter
  • ATL - Tom Pridemore 101 yard interception return (Mick Luckhurst kick)
  • ATL - Mick Luckhurst 18 yard field goal
Fourth Quarter

Week 4: vs New Orleans[]

1 2 3 4 Total
Saints 7 0 0 7 14
49ers 0 7 7 7 21



Scoring

First Quarter
  • NO - Jeff Groth 24 yard pass from Dave Wilson (Benny Ricardo kick)
Second Quarter
  • SF - Johnny Davis 6 yard rush (Matt Bahr kick)
Third Quarter
Fourth Quarter

Week 5: at Washington[]

1 2 3 4 Total
49ers 14 10 6 0 30
Redskins 0 3 0 14 17



Scoring

First Quarter
Second Quarter
  • SF - Matt Bahr 43 yard field goal
  • WAS - Mark Moseley 34 yard field goal
  • SF - Johnny Davis 1 yard rush (Matt Bahr kick)
Third Quarter
Fourth Quarter
  • WAS - Mike Nelms 58 yard punt return (Mark Moseley kick)
  • WAS - Joe Washington 5 yard rush (Mark Moseley kick)

Week 6: vs Dallas[]

1 2 3 4 Total
Cowboys 0 7 0 7 14
49ers 21 3 14 7 45



Scoring

First Quarter
Second Quarter
Third Quarter
Fourth Quarter
  • SF - Amos Lawrence 1 yard rush (Ray Wersching kick)
  • DAL - Benny Barnes 72 yard fumble return (Rafael Septien kick)

Week 7: vs Green Bay at Milwaukee[]

1 2 3 4 Total
49ers 0 3 7 3 13
Packers 0 3 0 0 3



Scoring

Second Quarter
Third Quarter
Fourth Quarter

Week 8: vs Los Angeles Rams[]

1 2 3 4 Total
Rams 0 10 7 0 17
49ers 14 3 3 0 20



Scoring

First Quarter
Second Quarter
  • LA - Frank Corral 25 yard field goal
  • LA - Mike Guman 2 yard rush (Frank Corral kick)
  • SF - Ray Wersching 42 yard field goal
Third Quarter

Week 9: at Pittsburgh[]

1 2 3 4 Total
49ers 0 10 0 7 17
Steelers 0 0 14 0 14



Scoring

Second Quarter
Third Quarter
  • PIT - Mel Blount 50 yard interception return (David Trout kick)
  • PIT - Jim Smith 22 yard pass from Terry Bradshaw (David Trout kick)
Fourth Quarter

Week 10: vs Atlanta[]

1 2 3 4 Total
Falcons 0 0 7 7 14
49ers 0 10 0 7 17



Scoring

Second Quarter
Third Quarter
  • ATL - William Andrews 1 yard rush (Mick Luckhurst kick)
Fourth Quarter

Week 11: vs Cleveland[]

1 2 3 4 Total
Browns 2 3 0 10 15
49ers 0 6 6 0 12



Scoring

First Quarter
  • CLE - Safety, Joe Montana called for intentional grounding in end zone
Second Quarter
Third Quarter
Fourth Quarter

Week 12: at Los Angeles Rams[]

1 2 3 4 Total
49ers 3 7 17 6 33
Rams 0 17 7 7 31



Scoring

First Quarter
Second Quarter
  • LA - Frank Corral 44 yard field goal
  • LA - Wendell Tyler 22 yard pass from Dan Pastorini (Frank Corral)
  • SF - Johnny Davis 1 yard run (Ray Wersching kick)
  • LA - Preston Dennard 7 yard pass from Mike Guman (Frank Corral kick)
Third Quarter
Fourth Quarter

Week 13: vs New York Giants[]

1 2 3 4 Total
Giants 0 3 0 7 10
49ers 7 7 0 3 17



Scoring

First Quarter
Second Quarter
  • NYG - Joe Danelo 52 yard field goal
Fourth Quarter
  • NYG - Rob Carpenter 3 yard rush (Joe Danelo kick)
  • SF - Ray Wersching 23 yard field goal

Week 14: at Cincinnati[]

1 2 3 4 Total
49ers 7 7 0 7 21
Bengals 0 3 0 0 3



Scoring

First Quarter
Second Quarter
Fourth Quarter

Week 15: vs Houston[]

1 2 3 4 Total
Oilers 0 0 0 6 6
49ers 0 0 21 7 28



Scoring

Third Quarter
Fourth Quarter

Week 16: at New Orleans[]

1 2 3 4 Total
49ers 7 7 0 7 21
Saints 14 0 3 0 17



Scoring

First Quarter
Second Quarter
Third Quarter
  • NO - Benny Ricardo 27 yard field goal
Fourth Quarter

Postseason[]

Week Date Opponent Result Score Att. Location
Divisional Playoff January 3 New York Giants W 38-24 58,360 Candlestick Park
NFC Championship January 10 Dallas W 28-27 60,525 Candlestick Park
Super Bowl XVI January 24 Cincinnati W 26-21 81,270 Pontiac Silverdome

NFC Divisional Playoff[]

San Francisco 49ers 38, New York Giants24

1 2 3 4 Total
Giants 7 3 7 7 24
49ers 7 17 0 14 38



The Giants were making their first appearance in the postseason since 1963. First year starting quarterback Joe Montana led the 49ers to victory in his first ever playoff game, completing 20 of 31 passes for 304 yards and 2 touchdowns, with 1 interception. His top target in the game was receiver Dwight Clark, who caught 5 passes for 104 yards.

Scoring Summary

1st Quarter
SF- Charle Young 8 yard pass from Joe Montana (Ray Wersching kick) SF 7-0
NYG- Earnest Gray 72 yard pass from Scott Brunner (Joe Danelo kick) TIED 7-7

2nd Quarter
SF- Ray Wersching 22 yard field goal SF 10-7
SF- Freddie Solomon 58 yard pass from Joe Montana (Ray Wersching kick) SF 17-7
SF- Ricky Patton 25 yard rush (Ray Wersching kick) SF 24-7
NYG- Joe Danelo 48 yard field goal SF 24-10

3rd Quarter
NYG- Johnny Perkins 59 yard pass from Scott Brunner (Joe Danelo kick) SF 24-17

4th Quarter
SF- Bill Ring 3 yard rush (Ray Wersching kick) SF 31-17
SF- Ronnie Lott 20 yard interception return (Ray Wersching kick) SF 38-17
NYG- Johnny Perkins 17 yard pass from Scott Brunner (Joe Danelo kick)SF 38-24

NFC Championship[]

San Francisco 49ers 28, Dallas Cowboys27

1 2 3 4 Total
Cowboys 10 7 0 10 27
49ers 7 7 7 7 28



The 49ers were making their third appearance in the NFC Championship Game. Their opponent was their opponent for the two previous NFC Championship Games-the Dallas Cowboys. In both previous matches, the 49ers had lost the game. The game is remembered for "The Catch". The play, remembered in 49er lore as "Red Right Tight--Sprint Right Option" had called for both the primary receivers, Freddie Solomon, and Dwight Clark to line up on the right. Montana was supposed to roll to his right and find Solomon. Clark's pattern called for him to cut left across the end zone, stop, and immediately reverse his path to the right. If Solomon were covered, it would be up to Montana to find Clark. Due to the pressure, Montana's pass was high, but Clark was in position to make his memorable grab.

A photograph of the catch, with Clark at the height of his leap and Everson Walls reaching out to try to block the ball, was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated the following week.

Scoring Summary

1st Quarter
SF- Freddie Solomon 8 yard pass from Joe Montana (Ray Wersching kick) SF 7-0
DAL- Rafael Septien 44 yard field goal SF 7-3
DAL- Tony Hill 26 yard pass from Danny White (Rafael Septien kick)DAL 10-7

2nd Quarter
SF- Dwight Clark 20 yard pass from Joe Montana (Ray Wersching kick)SF 14-10
DAL- Tony Dorsett 5 yard rush (Rafael Septien kick)DAL 17-14

3rd Quarter
SF- Johnny Davis 2 yard rush (Ray Wersching kick)SF 21-17

4th Quarter
DAL- Rafael Septien 22 yard field goal SF 21-20
DAL- Doug Cosbie 21 yard pass from Danny White (Rafael Septien kick) DAL 27-21
SF- Dwight Clark 6 yard pass from Joe Montana (Ray Wersching kick) SF 28-27

Super Bowl XVI[]

San Francisco 49ers 26, Cincinnati Bengals21

1 2 3 4 Total
49ers 7 13 0 6 26
Bengals 0 0 7 14 21



Scoring summary:

1st Quarter
SF - Joe Montana 1 yard run (Ray Wersching kick) 7-0 SF

2nd Quarter
SF - Earl Cooper 11 yard pass from Joe Montana (Ray Wersching kick) 14-0 SF
SF - Ray Wersching 22 yard field goal 17-0 SF
SF - Ray Wersching 26 yard field goal 20-0 SF

3rd Quarter
CIN - Ken Anderson 5 yard run (Jim Breech kick) 20-7 SF

4th Quarter
CIN - Dan Ross 4 yard pass from Ken Anderson (Jim Breech kick) 20-14 SF
SF - Ray Wersching 40 yard field goal 23-14 SF
SF - Ray Wersching 23 yard field goal 26-14 SF
CIN - Dan Ross 3 yard pass from Ken Anderson (Jim Breech kick) 26-21 SF

Awards and records[]

References[]

External links[]

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