Top five: books for San Francisco 49ers fans

The San Francisco 49ers began life in the shortlived All-America Football Conference, which challenged the NFL between 1946 and 1949. When the AAFC folded, the 49ers were one of three teams to join the NFL. They had limited success until the early 1970s when they reached back-to-back NFC Championship games (in 1970 and 1971) – losing both to Dallas. In 1972, Dallas dumped them out of the playoffs again, in the Divisional round.

After that they went eight seasons without making the playoffs at all, but everything changed in the 1981 season. Led by head coach Bill Walsh and young quarterback Joe Montana, they won Super Bowl XVI, their first of five Super Bowl wins in 14 seasons. After the last of those titles, in 1994, they remained playoff contenders until the early 2000s, when they slumped to another eight-year streak of playoff absences.

They returned to the NFC Championship game in 2011, losing to eventual Super Bowl winners, the Giants. The following year they lost a Super Bowl for the first time, to the Baltimore Ravens, and the year after that they lost another NFC Championship game, this time to the Seahawks – again the eventual Super Bowl champions.

The best 49ers books focus on the 1980s and early 1990s, understandably. Between 1981 and 1994, they not only won five Super Bowls, but also played in four NFC Championship games. The team of that era featured seven Hall of Fame players (including Deion Sanders, who played only the 1994 season) and earned Hall of Fame spots for Bill Walsh, and Eddie DeBartolo Jr, who owned the team during that period.

Here are five titles that every 49ers fan should read.

1Founding 49ers (2015) by Dave Newhouse

Let’s start with the early years. Dave Newhouse’s book is a concise but thorough history of the 49ers between 1946 and 1977. The author, a longtime journalist for the Oakland Tribune and a California native, first saw the 49ers play in the 1940s, so he’s well-placed to tell the story.
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2Montana (2015) by Keith Dunnavant

Widely considered one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game, Joe Montana led the 49ers to four Super Bowl wins by flawlessly executing Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense. Though Montana is known for his cool persona, Dunnavant highlights the tensions he had to deal with, from injury struggles to the challenge from his talented backup QB, Steve Young.
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3QB (2017) by Steve Young

And talking of Steve Young, his autobiography is worth picking up. Beginning his career in the USFL, with the Los Angeles Express, before moving to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a short spell, Young was acquired by the 49ers as a backup, eventually succeeding Joe Montana. His book talks about his career and shares his painful struggles with anxiety.
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4Best of Rivals (2012) by Adam Lazarus

Things were not always rosy between the 49ers pair of star QBs. Montana resented his backup, while Young was hungry for playing time. Lazarus digs into the strange situation that saw two future Hall of Famers competing for one job over six years. He is especially good at highlighting the contrasting personalities of the pair and the, perhaps unavoidable, bitterness between them that seems to remain today.
Buy the Book: Amazon US

5Finding the Winning Edge (1997) by Bill Walsh

There are numerous excellent books by, and about, Bill Walsh but this is the one for hardcore fans to seek out. Walsh set out everything he knew about leading a football team in these pages – from playcalling strategies to handling admin. Never reprinted, secondhand copies are usually available online but tend to be very expensive. Still, it’s worth seeking out if you want something a bit special.

Photo: Mike Morbeck

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