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Didinger: Charlie Garner, Eagles Gave Steve Young's 49ers A Wake-Up Call


The San Francisco 49ers demolished the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. The final score was 49-26 but it really wasn't that close. The 49ers took their foot off the gas in the second half but not before quarterback Steve Young threw his sixth touchdown pass. They were utterly dominant.

It was a particularly satisfying win for Young who finally stepped out of Joe Montana's shadow and proved himself as a championship-level quarterback. NFL Films captured a great scene late in the game when Young turned to the other players on the sideline and said, "Somebody please take the monkey off my back." Linebacker Gary Plummer did the honors. Everyone cheered and Young raised his arms in celebration.

But it was a much different scene earlier in the season when the underdog Eagles went into Candlestick Park and put a 40-8 whipping on the 49ers. An enraged Young cussed out head coach George Seifert that day on the sideline live on network television. Young later cited it as the turning point of the 49ers' season.

"That game, as awful as it was, galvanized our team," Young says. "We rallied together and said, 'We're not gonna take this anymore,' and from that point on, we were unstoppable."

The 49ers went on to win the next 10 regular-season games then roared through the NFC playoffs, defeating Chicago (44-15) and Dallas (38-28) before crushing the Chargers in the Super Bowl. But the 49ers were no match for the Eagles when they rolled into Candlestick Park on October 2, 1994 and unleashed running back Charlie Garner. A rookie, Garner was making his first start and he put on a show, rushing for 111 yards on 16 carries and scoring two touchdowns.

"Charlie was quicker than we thought he was," says 49ers safety Merton Hanks. "We didn't know much about him. He was a pretty high draft pick (second round) so we knew he had ability but he hadn't played (due to an injury). We hadn't seen him on film. The first couple times he carried the ball it was, like, 'Whoa, where did this guy come from?'"

Garner scored on a 1-yard run midway through the first quarter then scored on a 28-yard run on the next possession. William Fuller sacked Young in the end zone to push the score to 16-0 and a Randall Cunningham-to-Victor Bailey touchdown pass put the Eagles up 23-0 early in the second quarter. The crowd of 64,771 Bay Area fans watched in stunned silence.

The Eagles were off to a 2-1 start that season under coach Rich Kotite. The 49ers were 3-1 and oozing confidence with the addition of veterans Deion Sanders, Rickey Jackson, and Ken Norton, Jr. Young was running the offense with Jerry Rice, Ricky Watters, and Brent Jones piling up the points in bunches. The oddsmakers had established the 49ers as a solid nine-point favorite.

However, the 49ers were missing two starters on the offensive line so Seifert had to patch things together as best he could. The Eagles' defense, led by Fuller, Andy Harmon, Bill Romanowski, and William Thomas, swarmed all over Young, sacking him three times and hitting him on every play. Young was taking such a ferocious pounding that Seifert finally threw in the towel. When Herschel Walker scored on a 2-yard run to put the Eagles up 30-8, Seifert told Elvis Grbac, the backup quarterback, to get ready.

On the next series, Young was knocked down again after throwing a pass and Seifert didn't hesitate. He sent Grbac onto the field and motioned for Young to come off. Young was furious. He felt Seifert was singling him out for blame by lifting him in the middle of a series. No one else was coming off the field, only Young.

To Seifert, it made perfect sense. The game was lost and the only thing that could have made the day worse would have been for Young to suffer an injury that would sideline him for several weeks or longer. The coach wanted to spare the quarterback more punishment but that isn't how Young saw it.

"I wanted to go down swinging, I wanted to be out there with my guys," Young says. "I know we were getting our butts kicked and, yeah, we probably weren't going to win the game but so what? I want to be on the field. If I'm the leader of the team, I should be out there. I've never been so upset on the football field."

The TV cameras showed Young standing several feet behind Seifert on the sideline shouting profanities. Seifert never turned around. He kept staring onto the field. Several other coaches and players tried to calm Young without success.

"I was ready to fight George Seifert," Young says. "I was ready to have a fist fight with our head coach right there in full view of the world. That's how ticked off I was."

"I remember grabbing a cup of Gatorade and hearing all this shouting," Hanks says. "I was looking around, like, 'Who's that?' When I saw it was Steve screaming at George, I was shocked. Steve is normally a very composed individual. He's not a shouter or a rah-rah guy. To see him getting after the head coach was surprising but I actually think it helped. I think people were looking for Steve to show some fire and he showed plenty that day."

Years later, looking back on the episode, Young laughed.

"I guess any time you get to yell at the coach on national TV, that makes you one of the guys," he says. "But, yes, there was a reaction to it. I think that game gave me - gave the whole team, really - a kick in the butt. We went on a roll right after that and we didn't stop until we won the Super Bowl."

It was the most lopsided defeat for the 49ers at Candlestick Park. The Eagles had 26 first downs to the 49ers' 11. They had 437 yards of offense to the 49ers' 189. The Eagles were 11-for-15 on third down; the 49ers were 4-for-12. The Eagles rode that momentum to four wins in the next five weeks and, at 7-2, they appeared a lock for the playoffs. However, they lost seven in a row to finish 7-9, a tailspin that cost Kotite his job.

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