Judge Ryan Keefer doesn't take no stuff and won't stop until he gets enough. But he's not a 49er.
One of the nice things about the NFL Network (aside from the chance to see the Madden '07 preview special air every 10 to 12 hours) is the expansion of more exhaustive looks at football, be it teams or players, and this new release is the ninth to focus on a single team.
Focusing on the city by the Bay, the San Francisco sports franchise was rooted in the All-American Football conference, playing alongside teams like the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts. Founded in 1946, the AAFC merged into the NFL in 1950. Started by the Morabito brothers (perfectly legitimate businessmen, I assure you), the 49ers' early origins were to create a team around locally based players to capitalize on the popularity of college football in the area. Aside from quarterback Y.A. Tittle, running backs Joe Perry, Hugh McElhenny, and John Henry Johnson were part of a "Million Dollar Backfield" that helped the 49ers realize some regular season success, but nothing of substance to carry over into the playoffs. The 49ers seemed to be known more for their offense than their defense, which rang truer as John Brodie assumed the quarterbacking reigns in the '60s and '70s.
Then, things began to pick up in the city where Tony Bennett had cardiac problems, as ownership changed to Edward DeBartolo and a fairly young offensive coordinator named Bill Walsh was hired as coach in 1979. A quarterback from Notre Dame named Joe Montana was drafted along with a receiver from Clemson named Dwight Clark. And as Montana got more and more acclimated to Walsh's ideas for an offense (and as Walsh got more and more entrenched in his position and drafted more talent around him), the team grew more and more successful, and won their first Super Bowl in the 1981 season, beating the Cincinnati Bengals. With a continually growing defense (behind Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott) and a wide receiver from Mississippi Valley State named Jerry Rice, the team's Super Bowl successes continued to grow, with wins in the 1984 and 1988 seasons. As Walsh left, the team's reaction was measured by a repeat win after Montana left the team, Steve Young took over the quarterbacking reins. After some late playoff disappointments, the team managed to secure a fifth Super Bowl win in 1994 before entering the "rebuilding" stage it is in now.
The extra footage is actually better than in previous football discs that I've seen. The first feature on the first disc of extras is a look at quarterbacking with Walsh. Now what Walsh does (for about 45 minutes to boot) is explain how the quarterback should move effectively to best try and shake the defense while getting the best result. Walsh explains it in even better detail by saying that his drills are to isolate the skills that are needed and to find the best drills for those skills. So while Montana and some offensive players show them off in practice, there's also a real time game film look at those skills in action. This actually might serve as a decent standalone tutorial for the aspiring Montana in your house. The other additional footage focuses on some of the more colorful characters of the team's history, not to mention their extensive (and to this point, flawless) Super Bowl successes. Disc two focuses on the 1981 NFC Championship game that helped elevate the 49ers into postseason legends and covers the Super Bowl wins to boot.
One thing confused me as I watched both of these discs—it seemed to me that whoever put this two-disc set together had their priorities out of whack. Granted, Walsh is the architect of an offensive style of football of which many coaches employ components in some part of their system, but there was way too much coaching footage in my mind, and very little (if any) recent footage of Montana. The footage of Young was newer but still somewhat archived, and yet there was time enough to put Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens on here? OK. I guess I shouldn't complain too much, I do not want to anger the NFL Films mafia.
All in all, this is another excellent release that chronicles the origins, early days and peak of a well-known football team by the magicians at NFL Films, and well worth owning if you're a fan of the cardinal red and metallic gold.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Quarterbacking by Bill Walsh: Lessons from the Master
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