The San Francisco 49ers franchise has boasted arguably the wisest coach (Bill Walsh), the most clutch quarterback (Joe Montana) and the most skilled wide receiver (Jerry Rice) in NFL history. The Niners of the 1980s and early 1990s may have also been the most dynastic team in NFL history (five Super Bowls in 14 seasons). And that was all pre-Colin Kaepernick. Established in 1946, this franchise has a rich history covering covered many generations of fans. Thanks to Daniel Brown's 100 Things 49ers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, San Francisco fans of all ages can bond over their team's history. The book divides Niners history into 100 chapters about players, coaches, moments, training mechanisms, fan attractions and more. Many of the 'do' chapters involve activities Brown, a staff writer for the San Jose Mercury News, experienced himself. Roger Craig writes the foreword. John Candy, Tom Brady, Jerry Maguire and Terrell Owens make appearances, as well.
ThePostGame: What kind of resume, as a fan and in your career, does one need to write about the 100 things 49ers fans should know and do before they die?
DAN BROWN: I grew up a Bay Area native about 15 miles north of San Francisco, so I've understood what the team means to the city. I was 11 when Dwight Clark made "The Catch." The Niners hadn't won a Super Bowl and the San Francisco Giants had not won a World Series, so the love for that team was really transformative and exciting and left an impression. Professionally, I started covering the team off and on in 2003. The team was down during those years, the Mike Nolan years, but getting to know some of the old time guys who were still around, I could appreciate the glory days. Guys like Craig and Rice and Montana, they're around. It was fun getting to know those guys.
TPG: What makes the 49ers franchise special enough to have this type of book?
BROWN: Some of that, I had to find out. A lot of fans of a certain age, I'm 43, people forget that the franchise didn't begin with "The Catch." There was a team long before that. The fun for me was going back to the franchise's start in 1946 and learning about guys like Hugh McElhenny, Y.A. Tittle and Len Eshmont and guys whose names I knew, but I didn't really know them. I knew their names, but I didn't know the depth of their character or their contributions to the franchise. That's part of what makes this book special and it's kind of encompassing all that. Everyone knows Jerry Rice and Joe Montana, but for a generation of fans, they're getting to know these stars for the first time -- Joe Perry, R.C. Owens. Those are important figures to know in team history. I got to learn about them myself.
TPG: "The Catch," Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice make up the first four chapters. How tough was it to put those four in a particular order?
BROWN: Incredibly tough. "The Catch" was probably the easiest to pick as the call for number one because that had a little bit of everything. It had the magic of Montana, the genius of Walsh, great players stepping up in a big moment like Dwight Clark did. The second part when you get to Walsh, Montana, Rice–to be honest, it's impossible. I picked Walsh because of the way all the players talk about him. All the Niners of that era have a personal story of what Walsh saw in them and how he brought out the best in them. He gets credit for planning the blueprint for a dynasty. It couldn't have happened without Montana. Montana couldn't have happened without Rice, so it's all intertwined. I think Montana gets a slight edge over Rice because it's not about who's best, but in terms of things to know about the Niners, Montana and his place in history puts him ahead of Rice.
TPG: You had to narrow down the book to 100 "things." How difficult was that?
BROWN: I kind of took a committee approach. I wrote out my list of 100 and thought I had it pretty well and I would show the list to other writers and team employees and fans. The result was everybody would tell me you've got to have this guy to or you forgot about so-and-so. Nobody ever said to take anybody out. The history's so rich and so long. The thing was there's guys you have to leave out. There are some people who didn't make the cut he probably could have made it. Maybe they'll be a sequel: "100 More things to Know about the 49ers." All the Super Bowl victories are automatic chapters, all the hall of famers are automatic chapters. Big game heroes like John Taylor and Dwight Clark -- they're automatic chapters, so it filled up quickly.
TPG: What chapter was your favorite to write?
BROWN: There were two. I really like "The Hill" as a thing to do because I heard about it for a long time. The significance of that hill and Jerry Rice and other guys made in terms of training and their dedication for greatness, it's kind of a neat piece of history that has nothing to do with Candlestick Park. It's where greatness is born. Roger told me how to run it. As I explain in the book, it took a few times to get it right, but it was really fun. You go up there and you're on this little peak and you know you're standing in the footsteps of Rice and Craig and a dynasty.
I also really liked getting to know Ken Willard. He was kind of an underappreciated running back during the Dick Nolan Era. He was a high draft pick by the Yankees. He could have played baseball, but he played football. He had an interesting workman's like career and I appreciated that.
TPG: What chapters do you think will surprise people?
BROWN: Freddie Solomon. He got a bigger boost than I expected when I dove in. I think the reverent other players have for Solomon and what he meant for the dynasty–he was the guy who took Rice under his wing even though he knew Rice was there to replace him. I think his contribution to the franchise got him a bigger boost than I saw coming. He was just a big beloved figure.
TPG: Colin Kaepernick checks in at No. 87. Had he started a game yet when you started writing this book?
BROWN: No. He was not on the radar. It's funny because I had people say Colin Kaepernick is too low. You've got to have some respect for the guys who worked their whole career to earn a spot on their list. I think Kaepernick is in a position to move up quickly, but that was a struggle to find where to put him because he's a Super Bowl quarterback and major superstar, but some of it is speculation. What happens next?
TPG: The next question would be ... how is Alex Smith eight chapters ahead of Kaepernick?
BROWN: It's important to remember that the book isn't called The 100 Best 49ers. It's called 100 Things 49ers Fans Should Know. In general, the players are ranked in order of importance and performance, but some guys simply stand out just as key figures in franchise history. Smith falls into that category because he was a pivotal player for the better part of eight seasons. Only five quarterbacks have thrown more passes for the 49ers -- Joe Montana, John Brodie, Steve Young and Jeff Garcia. So for better or worse, Smith kind of defined an era for the franchise. People should know his story if they want to understand the full spectrum of the 49ers experience.
TPG: Why should a non-49ers fan read this book?
BROWN: I think if you're a football fan, to understand the history of the league. I think the Niners are interwoven into the evolution of the game. What Walsh did, what Montana did and what Rice did was so influential. There was a chapter on the Walsh coaching tree. You couldn't write the history of the NFL without this team.
TPG: Roger Craig wrote the foreword to the book. How special is that?
BROWN: It's great. Roger's probably my favorite person I ever covered and I didn't really cover him. I just kind of know him from being around the Niners. He is the most relentlessly positive person I've been around. He loves everything and everybody. I think why he wrote the foreword is he appreciated a) his place in history because he realizes he arrived at a special time with Walsh and Montana and Rice, and his own contribution to those great teams. He was also one of those rookies who knew that the foundation was laid by people before him, so he took the time to get to know R.C. Owens and Joe Perry. He said he used to ask them to tell him stories about the good old days. He could sum up this book in a good way because he knows what it means to be a Niner past and present.
TPG: What has the reaction been from past 49ers players and the 49ers' organization?
BROWN: So far, it's been all positive. It's funny you asked about the list. A friend of a friend showed the list to Ronnie Lott to give a look over and he moved a bunch of hall of famers up because he thought I had them too low. They're into this. They know this is a special franchise. Roger loves it. He gave a bunch of copies to his kids. I haven't heard from too many people so far, but the guys from the Alphabet Backfield way in the back of the book like C.R. Roberts, they all love it because guys from that era are overshadowed sometimes from the Super Bowl Era-Montana Niners. I think they like being remembered and that they set the stage for what was to come.
TPG: What's your outlook on the 49ers this season?
BROWN: Well, I think they obviously have a Super Bowl-caliber roster. [Jim] Harbaugh's a great, great coach. I think those first two games will be a great test because they play the Packers and then the Seahawks, you're going to find out if they have a Super Bowl hangover effect. I think the Packers were surprised last year Kaepernick could run that well. Everybody was. Teams will adjust and the Niners will have to adjust to that. We'll find out early if the Niners have a Super Bowl-caliber team.
TPG: What's it like sharing a name with another famous author?
BROWN: It's sheepishly amusing. I get a few occasional emails from a student doing a book report about The Da Vinci Code. I still have not accidentally gotten Dan Brown's paycheck. It's just gotten a couple of emails and whenever I do a radio gig, I hear Da Vinci Code jokes I pretend to laugh at.
100 Things 49ers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Daniel Brown is published by Triumph Books. It is available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Follow Daniel Brown on Twitter @mercbrownie.
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