"75 for 75" is an article series from the 49ers Museum highlighting legendary moments in 49ers history as part of the team's 75th Anniversary celebrations in 2021.
December 16, 1972
The 49ers were on a quest for the franchise's third-straight NFC West crown in 1972 when an early season injury to quarterback John Brodie put a wrinkle in their plans. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Steve Spurrier, the 49ers first-round draft pick in 1967, filled in admirably for Brodie, guiding the club to a 7-5-1 mark. With one game left in the regular season, San Francisco needed a win over the Minnesota Vikings to clinch a playoff spot.
Through three quarters of play, the 49ers were unable to launch an offensive attack and fell behind the Vikings 17-6. Late in the third quarter, head coach Dick Nolan instructed Brodie, who had been sidelined for nearly 10 weeks, to start warming up. As the fourth quarter started, Brodie trotted into the huddle and 61,244 fans at Candlestick Park roared their approval.
"I told John to get in there and call his own plays, just like he always does," Nolan said.
Vikings linebacker Jeff Siemon noted a fatal shift in momentum.
"When Brodie came off the bench, their enthusiasm definitely increased," Siemon said.
Brodie looked rusty and he was intercepted on the 49ers first two possessions of the fourth quarter. And time was ticking away.
With eight minutes left, the 49ers regained possession at their own one yard line. That is when Brodie flashed his old magic and marched the 49ers 99 yards in three minutes. He connected on passes to wide receiver Gene Washington for 53 yards, running back John Isenbarger for 12 and Washington again on a 24-yard score. Minnesota still held a 17-13 advantage.
After forcing the Vikings to punt, San Francisco took over at its own 35 yard line with 1:39 remaining. Brodie mixed running plays to backs Larry Schreiber and Vic Washington, with short passes to tight end Ted Kwalick and Washington out of the backfield. The 49ers marched to the two yard line with 39 seconds on the clock. After two incomplete passes, only 25 seconds remained.
Brodie took the snap on third down and rolled right. He pumped the football, then pumped again while motioning to wide receiver Dick Witcher.
"I was trying to run a corner pattern," Witcher said. "I wasn't sure where the linebacker might be, though, and John was trying to let me know he wasn't there."
Witcher broke free to the right corner of the end zone, Brodie fired a perfect pass, and San Francisco pulled off a dramatic 20-17 win.
In one quarter of play against Minnesota, Brodie connected on 10 of 15 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns. As time ran out, fans stormed the field and hoisted Brodie onto their shoulders.
"I'll always remember that," Brodie said. "Fans were running toward me and I didn't know if I was going to get mauled or what. That was a good feeling."