75 for 75: Delvin's Run to the Record Book

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"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.

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October 31, 1976

On Halloween in 1976, 49ers running back Delvin Williams resembled the Invisible Man. St. Louis Cardinals defenders could not see him, touch him, or tackle him as he rushed for 194 yards, a 49ers record at the time.

"We used the same plays over and over because they were working so well," Williams said. "After a while I started getting a little short of breath."

San Francisco marched 80 yards to register its first score but the final 16 went to Williams. He carried three straight times gaining four yards, then eight and four yards again while dragging two Cardinals linebackers over the goal line.

"Any time he (Williams) got to the corner he picked up good yardage," Cardinals defensive end Bobby Bell said. "He had more speed than we thought."

Late in the second quarter, Williams achieved a rare sense of harmony with his offensive line. Behind the pile-driving blocks of Randy Cross, Keith Fahnhorst and Jean Barrett, he continued to sprint through the Cardinals secondary. He never suspected Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis would be the site of the best rushing day of his NFL career.

Williams' highlight-worthy touchdown scamper with 2:23 left in the half gave the 49ers a 13-7 advantage. It featured several knee-crippling jukes as he raced 23 yards before flopping into the end zone.

In the second half, Williams continued to explode for big gains and finished with 34 carries for 194 yards (a team record until 1998). He added a third touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Jim Plunkett set it up after passing for 67 yards. It ended with Williams barging into the end zone from one yard out. His 194 yards on 34 carries broke Joe Perry's single-game rushing mark of 174 yards set in 1958. Williams' record stood for another 22 years until 49ers running back Garrison Hearst posted 198 against the Detroit Lions in 1998.

"They're a great ball club," Cardinals coach Don Coryell said of the 49ers. "I just saw them move the ball on us almost at will. We're going to hear more from Williams. I feel very fortunate to get out of this game alive."

A week after his extraordinary output against the Cardinals, Williams put the NFL on notice. He accounted for 279 all-purpose yards against Washington. On his fourth carry, he headed to his right on a sweep, then reversed field and raced 80 yards for a touchdown.

"We had the perfect defense for him on that play and he still went 80 yards," said exasperated Washington coach George Allen.

Later in the second quarter, Williams hauled in an 85-yard throw from Plunkett, the longest touchdown pass in club history at the time. He finished the game with three touchdowns, 180 rushing yards, and four receptions for another 99 yards.

Williams finished the 1976 campaign with 1,203 rushing yards and seven touchdowns while averaging nearly five yards per carry. He earned the first of his two Pro Bowl berths that year. He played four seasons in San Francisco: 1974 to 1977.

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