"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 27, 1970
The 49ers celebrated the club's 25th anniversary in 1970 by winning the NFC West and then notching the first NFL playoff victory in franchise history. They did it by shocking the Minnesota Vikings 17-14 in a bruising defensive struggle.
Led by NFC Coach of the Year, Dick Nolan, the 49ers overcame Minnesota's frigid weather, a rock-hard icy field and coach Bud Grant's "Purple People Eaters" to post the win.
"We were 10-point underdogs," 49ers linebacker Frank Nunley recalled. "Paul Krause, the Vikings Hall of Fame safety, picked up a fumble early in the game and ran it in for a touchdown. Minnesota was ahead 7-0 before I even played a down on defense. My first play in the game was on their PAT attempt."
The two teams met on Metropolitan Stadium's frozen field where the pregame temperature hovered at eight degrees Fahrenheit. Despite the demoralizing start, the 49ers capitalized on four Vikings turnovers while quarterback John Brodie supplied the offensive punch. The veteran signal caller threw for 201 yards, including a 24-yard scoring pass to receiver Dick Witcher. Then, with 1:20 left in the game, he supplied the coup de grace.
Minnesota's slick field and ferocious defensive front—Carl Eller, Alan Page, Jim Marshall, Gary Larsen—stymied the 49ers run game most of the day. Nursing a 10-7 lead and facing third down at the one yard line, guard Woody Peoples told Brodie to run a sneak right behind him. At the snap, he fired out at defensive tackle Gary Larsen, reputed to be the strongest man in football, and opened enough space for Brodie to cut into the end zone.
It was the 49ers defense that was the difference in the game, disrupting the Vikings attack with sacks and takeaways. Rookie defensive end Cedrick Hardman led the charge with two quarterback takedowns. Defensive line coach Paul Wiggin offered high-spirited praise for his men in the postgame locker room.
"How can I single out just one guy," Wiggin said. "They were all in there. Cedrick Hardman, Earl Edwards, Charlie Krueger, Roland Lakes, Stan Hindman, Tommy Hart, Bill Belk. They put pressure on (quarterback Gary) Cuozzo all day."
The Vikings mustered just 240 total yards of offense. Cuozzo completed 9-of-27 passes and was intercepted twice. The 49ers also forced three fumbles and recovered two.
"I guess you'd have to say we underrated San Francisco's defense, especially in the line," Vikings skipper Bud Grant said. "They met us head-on."
For Brodie, it was another day in a phenomenal year. He earned the NFL's Most Valuable Player award in 1970, throwing for a league-leading 2,941 yards and 24 touchdowns. He operated behind a stout offensive line nicknamed "The Protectors" which included Elmer Collett, Len Rohde, Randy Beisler, Forrest Blue, Bob Hoskins, Woody Peoples and Cas Banaszek. In 1970, "The Protectors" set an unofficial NFL record by allowing just eight sacks on the season. Second-year receiver Gene Washington quickly developed into Brodie's favorite target. He recorded 12 touchdown receptions in 1970, a league-best 1,100 receiving yards and averaged 21 yards per catch.
The 1970 campaign was the first in a three-year postseason run under Nolan.