75 for 75: First NFL Victory

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"75 for 75" is an article series from the 49ers Museum highlighting moments in the team's history as part of the franchise's 75th Anniversary celebrations in 2021.

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October 22, 1950

Leo Nomellini's deflection of an extra point attempt late in the fourth quarter turned out to be the crucial play in the 49ers first-ever NFL victory.

After starting their inaugural NFL season 0-5, the 49ers were desperate to prove they could compete with the league's best teams. They put together a nearly flawless first half to beat the powerful Detroit Lions, 28-27, in front of 27,350 Kezar Stadium fans. They needed the heroics of Nomellini, a rookie defensive tackle who would eventually land in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, to secure the win.

Coach Buck Shaw's offense went to work scoring twice in the first 10 minutes of the game. The first strike came after defensive back Jim Powers intercepted Layne's pass and returned it 31 yards to the Lions 26. Quarterback Frankie Albert then hit running back John Strzykalski on a 13-yard pass. Four running plays later, fullback Joe Perry plowed in from the two-yard line.

The 49ers second score took just four plays and involved an entertaining bit of ball handling. Starting from Detroit's 40-yard line, Perry sprinted off right for 20 yards. He appeared to be stopped, but wriggled free of a tackle and lateraled to Styzkalski who dashed another 11 yards to Detroit's nine. Albert then found wide receiver Alyn Beals in the corner of the end zone to cap off the 51-yard drive. 

Early in the second quarter, the 49ers upped their lead to 21-0 after a 64-yard touchdown march. Three Albert passes were the keys to this drive. He hit Strzykalski for 12 yards, halfback Sam Cathcart for 24, then finished it with a four-yard lob to wide receiver Gordy Soltau in the back of the end zone.

San Francisco marched 80 yards on eight plays for its final score. This time Perry did the legwork, ripping off three long gains between the tackles. Albert finished it with a 22-yard dart to wide receiver Alex Lloyd at the eight-yard line and then followed it with a scoring pass to halfback Jim Cason.

San Francisco appeared to be cruising to victory with a 28-7 advantage midway through the third quarter but the Lions stormed back with three touchdowns. Late in the contest, they pulled to within 28-27 and needed an extra point to escape from Kezar Stadium with a tie. However, Detroit's ace kicker and running back Doak Walker, the 1948 Heisman Trophy winner, twisted an ankle in the fourth quarter and was carried off the field. Quarterback Bobby Layne was called on to attempt Detroit's PAT. His kick was low, Nomellini tipped it, and the pigskin failed to clear the crossbar. 

"These kids were damn hungry," was all Shaw needed to say after his club celebrated its first NFL win.

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