"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 3, 1995
Midway through the third quarter of a 10-10 tie with the Buffalo Bills, linebackers Lee Woodall and Gary Plummer altered the 49ers season.
In a game with serious playoff implications, both clubs entered Candlestick Park with 8-4 records. The 49ers held a slight edge over the 7-5 Atlanta Falcons in the NFC West. A loss to the Bills would put their postseason plans in jeopardy.
Quarterback Jim Kelly marched the Bills to San Francisco's one yard line and was on the verge of a sure touchdown with first-and-goal. Every bookmaker in Vegas chalked up six points for Buffalo. Then Bills running back Darick Holmes took Kelly's handoff on a quick-opening lead play and never saw what hit him.
Holmes met the full force of the 248-pound Plummer who leaped over a pile of bodies, charged into the hole and exploded into the Bills rookie. The blow caught Holmes just under the chin.
"I heard it. I saw it," 49ers safety Merton Hanks said. "(Holmes) had to give up that ball."
Holmes was flattened in the backfield and the football popped loose. Woodall scooped up the bouncing pigskin then raced 96 yards down the middle of the field going untouched to the end zone.
"I didn't see him (Plummer)," Holmes said. "He hit me high. I never had a chance to bend over. He hit me right on the ball."
"A lot of linebackers make the mistake of trying to cheat up in a goal-line situation," Plummer said. "I like to hang back a bit so I can kind of launch myself."
Woodall's first NFL touchdown could not have come at a better time. The 14-point turnaround changed what appeared to be a seven-point Buffalo lead into a seven-point advantage for the 49ers and was the impetus behind a crucial victory in the ever-tightening race for the NFC West crown.
"It was the biggest emotional swing I've ever felt in my career," 49ers tight end Brent Jones said. "That was unbelievable. My mouth was open the whole time. I could not believe it."
Woodall's 96-yard fumble return is still the second longest in team history behind only Don Griffin's 99-yard return against Chicago in 1991.
"It totally changed their mind-set. It had to," said defensive back Eric Davis, who contributed two interceptions to the superb defensive effort. "To come that close, and come up with nothing."
Woodall, a sixth-round draft pick in 1994 who was named to the Pro Bowl in 1995, was not finished. He iced the game late in the fourth quarter after recovering another fumble to seal the 49ers 27-17 win over Buffalo.
"That was the hit of the year!" 49ers linebacker Ken Norton exclaimed in a postgame interview.
Running backs Adam Walker and Derek Loville posted rushing touchdowns for San Francisco and Jeff Wilkins added two field goals, but it was the defense, which recorded five takeaways, four sacks and one touchdown that made the difference.