"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.
The 49ers ranked as one of the premier teams in the All-America Football Conference from 1946-1949 while showcasing the league's most explosive offense. In 1948, San Francisco's fearsome ground attack reached a stunning level of success featuring one of the most dominant running teams ever assembled.
Consider the numbers: the 49ers rushed for 3,663 yards during the 14-game 1948 season, by far the most by any pro football team in a single season. They averaged a stunning 6.1 yards per carry and over 261 yards a game. Only one other team in pro football history comes close to matching that output: the 2019 Baltimore Ravens, who recorded 3,296 rushing yards in 16 games, 367 yards less than the 49ers.
Johnny Strzykalski, a 5-foot-9, 188-pound jitterbug, led the charge for San Francisco, which featured seven running backs who gained over 260 yards on the ground that season. Strzykalski was one of the 49ers breakaway threats, posting 915 rushing yards, second best in the AAFC behind Cleveland running back Marion Motley. He also used an outmoded tactic to pick up additional yardage.
"In those days you could get up and run after you were tackled," Strzykalski said in an interview in 1998. "The tackler had to hold you down until the ref blew the whistle. If he didn't blow it I was up and running and I was pretty good at that."
21-year-old Joe Perry was the 49ers diamond in the rough. The future Pro Football Hall of Famer brought a rare combination of speed and power to the backfield. On his first carry, the rookie phenom darted 58 yards to score against the Buffalo Bills. He finished the 1948 campaign with 562 yards and 10 touchdowns on just 77 carries.
"Perry hit the hole so quick I thought he was jumping offsides," former 49ers quarterback Y.A. Tittle once said. "I had a hard time getting him the ball fast enough."
Frankie Albert, the left-handed quarterback directing the offense, brought a wide array of talents to the backfield. He could run, throw, kick and catch. In 1948, he rushed for 349 yards and eight touchdowns while passing for 29 scores and recording one touchdown reception. He was named the AAFC's Co-Most Valuable Player along with Cleveland's Otto Graham.
Three other 49ers backs posted rushing averages of over six yards per carry while rushing for over 300 yards that season: Parker Hall, Verl Lillywhite and Len Eshmont.
Still, a successful running game depends on top-notch linemen and the 49ers had plenty. John Woudenberg, a pile-driving tackle, was a Pro Bowl player with the Pittsburgh Steelers prior to World War II. After the war, he signed with San Francisco and was named All-AAFC in 1947 and 1948. Bruno Banducci, an outstanding pulling guard, earned All-AAFC honors in 1946 and 1947 and NFL Pro Bowl honors when the 49ers joined the league in 1950. Guard Visco Grgich and center Bill "Tiger" Johnson, both starters in 1948, were recognized as All-AAFC in 1949.