"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.
Dick Nolan believed in the importance of special teams during his tenure as 49ers head coach and found the right man to be their leader.
Ed Beard started at middle linebacker for San Francisco from 1966-1968 before a severe knee injury relegated him to a backup role. Recognizing the former defensive team captain's influence with the club, Nolan selected Beard in 1970 to be the first NFL player recognized as a team captain solely for special teams play.
Beard accepted his new role with relish, instilling pride and professionalism to the overlooked punt and kickoff teams.
"We called ourselves Gizzards because we were made up mostly of the leftovers," Beard once said.
Yet, Nolan considered his special teams players as more than a group of non-starters, and so did Beard. Nolan saw them as the catalyst behind the 49ers three-year playoff run from 1970-1972.
"Special teams have the ability to change the tone of a game," Nolan said during an interview in 1970. "We make a point of practicing special teams at least 30 minutes a day and they've become a major factor in our winning this year."
The Gizzards came through when needed most. In the 1971 NFL Divisional Playoff game, San Francisco was nursing a 17-13 lead in the fourth quarter when Washington's Mike Bragg lined up to punt. The Gizzards brought pressure and the snap went awry, causing the football to roll past Bragg. DT Bob Hoskins raced through a pack of Washington linemen and recovered it in the end zone. The late score provided the 49ers with the cushion they needed to defeat Washington 24-20 and advance to the NFC Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys.
The special teams' turnaround started when Doug Scovil was named as the unit's coach in 1970. Scovil took the Gizzards under his wing and turned them into demons.
"We figured the special teams play between 25 to 35 percent of each game," Scovil once said. "That's a big part of a game and you need it to win."
The Gizzards consisted of a core group of players in the early 1970s that included Hoskins, DB Alvin Randolph, G Elmer Collett, LB Jim Sniadecki, DB Johnny Fuller, RB Bill Tucker and WR Bob Windsor. QB Steve Spurrier and K Bruce Gossett did the punting and kicking. The sole star of the group may have been CB Bruce Taylor. The 1970 Defensive Rookie of the Year led the NFL in punt return yardage that season, averaging 12 yards a return, while doubling as a shutdown defensive back.
"We were proud to be Gizzards," Beard said. "We had shirts made up that said Gizzards and gave out weekly awards. Special teams was just part of our job and we loved it."
More importantly, they were game changing leftovers.