75 for 75: 'The Gold Rush' Sack Attack

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"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.

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October 11, 1976

Los Angeles Rams quarterback James Harris wondered when it would end. The 49ers defensive front four punished Harris on a Monday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, collecting 10 sacks in a 16-0 shutout of the Rams. 

DE Tommy Hart, DT Cleveland Elam, DE Cedrick Hardman and DT Jimmy Webb, nicknamed "The Gold Rush," chased Harris from sideline to sideline, posting 97 yards in losses and forcing three fumbles.

Going into the game, the Rams offensive line, which included Pro Bowl players Dennis Harrah, Rich Saul and Tom Mack, had allowed just two sacks.

"Ten sacks for 97 yards?" Mack said incredulously in a postgame interview. "I've been in this league for 11 years and nothing like that has ever happened to us before. With those two young guys inside (Cleveland Elam and Jimmy Webb), they've got a great defensive line. They reminded me of the Rams old 'Fearsome Foursome.'"

Indeed, harassing the quarterback became a San Francisco specialty in 1976 as "The Gold Rush" bullied opposing offensive lines and pestered quarterbacks all season long. 

"I'm so embarrassed," Rams guard Dennis Harrah said. "Not just for me, but for Harris. Eighty thousand home fans booing him! That's what made me feel bad."

Hart spent most of the evening in the Rams backfield, collecting six individual sacks, forcing three fumbles and recovering one. In the third period, he single-handedly changed the course of the game with strip sacks in two-consecutive Rams possessions.

On the first one, Harris went to the air on a third down play but Hart burst off the left side and drove the Rams QB hard to the turf causing a fumble. Elam recovered at the Rams six and the 49ers scored on Plunkett's six-yard throw to TE Tom Mitchell.

Immediately after the kickoff, Hart did it again. He drilled Harris, the ball squirted into the air, and Jimmy Webb grabbed it at the 14. Steve Mike-Meyer booted an 18-yard field goal from there. In a little over seven minutes, the 49ers had exploded for 16 points, and it was the "The Gold Rush" that led the attack.

Hart's rampage led to the first regular season shutout of the Rams at the Coliseum since they began playing there in 1946. Rams right tackle John Williams, in his ninth NFL campaign, had the nearly impossible task of trying to stop Hart. 

"I've been saying this for a long time that Tommy Hart is one of the best defensive linemen in the National Football League," Williams said in a postgame interview. "I can't think of anyone I've played against who is definitely better...He's so quick you have to play the game without blinking. With his quickness and agility he could easily be a linebacker."

Hardman posted two sacks and continued his knack for bullying opposing offensive linemen and pestering signal callers.

"My passion was always getting to the quarterback," Hardman said. "That was my mission in life."

Although quarterback sacks were not an official NFL statistic until 1982, team statisticians regularly recorded the data. The 49ers defense set an "unofficial" standard in 1976 by collecting 61 sacks during the 14-game season. Hart recorded 16 sacks, Elam posted 14.5 sacks, Hardman notched 13 and Webb finished with 7.5. 

Following the season, Hart was named All-Pro and earned the 49ers coveted Len Eshmont Award.

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