Skip to main content

Faithful Time Machine: John Brodie's Last Comeback


Greetings Faithful! It's Mavo, and I've been Faithful since 1959 when I saw my first Niners game at Kezar Stadium when I was seven years old. From time to time I will be taking you back with me in my time machine to relive important 49ers milestones and glorious moments of triumph. During our journey through time, I will relate my personal remembrances as a member of the Faithful for over 60 years. I've set the target date to December 16, 1972, another HUGE red letter day in 49ers history.

Our Niners have a long history of great quarterbacks. I would like to take you back to a great comeback by one of those great quarterbacks in a crucial game. I am talking about my first Niners idol, John Brodie, (nicknamed JB). 

It was the final game of the team's 1972 NFL season. It was a Saturday game against the long-time powerhouse Minnesota Vikings at Candlestick Park. Brodie had been out for two months with an ankle injury. Steve Spurrier, JB's longtime backup and also the 49ers punter, had done a good job keeping the 49ers in contention.

The 1972 season had been up and down for the Niners. One week they were beating the playoff-contending Atlanta Falcons 49-14 and another week losing to the Los Angeles Rams 31-7.

It all came down to the final game against the Vikings. A win or a tie would put the 49ers in the playoffs for the third-straight season as NFC West champions. A loss would eliminate the team from the playoffs. Both the Rams and Falcons were challenging the 49ers for the NFC West title and were playing the next day.

Head coach Dick Nolan started Spurrier but with less than two minutes to go in the third quarter the Vikings were ahead 17-6 and Nolan put Brodie in the game. The sellout crowd roared as Brodie trotted on the field.

"I told John to get in there and call his own plays as he always does," said Nolan. "I wanted to keep the same two running backs in there. There wouldn't be any need to send in plays the way."

It didn't start better for Brodie. Brodie was intercepted twice and all looked lost. However, midway through the fourth quarter, the Brodie to Gene Washington connection clicked in. Washington caught a 53-yard bomb, and moments later, caught a picture perfect 24-yard touchdown pass from Brodie with six minutes left in regulation. The touchdown pass capped a stirring 99-yard drive. It was now 17-13.

The 49ers defense forced a three-and-out with Tommy Hart's 12-yard sack of Tarkenton. However, a special teams penalty gave Minnesota a first down.

After another Vikings first down, the 49ers defense forced a punt with 1:39 to go. The team's luck flipped when a Vikings player was penalized 15 yards for a personal foul on the punt. With a minute and a half to go, Brodie got to work at the 49ers 36 yard line. After two quick passes, the Niners reached the Vikings 44 yard line with 1:22 left.


A Brodie pass down the middle to tight end Ted Kwalick fell incomplete. Vikings rookie linebacker Jeff Siemon, out of Stanford, was called for pass interference and the football rested at the Vikings 26 yard line. Brodie threw a lateral to wide receiver John Isenbarger who passed a wobbler to wide open running back Larry Schreiber in the end zone. Vikings free safety Paul Krause broke it up. 

Next, Brodie called for a draw and Schreiber banged it down to the 20 yard line and the quarterback called the team's final time out.

When play resumed, running back Vic Washington took a swing pass and fought his way to the 2 yard line. Two ensuing incompletions into the end zone left only 30 ticks left.

The game winner developed as Brodie rolled right on a run-pass-option. Just as it looked like he might run it in himself, he waved to veteran wide receiver Dick Witcher. As Witcher stopped, the Vikings safety kept going and Brodie zipped a pass to the wide open receiver in the end zone. Bedlam broke out at Candlestick Park. Bruce Gossett added the extra point and with 25 seconds left, the 49ers were up 20-17.

"He was motioning me so I would know there was nobody behind me. I was trying to run a corner pattern behind Charley West," said Witcher postgame. "I wasn't sure where the linebacker might be though, but John was trying to let me know he wasn't there. Brodie had the option of running it in if he wanted to. But it wasn't necessary."

Minnesota wasn't done yet. After returning the kickoff to their 41 yard line, two quick Tarkenton passes moved the ball to the 49ers 35 yard line with five ticks left. Vikings head coach Bud Grant tried a 43-yard field goal to tie, since in 1972 there was no overtime in the NFL. Minnesota kicker Fred Cox missed it and the Niners had the victory and claimed the NFC West.

"I don't blame them for playing so hard against us," John Brodie said after the game. "We've been taking money out of their pockets for the past two years (referring to the 49ers upset in the 1970 NFC Divisional playoff game in Minnesota in freezing temperatures). By the time I got in there it wasn't necessary to use much strategy. All I could do was throw the ball up there and hope it stuck to somebody. Hey, it's been some time since I came off the bench to beat somebody. I think I did it once when Y.A. Tittle was the first-string quarterback. The (pass) protection was super from the time I got in the game until the end. The only time I was touched was by the fans as I left the field."

Stay Faithful!

Mavo out!