Throughout the season, 49ers.com will feature members of our 10-Year Club. Check out our latest one on former 49ers offensive lineman Steve Wallace, who played for the team from 1986-1996.*
During the eleven seasons in which he dominated opposing defensive ends, 49ers left tackle Steve Wallace was the blindside protection that kept Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young safe.
Not only was Wallace one of the best offensive linemen in franchise history, but he was named All-Pro three times from 1992-94 and won three Super Bowl Championships in 1988, '89 and '94.
But Wallace's very successful career with the 49ers got off to a shaky start, as the rookie arrived in San Francisco with a chip on his shoulder.
"Draft day, that's a funny story within itself," Wallace recalled. "The 49ers and Denver Broncos had said they were very interested in me. It's kind of funny, when I think about it now, but they gave me a call late in the first round saying 'we're going to pick you up early in the second round.'"
Wallace's confidence grew immediately with that kind of a promise, as he in turn made a proud declaration to a room full of people at his college, Auburn University, who were all watching the draft on television.
"I said to everybody, 'Pizza and all the drinks on me once I get drafted.' Everybody started jumping up and down," he said. "Next thing I know, the 49ers make their pick in the second round, and then they made three picks in the third round and I'm sitting there and my stomach's really starting to boil. So I was getting ticked off, thinking how interested is this team?"
But things quickly calmed down for Wallace with the 49ers making two important draft picks in the fourth round with their selections of Charles Haley and Wallace.
Given how mad as he was about his pizza proclamation, Wallace couldn't hide his frustration when meeting 49ers head coach Bill Walsh for the first time.
"When I first went to San Francisco, I was ticked off and had an attitude," Wallace said. "Bill Walsh was the first guy I saw when I went in, and I was hot about that draft pick. There was a big difference between the second and fourth round in terms of pay. I went to see him and he said, 'Hey, we're glad to have you.' I didn't smile or anything, and then he said, 'I know you're mad, but it's all part of the business.' He shrugged his shoulders, and nothing else was said about it. We both kind of laughed about it and moved on."
Wallace said his friends tried to raise his spirits about going later in the draft, telling him, "At least you're with a team that's going to make the playoffs."
Little did they know, he would make it to the playoffs 11 of the 12 years that he played.
Before he could take an active role on those winning teams, Wallace had his own personal battle to deal with once he arrived in the Bay Area, and that involved his weight.
"Back then, Coach Walsh had a deal with Bubba Parris and me. He said, 'either I give you money every week, or you give me money every week.' I didn't like the idea of me giving him a grand every week, and I probably wasn't even making that as a rookie," Wallace said.
It was during this wager that Wallace's nickname, "Big Sexy," was created.
According to Wallace, the name came from a group of some of the veterans on the 49ers, led by Keena Turner.
"I don't know if he meant it with a p-h-a-t, but at the same time, I could recall them saying our offensive linemen were big and fat. And I disagreed with him. And he said, 'What do you think, that you're big and sexy?'"
Upon getting his weight under control, Wallace quickly became a major part of the 49ers talented offensive lines during the 1980's.
"It was just a matter of trial and error and a good offensive line coach in Bob McKittrick, and eventually we put it together," Wallace said.
After splitting time in his first two seasons, Wallace became the starter, helping the 49ers win their third Super Bowl title in 1988.
"The most exciting thing for me was to start in every game that year, and the thought of winning the Super Bowl. I can remember a lot of parts of that ride, going against talented defensive ends like Chris Doleman, Richard Dent, Kevin Greene, Lawrence Taylor and all of the other All-Pro's. I just found a way to shut them out, one-by-one."
On a consistent basis, Wallace was left to dominate those opposing defensive ends without any extra assistance.
"The one thing I started noticing was that Bill Walsh started leaving out the tight end and the running back to help me and kept them on their own assignments. His thing was, 'You block that guy,' and nothing else was said about it. The funny thing about it in looking back was that most teams had to have that extra protector over there, but I didn't know any better."
Despite breaking his left ankle in the 49ers Super Bowl XXIII victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, Wallace was still thrilled with the 49ers achievement.
"The first one is really important, because that was the one I cried," he said. "I never imagined being there. Everything hit me all at once. How much work, all that I had overcome. Then they started playing, 'We are the Champions,' and it all hit me, we were World Champs."
In the following years, Wallace became a perennial All-Pro and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1992.
As one of the best in the business at his position, Wallace continued to embrace the demands of his left tackle position. And there were many challenges, like the time he rose to the occasion in Super Bowl XXIX when he was required to face Chargers Leslie O'Neal, a six-time Pro Bowl defensive end.
What made this matchup even more important to Wallace was the negative talk he heard on television from former New York Giants quarterback and TV color commentator Phil Sims.
"After watching the tapes prior to the game, I heard Phil Simms saying 'The San Diego Chargers should beat the San Francisco 49ers and this is the reason they should beat them right here: Leslie O'Neal, the six-time Pro Bowler should dominate Steve Wallace,'" he recalled. "All of my friends, I had about ten phone calls immediately asking, 'Did you see that?' I'm sitting in my room by myself thinking, 'My god.' But I believed in myself and I knew that I'd be ready to battle."
As in the case of many of his important individual battles, Wallace was victorious over O'Neal.
"By the end of the day he had no tackles, no assists, nothing."
After the game, Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator for the 49ers at the time, said to Wallace, 'Man, that was some kind of game.'
Out of all his three Super Bowl rings, Wallace said Super Bowl XXIX is the one he wears the most, because it was the best big game he ever had.
The Atlanta native thought it would be good to wear his favorite ring out on display this past weekend as he attended the jersey retirement ceremony for Steve Young, the quarterback of that '94 Championship team.
Wallace enjoyed seeing some of the guys he played with during his 22 playoff games, especially his teammates on the offensive line in Harris Barton, Guy McIntyre, and Jesse Sapolu.
"Just seeing all these guys this past week just brought back tremendous memories," he said.
Prior to attending Sunday's game, Wallace stopped by last Friday's practice at 49ers team facility where he shared some of those tremendous memories, and other o-line pointers, with second-round draft pick Chilo Rachal
"I had a chance to talk to him for a few minutes and I'm very excited about him," Wallace said. "It says a lot when a young man will take the time to listen to you. I told him, 'The bottom line is everything is technique. You need to trust the things your coach is telling you, and when you do that you become a much better player.' I also told him to become good friends with the film guys and take the footage home every night because you'd be surprised how much better you'd become as a player."
If Rachal takes Wallace's advice to heart, perhaps he two could one day enjoy the kind of success Wallace had on the field, and maybe even find himself honored as a member of the 49ers 10 Year Club.
Being a member of the 10 Year Club means an awful lot to Wallace, who calls himself a huge fan of the game.
"Being on there, it's tremendous. For guys nowadays to say, 'Hey, I remember you. You were on that 10 year board.' It just means a lot because you know, and they know, there was a lot of winning through those ten years and a lot of tradition. There were a lot of standards that were established."
These days, Wallace is giving motivational speeches to kids in both urban and rural areas, who don't have opportunities to meet professional athletes. Last week while he was in the Bay Area, Wallace spoke at a middle school, offering advice to young kids about setting and reaching goals for themselves.
Wallace and his three daughters and son often get together with his extended family for family reunions, highlighted by the good humor of his brother George, a famous comedian. In fact, there are quite a few high profile members of the Wallace family. Wallace's first cousin, Barry Anderson serves as an NFL official, while two of his other cousins bring their own Super Bowl rings to the dinner table. Between Wallace, and his cousins Bobby Hamilton, who won two Super Bowls with the Patriots, and Amani Toomer, who won one last season with the New York Giants, the group boasts six Super Bowl rings.
As proud as he is of his on field achievements, family members or even being named on the 49ers 10-Year Club, Wallace says one stat means the absolute most to him.
"In 23 years of playing football, I never had a losing season."