Among the numerous awards, plaques and other monuments on display in the hallways at 49ers team headquarters, one such tribute stands out to former and current 49ers, because it represents longevity, success and consistency.
Facing directly across the Len Eshmont Award winners in the downstairs hallway outside by the team meeting rooms is the 10-Year Club, a shrine that honors members of the San Francisco 49ers, who played 10 or more seasons with the organization.
A large plaque, directly located in the center of the headshots of all 45 members of the club reads:
“Forty-Niner Ten Year Club. Dedicated to those Forty-Niners, who have served ten or more years proudly wearing the scarlet and gold.”
The list starts with Hall of Fame running back Joe Perry and ends with defensive lineman Bryant Young, who just announced his retirement after last season, his 14th with the club. Each member of the club is represented with a black and white photo on a scarlet and gold plaque with their name under the photo and the years in which they played.
The memorial serves as a representation of the players who performed at a high level for a decade of service. Players who played the majority of their years in the 1950’s and 60’s combined are represented by 17 former 49ers. The 70’s are represented by 10 former players and the 49ers have 14 players honored from the 80’s.
In today’s game, with the advent of free agency, it’s rare for players to spend ten seasons with one ball club, making the achievement all the more special. There are only three players represented from the 90’s and one so far since the turn of the century.
“When I first got here, making it on the wall was a pipe dream, especially in this day and age when guys don’t stick with a team,” said linebacker Jeff Ulbrich who is entering his ninth season. “It’s extremely rare, but I’ve definitely thought about it as I’ve gotten closer.”
The only thing harder than making it on the wall is apparently finding out the origin of the 10-Year Club.
After making several phone calls, former public relations director Jerry Walker and alumni coordinator RC Owens said the wall was created in the late 1970’s by former head coach Bill Walsh. A number of other employees and players as well also cited Walsh as the creator of the wall. His reasoning was to embellish the proud history of the 49ers to his players. Sources claim Walsh mainly wanted to honor those that gave a lot to the organization, as well as motivate his players to join such a list.
The idea worked brilliantly.
If you ask any current or former San Francisco player, making the 10-year club is extremely important.
It might not have been part of their thought process when they first arrived in the Bay Area, but as their career continued, many wanted to reach the milestone.
“I think for a lot of guys, there is a difference between a guy who played ten years and a guy who played less than ten years. You want to be one of the guys who really proves himself like, ‘I belong.’ You might not be a Hall of Fame-caliber player, but you played ten years in the League for the same franchise,” current 49ers long snapper Brian Jennings said.
Jennings and Ulbrich, who were both members of the 2000 49ers draft class in the seventh and third rounds respectively, acknowledge each season that they’re closer to joining the elite club.
“For a team I grew up watching, followed very closely, and to remember all the guys on that wall very well, to be a part of that wall would be huge,” Ulbrich said.
For each player the wall represents something different. For some it represents being a part of the best players in 49ers history, and for others it legitimizes their career.
Head coach Mike Nolan understands the importance of the club and exactly why it is so important to the players.
“I believe it means a lot of things. It means some things to the individual and some things to the football team,” Nolan said. “First off, if you look at the wall of all the players that have been on there, there are some great players on that wall, so to be associated with those players is quite a compliment for anyone. When you stay a long time at a very good franchise, a team that’s winning often, you’re basically someone that’s a part of that winning, not someone who is passing through.
“Those are two things that I think are very important and the third thing is from a longevity standpoint, it’s hard to last three years in the NFL, let alone make it. So if you last ten years at one spot, I think that means you’re a pretty good player,” Nolan said.
Nolan holds fond memories of several players on the wall who he identifies with because they were guys who played for his father Dick Nolan, the head coach of the 49ers from 1968-1975.
“When I pass by the wall, I immediately look at the faces,” Nolan said. “And every face was not only recognizable, but the name was recognizable. As opposed to looking at some walls and you go, ‘Who is that guy?’”
The 49ers boast nine Hall of Famers on the wall, but virtually every member of the 10-Year Wall Club are household names to 49ers fans, as guys like Y.A. Tittle and John Brodie or Brent Jones and John Taylor had a hand in helping the 49ers become one of the most successful franchises in the NFL.
“If they had a one-year wonder wall, then you wouldn’t know any of them, but this is a wall of guys that everyone recognizes as a wall of 49ers greats,” Nolan said.
*Here are the members of the 10-Year Club:
*Joe Perry, 1948-60, 1963. Leo Nomellini, 1950-63. *Y.A. Tittle, 1951-60. Billy Wilson, 1951-60. *Bob St. Clair, 1953-64. Matt Hazeltine, 1955-68. Bruce Bosley, 1956-68. John Brodie, 1957-73. John Thomas, 1958-67.
Tommy Davis, 1959-69. Charlie Krueger, 1959-73. Len Rohde, 1960-74. Roland Lakes, 1959-73. Jimmy Johnson, 1961-76. *Dave Wilcox, 1964-74. Mel Phillips, 1966-76. Frank Nunley, 1967-76.
Woody Peoples, 1968-77. Randy Cross, 1976-88. John Ayers, 1976-86. Ray Wersching, 1977-87. Cas Banaszek, 1968-77. Tommy Hart, 1968-77. Skip Vanderbundt, 1968-77. Cedrick Hardman, 1970-79. Willie Harper, 1973-83. Keith Fahnhorst, 1974-87.
Mike Walter, 1984-93. Jesse Sapolu, 1983-97. Guy McIntyre, 1984-93. *Jerry Rice, 1985-00. John Taylor, 1986-95. Steve Wallace, 1986-96. Fred Quillan, 1978-87. Dwaine Board, 1979-88. Eric Wright, 1981-90. *Ronnie Lott, 1981-90. Keena Turner, 1980-90. Mike Wilson, 1981-90. *Joe Montana, 1979-92.
*Steve Young, 1987-99. Harris Barton, 1987-98. Brent Jones, 1987-97. Derrick Deese, 1992-03.
Bryant Young, 1994-07.
(Note: * denotes a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame)
Check 49ers.com throughout the season to read a feature on a member of the 10-Year Club from each decade.