November 9, 2009

1975: Steve Spurrier to Gene Washington Ends Rams Win Streak vs. 49ers

The Los Angeles Rams hosted the San Francisco 49ers at the Memorial Coliseum on November 9, 1975, having won 10 consecutive games against the Niners. The Rams, NFC West champs in ’73 and ’74, came into this Week 7 game again leading the division with a 6-1 record, while San Francisco was a lowly 2-5.

It appeared that the win streak, dating back to the 1970 season and having most recently included a 23-14 victory at Candlestick Park six weeks earlier, looked likely to continue when the Rams held a 14-0 lead at the half. Steve Spurrier, starting his first game at quarterback for the 49ers since 1973 in place of Norm Snead, had a mediocre half, completing just 6 of 17 passes for 60 yards. However, San Francisco had an apparent touchdown pass from Spurrier to WR Gene Washington called back due to a penalty and had driven at one point to the L.A. 11-yard line, only to come up empty, so the domination was not quite as complete as the score would imply.

Spurrier began to find the range in the third quarter, completing a 42-yard touchdown pass to Washington. The 49ers tied the score after a long drive that included a 12-yard run by Spurrier on a quarterback draw and concluded with a 19-yard scoring pass to RB Delvin Williams.

L.A. went ahead in the fourth quarter, 17-14, thanks to a 23-yard Tom Dempsey field goal, but a 68-yard Spurrier to Washington pass play put San Francisco back in the lead. The back-and-forth struggle saw the Rams once again move out in front, 23-21, on a short scoring run by RB Jim Bertelsen with 1:24 left to play (crucially, the extra point attempt failed). The 49ers finally prevailed on a 54-yard field goal by Steve Mike-Mayer with 38 seconds left that made the final score 24-23.

For Spurrier, the performance was a highlight in what had been an uneven career in San Francisco. He completed 19 of 38 passes for 290 yards and three TDs, with no interceptions. Gene Washington caught 5 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns. On a day when the running game was mediocre (Spurrier was the leading ground gainer for the 49ers with 30 yards on five carries), the Spurrier to Washington combination had been crucial.

The win over the Rams was the first of three consecutive midseason victories for the 49ers, but they lost their last four games to end up with a 5-9 record. They finished a distant second in the NFC West behind the 12-2 Rams, who advanced to the conference championship game and lost to Dallas.

Steve Spurrier ended up starting six games, but hopes for a revival of his career in San Francisco ended and he was traded to the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the 1976 season. Gene Washington caught 44 passes for 735 yards, with a typically healthy yards-per-reception average of 16.7 and 9 TDs. Deficiencies with the offense – in particular inconsistency at quarterback – had caused his production to drop after having been a Pro Bowl selection in his first four seasons (1969-72), but as his performance against the Rams made clear, he was still very much a big play receiver.