October 8, 2014

1946: 49ers Romp Over Miami in Hurricane-Delayed Home Opener

The Miami Seahawks of the new All-America Football Conference hosted their first home game on October 8, 1946 as they faced the San Francisco 49ers. The franchise was run by an ownership group headed by Harvey Hester and represented a first as a major pro football league team in the Deep South. The roster was liberally sprinkled with players from Southern colleges as a result, but many of them were marginal performers at best. Head Coach Jack Meagher’s squad was already 0-3, having played three road games that started with a 44-0 thrashing in Cleveland and included a loss to the 49ers in San Francisco. To make matters worse for the Seahawks, the home opening game had to be delayed due to a hurricane.

The 49ers were 2-2 coming into the game in Miami, having lost to the Chicago Rockets the previous week. Coached by Buck Shaw, who had been successful at the collegiate level, San Francisco operated with Frankie Albert (pictured above), a mobile lefthander, at quarterback. Ex-Chicago Bears FB Norm Standlee and HB Johnny Strzykalsi headed a deep backfield operating behind a good line, and end Alyn Beals was a productive receiver. 

There was a meagre crowd of 7621 in attendance at Burdine Stadium (aka the Orange Bowl) on a summery Tuesday evening. The 49ers drove to their first score following a fumble by Miami QB Marion Pugh at his own 38. Frankie Albert faded back to pass, couldn’t find a receiver, and instead ran 22 yards down the sideline. HB Len Eshmont powered over from the two for a touchdown a few plays later and Joe Vetrano added the extra point.

In the second quarter, San Francisco’s next scoring drive started off with a 62-yard run by HB Don Durdan to the Miami 12. Two plays later, QB Jesse Freitas threw to Alyn Beals for a 12-yard TD. Vetrano again tacked on the PAT and the visitors took a 14-0 lead into halftime.

Early in the third quarter, San Francisco DE Henry Norberg recovered a fumble by HB Monk Gafford at the Miami nine. However, on this occasion the Seahawks held on defense and the 49ers turned the ball over on downs at the two. The reprieve didn’t last long as Miami couldn’t gain much ground and punted, and Vetrano’s return gave San Francisco starting field position at the Seahawks’ 36. Four plays later, HB Earle Parsons ran off tackle for a 24-yard touchdown and, with Vetrano’s conversion, the 49ers led by 21-0.

The Seahawks finally got on the board in the fourth quarter. Gafford caught a pass from QB Jim Tarrant for a 56-yard gain to the San Francisco five and, after a play that lost yardage was followed by a penalty on the 49ers, Tarrant threw to end Prince Scott for a four-yard TD. Dick Erdlitz tacked on the extra point.

That was it for the home team as San Francisco poured it on in the remaining time. A pass interference penalty advanced the 49ers to the Miami eight and HB Pete Franceschi bulled over for a touchdown from there. The extra point attempt failed when a bad snap caused Vetrano to attempt a drop kick that was unsuccessful. Two plays later, a Tarrant fumble was recovered by tackle John Kuzman, and he returned it 72 yards for another TD. This time Vetrano converted and San Francisco came away with a comfortable 34-7 win.  

The 49ers led in total yards (284 to 151) and first downs (11 to 8). They were successful on 7 of 16 passes while the Seahawks completed 10 of 19. Miami turned the ball over five times, to one by the 49ers, and punted on seven occasions, while San Francisco had four.

“There’ll be some drastic changes made very soon,” said a grim team president Harvey Hester after the humiliating defeat. “Our organization will field a winner here if it’s the last thing I do.”

Despite Hester’s determination, and a win at Buffalo the next week, the Seahawks played poorly the rest of the way and finished with a 3-11 record and in the cellar of the comparatively weak Eastern Division of the AAFC. Coach Meagher was gone after six games and replaced by Hamp Pool. By the end, the league had to step in financially to keep the franchise afloat, and it was promptly expelled after the season, to be replaced by the Baltimore Colts.

The 49ers were far more successful, going 9-5 to end up second to the powerful Browns in the Western Division. They also enjoyed far more fan support and, like Cleveland, would long outlive the AAFC.