Let's play the Mt. Rushmore Game for the 49ers.
Who are the four greatest figures in 49ers history? I'm talking players, coaches or owners. You pick. Who would you carve onto the 49ers' own Mt. Rushmore?
We can agree on three people right off the bat &#8211; Jerry Rice, Joe Montana and Bill Walsh. Those are gimmes.
"Each of them is clearly among the best ever at their position," said the great Ira Miller, who covered the 49ers' dynasty under Walsh and George Seifert for the San Francisco Chronicle. "An argument could be made that Rice is the best player ever at any position. I suspect Montana's record of four Super Bowl victories without an interception will stand for a long, long time. Walsh, of course, created a template for modern offense and organizational structure."
Rice, Montana and Walsh will be on the 49ers' Mt. Rushmore for eternity. No one ever will erase them.
But who is the fourth 49er on that slab of stone? Now, the game gets tricky.
You could go with Steve Young. He's one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, won one Super Bowl and may have won more than one if he hadn't had to back up Montana for four seasons. He's also a Hall of Famer.
Or you could go with Ronnie Lott. He's the greatest defensive player in 49ers' history, one of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history and a four-time Super Bowl Champion. He's also a Hall of Famer.
You could make an argument for Frank Gore. He's the 49ers' all-time leading rusher, especially impressive considering he played for dysfunctional teams until at 2011, his seventh-season in the league.
I asked Michael Berger, the San Francisco Chronicle's Executive Sports Editor at the advent of the Walsh Era. Berger also grew up in San Francisco. Who would he put on the Niners' Mt. Rushmore?
"Who among your readership would remember Tony Morabito, the businessman-fan who made it all possible?" Berger asked via email. "Without his investment in 1946 and his commitment to building the team, there would be no 49ers.
"Or Frankie Albert, the team's first QB and field leader, who gave the team an identity, a winning rep and thus growing fan popularity that assured its future. Or Joe Perry, the first black athlete to play for the 49ers, and the first to gain 1,000 yards in a single season. Or Hugh McElhenny, one of the most exciting runners of his generation."
Berger threw out those names but declined to play the game. He said it was too complicated.
That doesn't mean we can't play. What about Jim Harbaugh?
It's too early for him. He's had a hot start to his NFL head-coaching career, but he's been a 49er for only two seasons and he hasn't won a Super Bowl yet.
It's too early for Jed York, too, although he's largely responsible for the recent resurrection of the franchise. He raised the funds to build the new stadium, and he hired Trent Baalke, who hired Jim Harbaugh.
You could make a convincing argument for Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the owner of the 49ers during the Walsh Era. Ira Miller did. DeBartolo is his fourth Mt. Rushmore face. "Everything starts at the top, no matter what business you are in," Miller said. "He created the atmosphere that let the players and coaches flourish."
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