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The 49ers, meanwhile, were advancing uselessly up and down the field. It took them 15 plays from their own 23-yard line to set up one Bruce Gossett field goal of 20 yards and nine plays for another of 26 yards. It was the first time in 11 games the 49ers have not scored a touchdown against the Rams, and the first time in four years they have not scored one against anybody.
There were other indignities, too. In addition to the interceptions, Brodie was penalized twice for intentionally grounding the ball and once for hitting an ineligible receiver, Tackle Cas Banaszek, on the back of the helmet. And though Brodie was tackled while attempting to pass only once, two of his passes were batted down at or behind the line of scrimmage—both, curiously, in the first quarter.
"Who cares if we sack him?" said an exultant Deacon Jones. "They got no touchdowns."
"Yes," said Jones' coach, Tommy Prothro, "but we'll have to do something about those field goals." This was Prothro's biggest win since he left UCLA earlier this year to replace George Allen as the Rams' head coach. He was obviously enjoying himself.
Brodie wasn't the only 49er misadventurer. Bruce Taylor fumbled one punt and returned another for minus-nine yards. His fellow kick returner, Johnny Fuller, signaled for a fair catch on yet another punt, then, having caught it fairly, ran it back, costing his team a five-yard penalty. The rules clearly state that you don't run with a fair catch, but few of the 49ers were thinking clearly. For example, San Francisco was also penalized 15 yards twice on the same play—for Brodie grounding the ball intentionally and then for Center Forrest Blue complaining about the penalty in an unsportsmanlike manner. All told, the 49ers were penalized nine times for 108 yards.
It was that kind of day, and it has been that kind of season for the 49ers. In fact, until last year, when they won the division championship—their first title of any kind in the NFL—they had had that kind of history. The quintessential 49er game is considered to be the 1957 playoff for the Western Conference championship with Detroit. The 49ers were leading 27-7 in the third quarter. They lost 31-27. This was the game that established them in the eyes of their beholders as players who could never win the big ones—not even the little big ones.
The true 49er fan has always been a kind of wistful pessimist, one who hopes for the best but knows in his withered little heart he'll get the worst. Last year it looked as if the best might happen after all. The 49ers beat Minnesota in the first playoff round—and on the Vikings' frozen turf. But, true to form, they lost to Dallas for the conference championship.
When Dick Nolan moved to San Francisco four years ago from his assistant's job at Dallas to become the 49ers' sixth head coach, he set about quietly trying to lift that old mood of despair. Nolan is a no-nonsense fellow who attends to every detail. One of these was rebuilding a winning attitude in players who were beginning to look as long-faced as the fans. Although he is withdrawn in public gatherings, Nolan does seem to have the ability to inspire his athletes.
"I'm just glad I got to play for this man," says Defensive Tackle Charlie Krueger, who has played for four 49er coaches. "In any organization it's the little things that sometimes count. And he takes care of them. I just study the way he does things."
Nolan does have a smooth organization, but he is being undone this year by little things, like turnovers. Last year he worked hard at eliminating the fumbles and interceptions that brought the 49ers to grief for so many seasons. And he succeeded. Brodie was intercepted only 10 times in 1970, and the team lost only 15 fumbles. The opposition, meanwhile, was losing the ball to the 49ers 42 times, a turnover-plus of 17 for San Francisco. Ah, but this year! In only 10 games the 49ers have been intercepted 21 times and have lost 17 fumbles. They have given the ball to the opposition 16 more times than they have taken it away.