“75 for 75” is a series of articles from the 49ers Museum highlighting legendary moments in 49ers history as part of the team’s 75th anniversary celebrations in 2021.
The 49ers were chasing the third straight NFC West franchise crown in 1972 when an early-season injury to quarterback John Brodie put the brakes on their plans. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Steve Spurrier, the 49ers’ first-round pick in 1967, filled Brodie admirably, guiding the club to a 7-5-1 mark. With one game to go in the regular season, San Francisco needed a win over the Minnesota Vikings to clinch a playoff berth.
Throughout three quarters of play, the 49ers were unable to launch an offensive attack and fell behind the Vikings 17-6. At the end of the third quarter, head coach Dick Nolan asked Brodie, who had been out for almost 10 weeks, to start warming up. At the start of the fourth quarter, Brodie trotted in the squad and 61,244 Candlestick Park fans roared their approval.
“I told John to come in and call his own pieces, like he always does,” Nolan said.
Vikings linebacker Jeff Siemon noted a fatal change in momentum.
“When Brodie came off the bench their enthusiasm definitely increased,” Siemon said.
Brodie looked rusty and was intercepted on the 49ers’ first two possessions of the fourth quarter. And time passed.
Eight minutes from time to time, the 49ers regained possession of their own one-yard line. That’s when Brodie used his old magic and ran the 49ers for 99 yards in three minutes. He connected on passes to wide receiver Gene Washington for 53 yards, running back John Isenbarger for 12 and Washington again for 24 yards. Minnesota still had a 17-13 advantage.
After forcing the Vikings to punt, San Francisco regained its own 35-yard line with 1:39 to go. Brodie mixed running games for fullbacks Larry Schreiber and Vic Washington, with short passes to tight end Ted Kwalick and Washington out of the backfield. The 49ers walked to the two-yard line with 39 seconds on the clock. After two incomplete passes, there were only 25 seconds left.
Brodie took the snap on the third down and rolled to the right. He pumped up the soccer ball, then pumped again while waving wide receiver Dick Witcher.
“I was trying to run a wedge pattern,” Witcher said. “I wasn’t sure where the linebacker might be, however, and John was trying to let me know he wasn’t there.”
Witcher broke free in the right corner of the end zone, Brodie unleashed a perfect pass and San Francisco clinched a spectacular 20-17 victory.
In a quarter-game against Minnesota, Brodie had 10 of 15 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns. Over time, fans stormed the pitch and hoisted Brodie onto their shoulders.
“I will always remember it,” said Brodie. “The fans were running towards me and I didn’t know if I was going to be mutilated or what. It was a good feeling.”