Sports

A history of the once-prominent 49ers football program

Most current Long Beach State students don’t know that the Beach was once known for its football program.   

Ultimately overshadowed by heavy hitters in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the 49ers football team made an impact against foes. 

Founded in 1955, the 49ers football team played for 36 years before the program was suspended in 1991. During that time, the team recorded a record of 199-183-4. They also won three Big West conference titles. 

During the first nine seasons of the organization’s history, the team wasn’t able to win more than five games under the leadership of coaches Mike DeLotto and Don Reed.

 However, things quickly changed once the team was able to recruit former quarterback Jack Reilly and former wide receiver Billy Parks. Reilly went on to become an offensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams and the Dallas Cowboys. 

Reilly set multiple passing records during the 1966 season. The following season, Parks was the star of the team, recording 79 passes and 1,294 yards. 

By 1969, the team had an all-star lineup, seeing players being drafted and had players go off to the NFL. Safety Jeff Severson was the 12th overall draft pick for the Washington Football Team, formerly known as the RedSkins. Severson held the national record of 15 interceptions during his time at CSULB.  

Running back Leon Burns was the 13th overall pick for the Los Angeles Chargers, previously from San Diego. 

Burns became one of the most notable athletes in Beach history earning national fame for scoring 47 touchdowns during his time with the 49ers. He held the title for Southern California Player of the Year in 1969 and 1970. He holds the only jersey number to be retired in the school’s history.

During the 1969 season, the 49ers had an 8-3 record and under the guidance of new coach, Jim Strangeland, the team finished off the next season with a 9-2 record.

Appearing in the 1970 Pasadena Bowl, the program’s only bowl game appearance in its history, the 49ers faced off against the Louisville Cardinals where the game ended in a tie. 

After the 1970 season, the team began to suffer from the fault of low funding and attendance. The presence of stronger competition took a toll on the organization. 

During the ‘90s, the team introduced two more coaches, former Washington Football Team and Los Angeles Rams head coach George Allen and former Las Vegas Raiders assistant head coach and Denver Bronco Willie Brown

The staffing changes didn’t help to revive the program

Brown was the final coach of the Beach before former university president, Curtis McCray, ended the program in 1991. Attempts to bring the team back throughout the years have failed. 

One Comment

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    Wes Edwards

    It would be very worthy to get personal histories from some of the players that are still alive, some still in Long Beach. The program was top notch for years in the creative PCAA league that flourished in spite of poor attendance for football. Dozens of great players emerged and it is shame that the Long Beach community did not support the energy of a program trying to go big stage. Games against Michigan and Ucla seem futile in today’s football, but the 49ers tried to reach that standard in D1 football. Most of the other PCAA schools have also abandoned football for financial reasons, but San Jose State, Fresno State, Hawaii, and San Diego State field truly respectable programs. I played at UCSB and we faced the same problems with poor attendance and trying to go big time. The Gauchos big losses vs Tennessee, Washington, and Texas El Paso didn’t help the year after I left!

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