What is a 49er? San Francisco NFL mascot explained

The 49ers are one of the most decorated and storied franchises in NFL history. Here's a look at how they got started and what their name means.

Detroit Lions v San Francisco 49ers
Detroit Lions v San Francisco 49ers / Leon Halip/GettyImages

The San Francisco 49ers are one of the most storied franchises in NFL history. NFL Films is littered with footage of red and gold uniforms in iconic moments and historic games.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is home to all-time great players that donned the gold Niners helmet, like quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young, wide receiver Jerry Rice, safety Ronnie Lott, defensive end Fred Dean and outside linebacker Charles Haley.

No franchise has more postseason wins (38) or conference championship appearances (19).

What is a 49ers? How the 49ers got their name

The San Francisco 49ers inherited their name from the voyagers who flocked to northern California in 1849 with hopes of finding gold. Thousands of prospectors rushed to the region after gold was discovered on the American River in Northern California in 1848. San Francisco saw its population rise from a thousand residents in 1848 to 20,000 residents in 1950. The influx in population helped California's economy thrive, which helped it gain admittance into the union in 1850.

How they got started

The name was fitting. Tony Morabito, the founder of the 49ers, was a sports pioneer for the West. Like the 1849 settlers, Morabito saw potential where others saw uncertainty. While the settlers were among the first to rush for gold, the 49ers were the first major sports team to originate on the West Coast.

Before the 1940s, professional football was dominated by the East Coast. At the time, the Bay Area was infatuated by college football — the Wonder Teams of Berkeley and the Wow Boys of Stanford. Morabito was convinced the region was ready for its first professional football team. After being rejected by the NFL, Morabito managed to found the franchise in 1946 with the All-American Football Conference league.

After the 1949 season, Morabito finally got what he wanted. San Francisco, alongside Cleveland and Baltimore, received an NFL franchise in 1950.

Chasing Super Bowls

Though the original 49ers were after gold, these 49ers are after silverware.

San Francisco collected five Lombardi Trophies in just 15 years. They dominated the 1980s, winning four Super Bowls throughout the decade, including two back-to-back championships in 1988 and 1989. Their last championship came in 1994, with head coach Mike Shanahan and quarterback Steve Young. After Young retired, San Francisco has failed to find consistency. The franchise made it back to the Super Bowl twice but lost both times — once to the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 and then to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019.

Now, almost thirty years after their last championship, the 49ers are rounding back into shape. San Francisco has been to four of the last five NFC Championship Games and won two of them. They were moments away from acquiring their sixth Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl LIV, but the Kansas City Chiefs erased a 10-point deficit and crossed the finish line with the lead. The 49ers have an opportunity to avenge that loss against the Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday.

Perhaps this time they'll manage to strike gold.

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