San Francisco 49ers add Tom Rathman to team Hall of Fame
San Francisco 49ers Tom Rathman tries to score against the Giants Sept. 6, 1992, in East Rutherford, N.J. Rathman, secondary coach Jim Mora Jr. and Green Bay quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg joined the 49ers on Friday, Jan. 31, 1997, as assistants to new coach Steve Mariucci. (AP Photo/Jim Sulley)
SANTA CLARA — Before earning a glamorous role as the do-everything fullback in Bill Walsh’s innovative offense, Tom Rathman made his mark as a special teams grunt.
The bruises he administered to opponents while blocking on kickoffs and punt return units might still be under an ice pack somewhere.
Now, Rathman is leaving permanent mark in a far grander way: The 49ers announced Wednesday that he will be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame this fall. They will make it official a press conference at Levi’s Stadium.
No one epitomizes being a @49ers more than Tom Rathman. So happy for him to take his place in the #49ersHoF
Rathman spent 22 of the past 31 seasons with the 49ers as either a player or coach but parted ways in February after the team hired Kyle Shanahan as head coach. Shanahan brought in Bobby Turner with him to take over as running backs coach.
The Hall of Fame announcement has the air of a nice parting gift.
As part of the 49ers backfield from 1986-93, the Nebraska-tough 230-pounder was an integral part of some of the era’s best offenses. Though blocking got him on the radar, Rathman proved to be more than just a human wrecking ball.
Former 49ers running backs coach Tom Rathman talks with Kelvin Taylor during NFL rookie camp in 2016. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Rathman was also reliable runner (3.7 yards per carry) who, under Walsh, blossomed as a pass catcher. In 1989, Rathman led NFC running backs with 73 catches for 616 yards.
All along, though, he never lost his first love: knocking opponents out of their cleats. As Rathman once told a reporter that his ideal play was “to take a pass in the flat and turn up the field on a defensive back. It’s always nice when you find those 190-pound defensive backs trying to take on a guy who is 235-pounds in full stride. I don’t bother trying to put a move on them. I just try to go through them.”
Born on Oct. 7, 1962, Rathman grew up in Grand Island, Nebraska, where he learned an appreciation for doing the dirty work. As a teenager, his summers were full of tedious, demanding labor in the cornfields. He also helped his father and uncle on a construction crew, pouring cement under a blazing Midwestern sun.
The 49ers drafted Rathman out of Nebraska in the third round (56th overall) of the 1986 NFL Draft. When the country kid reported, it didn’t take Joe Montana to size him up. The quarterback promptly nicknamed him “Woody,” after the naive bumpkin on Cheers.
But Rathman proved incredibly sophisticated when it came to football, handling whatever role Walsh, and later George Seifert, threw his way.
In eight seasons in San Francisco, Rathman helped the 49ers win seven division titles and two Super Bowls (XXIII and XXIV). Rathman scored two touchdowns as the 49ers repeated as Super Bowl champions with a 55-10 rout of the Denver Broncos on Jan. 28, 1990.
He played his final season with the Raiders in 1994, closing out his career with 2,020 rushing yards and 34 total touchdowns.
Rathman became one of the league’s best running back coaches, and his first stint in that capacity with the 49ers came in 1997-2002 under Steve Mariucci. He also coached running backs with the Detroit Lions (2003-05) and Raiders (2007-08) before returning to the 49ers, where he served under five coaches through this past season.
Frank Gore, his most notable disciple, learned to embrace the idea of becoming a complete back. Thanks to Rathman’s constant one-on-one mentoring, Gore thrived as a power runner, receiver and — of course — blocker.
“If you can’t block,” Gore once said, “then you can’t play for Coach Rathman.”
Established in 2009, the Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. Hall of Fame annually salutes players who, in the team’s words, qualified via “outstanding production and performance on the field, key contributions to the team’s success, and/or the embodiment of the spirit and essence of the San Francisco 49ers.”
Previous inductees include Eddie DeBartolo Jr,, Leo Nomellini, Joe Perry, Hugh McElhenny, Y.A. Tittle, John Henry Johnson, Bob St. Clair, Bill Walsh, Jimmy Johnson, Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Dave Wilcox, Steve Young, Fred Dean, Charlie Krueger, John Brodie, Dwight Clark, Jerry Rice, Tony Morabito, Vic Morabito, Roger Craig, R.C. Owens, Gordy Soltau, John McVay, George Seifert and Charles Haley.
— Staff writer Cam Inman contributed to this report