Frank Gore to break 60-year old team record

If you take a second, and are spotted a guess or two, you could probably guess the career leader in rushing yards for every team. Some are immediately obvious, as is the case for franchises like Dallas, Cleveland, Detroit or Chicago. A couple might take a few guesses (Tampa Bay? Philadelphia? Arizona?) while others have been recently set (St. Louis, Green Bay and Carolina). But did you know that the oldest team rushing record belongs in San Francisco?

I'm fast, but am I faster than "The Jet"?

Jason Lisk wrote a fabulous piece on Joe “The Jet” Perry of the 49ers two years ago, highlighting not just his success but the struggles he endured in his post-playing days. Sadly, Perry died in April, as a result of complications from dementia. Perry is about to be in the news again soon: Frank Gore recently passed Roger Craig for second all-time on the 49ers career rushing list, and he is now just 149 yards from topping Perry. Of the 32 franchises, no team has seen one man hold its rushing record for as long as Perry has with the 49ers. In fact, since the team entered the NFL, no other man has ever been its career rushing leader.

Perry joined San Francisco in 1948, just two years after the color line had been re-broken in football and only one year after Jackie Robinson did the same in baseball. He became the first black player to play for the 49ers, but it didn’t take long for him to win over teammates and fans. In Perry’s first professional game — on his first very touch — he raced over 50 yards for a touchdown. In 1948, the Browns and the 49ers were the class of the All-America Football Conference, a rival football league to the NFL. That season, Cleveland and San Francisco went a combined 27-0 against the rest of the league. One of the stars for the 49ers was rookie Joe “the Jet” Perry, a fullback who led the league with 10 rushing touchdowns and averaged 7.3 yards per carry. In the season finale, Perry rushed 9 times for 160 yards against the rival Los Angeles Dons. But the Browns won their two head-to-head meetings, 14-7 and 31-28, respectively, to secure their place as the league’s premier team.

The following year Perry led the league in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and yards per carry; he also played a big part in one of the biggest games in AAFC history. On October 9, 1949, Perry rushed 16 times for 155 yards and scored two touchdowns in a win over Cleveland, including having one of the game’s highlights on a 27-yard, one-handed catch and run score. San Francisco won the game 58-26, the first loss for the Browns in 30 games and two calendar years.

But Perry’s production in the All-America Football Conference was just a prelude to his days starring in the NFL. Following the ’49 season, the AAFC “merged” with the NFL, although just the 49ers and Browns survived the merger for very long (the third team was the Baltimore Colts — the first of at least three distinct professional football teams of the same name — but the team folded after just one season in the NFL.)

During the team’s first season in the NFL, Perry led the 49ers with 647 rushing yards, 5 touchdowns and a 5.2 yards per carry average, but the team struggled to a 3-9 record. Pretty soon, the team would feature one of the most memorable backfields in history.

When the Baltimore Colts folded, league placed all of their players in the same pool as the amateur draft. With the third pick, San Francisco — after winning a coin-toss to select in that spot — added Y.A. Tittle, who had led the league in completions as a Colt in 1950. In 1952 the 49ers drafted Hugh McElhenny (who had starred at Compton Community College — Perry’s alma mater — during Perry’s rookie season in Clevenad); two years later San Francisco signed John Henry Johnson, who had fled to the CFL after being drafted by the Steelers. It took six years, but after adding Perry in ’48, Tittle in ’51, McElhnny the following year and Johnson in ’54, San Francisco had the backfield to end all backfield. Dubbed the Million Dollar Backfield — all four members would eventually make the Pro Football Hall of Fame — the group would have immediate success. In 1954, 49ers led the league with 2,498 rushing yards, 28 touchdowns and a 5.7 yards per carry average, all marks that easily led the league in a 12-game season. Perry had led the league in rushing yards in 1953, but a crowded backfield didn’t prevent him from repeating the feat in 1954. In the process, he became the first player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons.

"The Jet"

Perry was the best running back of the decade. He rushed for 7,151 yards in the 1950s, outpacing the runner up by nearly 3,000 yards. In 1958, he surpassed Steve Van Buren and became the all-time NFL leader in rushing yards. He led the 49ers after 1960, but came back for a final season at the age of ’36 in 1963. That year, Jim Brown pushed Perry aside in the league record books, but no one has ever gained more rushing yards as a 49ers than Perry.

The NFL does not count AAFC statistics as part of its official records, the way it does for the AFL (although the Hall of Fame does consider AAFC production when discussing a player). While Perry rushed for 9,723 yards in his career and 8,689 with San Francisco, only 7,344 of those yards came with the 49ers playing in the NFL. In a week or two, Gore will replace Perry as the 49ers’ all-time rushing leader. In the process, he’ll push aside a record holder who has been in place for over 60 years, as Perry has been the career rushing leader since the end of the 49ers very first season in the NFL. At that point, Jim Brown will again pass Perry, this time as the holder of the oldest franchise rushing record.

Below is a list of the career rushing leaders for all 32 teams. It shows the year in which the player became the career rushing leader, his career rushing yards for that team, the player whose record he broke, and the rushing yards that player had for the franchise.

Team     Running Back          Year   Yds   Previous RB           Yds
STL     Steven Jackson        2010   8527  Eric Dickerson        7245
GNB     Ahman Green           2009   8322  Jim Taylor            8207
CAR     DeAngelo Williams     2009   4574  DeShaun Foster        3336
NOR     Deuce McAllister      2005   6096  George Rogers         4267
SEA     Shaun Alexander       2005   9429  Chris Warren          6706
NYJ     Curtis Martin         2004  10302  Freeman McNeil        8074
KAN     Priest Holmes         2004   6070  Christian Okoye       4897
SDG     LaDainian Tomlinson   2004  12490  Paul Lowe             4972
NYG     Tiki Barber           2004  10449  Rodney Hampton        6897
IND     Edgerrin James        2003   9226  Lydell Mitchell       5487
HOU     Domanick Williams     2003   3195  Jonathan Wells        1167
CIN     Corey Dillon          2002   8061  James Brooks          6447
BAL     Jamal Lewis           2002   7801  Priest Holmes         2102
TEN     Eddie George          2002  10009  Earl Campbell         8574
JAX     Fred Taylor           2000  11271  James Stewart         2951
MIN     Robert Smith          2000   6818  Chuck Foreman         5887
DEN     Terrell Davis         1998   7607  Floyd Little          6323
DAL     Emmitt Smith          1998  17162  Tony Dorsett         12036
BUF     Thurman Thomas        1996  11938  O.J. Simpson         10183
DET     Barry Sanders         1992  15269  Billy Sims            5106
OAK     Marcus Allen          1987   8545  Mark van Eeghen       5907
ATL     Gerald Riggs          1987   6631  William Andrews       5986
TAM     James Wilder          1985   5957  Ricky Bell            3057
PHI     Wilbert Montgomery    1984   6538  Steve Van Buren       5860
WAS     John Riggins          1984   7472  Larry Brown           5875
NWE     Sam Cunningham        1981   5453  Jim Nance             5323
ARI     Ottis Anderson        1981   7999  Jim Otis              3863
CHI     Walter Payton         1979  16726  Rick Casares          5657
PIT     Franco Harris         1976  11950  John Henry Johnson    4381
MIA     Larry Csonka          1970   6737  Jim Kiick             3644
CLE     Jim Brown             1958  12312  Marion Motley         1688
SFO     Joe Perry             1950   7344  -----

  • Jeremy De Shetler

    2 possible updates to this list this year (1 probable)  AP is only 229 yards from passing Robert Smith for the Vikings.  Arian Foster is 667 yards from passing Davis for Houston.

  • Brianakai

    Loved, your article is possible sometime in the future you could do one a icon called Sweetness pro or con as he is one of favs. thanks. brian/ surrey canada

  • 0k

    good stuff …keep it up …well written, informative and unbiased..(i’m assuming on that point) but brought back memories of all the guys that could kill your team on game day that were on that list…they were feared and respected

  • Mr.Murder

    The Niners won 5 Super Bowls and their players from the era did not end up atop the team all time list for rushing. Great anomaly, their backs were great pass catchers as well(Craig had a thousand yards receiving one season).

  • Chase Stuart

    Thanks guys.  Appreciate all the comments.

  • Andrew McKenzie

    How did I not know about this guy before?  Thanks for this.