The Chiefs-49ers Rivalry Over Time
By Peter Mann
Two of the most iconic franchises in the history of American Football, two iconic franchises that between them, have a vast array of silverware. However, two franchises that due to geography, go into this Sunday’s Super Bowl in Las Vegas, will only be meeting for the sixteenth time.
The San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs have claimed eight Super Bowl successes, fifteen Championships, and thirty-eight divisional titles. They have done so whilst amassing an impressive, fifty-six play-off appearances.
The 49ers will be looking to add to the five titles they claimed in those glorious, heady days, of the 1980s, whilst wanting to avenge a certain loss, four years since, to the Chiefs, at Hard Rock Stadium.
Andy Reid and the Chiefs meanwhile, their time has most certainly been now, and not since their heady days of the 1960s have they enjoyed so much success. Kansas City is running for its third Super Bowl victory, and with it, become the first franchise in two decades to go back-to-back.
Separated by more than 1800 miles, San Francisco situated on America’s West Coast, and Kansas City in the good old American Mid-West. The rivalry between these two franchises has seen them lock horns, on average, three times a decade, since their first, 6 December 1971. In that opening tie the Chiefs won 26-17, in San Francisco.
Here, decade-by-decade, we take a brief look at those previous fifteen meetings between Kansas City and San Francisco, with the former of the two, courtesy of their current run leading the series 8-7.
The two franchises met just twice in the seventies and twice in the eighties. That said, once the Chiefs had claimed victory in the first meeting, at the end of ’71, the 49ers won the next four straight, including a big win in the mid-eighties (see ‘1980s’ below).
In the December of ’71, it was Hank Stram’s Chiefs that claimed the first success, winning 26-17 in California. Four years later it was the turn of the 49ers to win in Missouri, winning 20-3.
The kicking of both Jen Stenerud (Chiefs) and Bruce Gossett (49ers) was paramount in that first meeting, Stenerud with four goals for the Chiefs, including a 54-yards boot in a hectic, second quarter, and two conversions. Gossett added one field goal and two conversions of his own, the two franchises running in two TDs apiece.
Dick Nolan’s 49ers avenged that with an impressive showing in ’75, restricting the hosts to the opening score. A 19-yard kick from Stenerud before dominating with two TDs, and two FGs of their own, Steve Mike-Mayer impressing with his boot. Larry Schreiber with the second of the scores when rushing from five.
As with the seventies, these two franchises met just twice in the eighties. The 49ers, in what were their ‘Glory Days’, won in both ’82 and ’85. San Francisco claimed a 26-13 success in Kansas in the former, and inflicted a 31-3 drubbing, on home turf, in the latter.
The 1982 season was to be decimated by the 1982 NFL strike, from late September through to mid-November. However, in the second last outing of the regular season, the 49ers claimed a 26-13 victory which saw them finish with a 3-6 record, good for third in the NFC South. Defeat for the Chiefs also saw them finish with a 3-6 record as they ended fourth in the AFC West.
In ’85, Bill Walsh’s iconic 49ers, enjoyed a 31-3 run-out against the visiting Chiefs, the legendary Joe Montana involved in three TDs. Montana passed for Dwight Clark and Russ Francis in the fourth, after rushing for a close-range score to set up a 17-3 lead at the half.
The Chiefs, finished bottom of their division, while the 49ers were second to earn a Wild Card shot against the New York Giants, dropping a 17-3 score.
Having met just four times over the previous two decades, both the nineties, and the noughties would see that tally go up one in each. In the nineties, the 49ers first stretched their winning streak to four with a 28-14 home win, in the December of ’91.
That streak was snapped three years later when the Chiefs went back-to-back in the middle of the nineties, both coming at the Arrowhead. First, a 24-17 success in September ’94, then an emphatic, 44-9 victory in November ’97.
The ’91 Chiefs did make the playoffs, before losing the divisional game against Buffalo Bills, after the 49ers had beaten them in the second last outing of the regular season when at Candlestick Park.
Steve Bono tossed for three, unanswered TDs, two of which hit Jerry Rice, whilst Mike Cofer kicked four conversions, adding extras to Dexter Carter’s fourth-quarter, 53-yard rushing score; Barry Word and Emile Harry both crossed for the Chiefs’ scores.
The mid-nineties though, belonged to Marty Schottenheimer’s Chiefs. Kansas City won 24-17 in ’94 at first, then a chunky, 44-9 score in ’97. Both of which were at Arrowhead. In the ‘94 clash, Joe Montana, in his one season as a Chief, his last as a player, outshined Steve Young.
Both won their respective divisions in ’97, but it was the Chiefs who claimed another win in the series to move within one of the 49ers, registering 21 points in the second, and 16 points unanswered in the fourth. The arms of Rich Gannon and Marcus Allen (both former Raiders) doing the business for the Chiefs. Whilst Pete Stovanovich converted no fewer than six Chiefs touchdowns, Gary Anderson’s three field goals for the 49ers scant reward.
However, no matter how close the Chiefs got to the 49ers in the series score, the West Coast franchise always kept their noses in front.
With the Chiefs moving within one of the 49ers, after back-to-back success, it was to San Francisco who’d notch up victory in the next two. The 49ers won 21-7 in November ’00, then a narrow, 17-13 win, just two years later, the smallest winning margin between the two.
Having won by some 35 points back in ’97, the Chiefs went better in October ’06, not only winning by some 41 points but also inflicting the only shut-out success of the series to date, winning 41-0 at home. Even in pre-season, the 49ers were knocking out the wins when, ahead of the 2000 regular season, Arrowhead witnessed their side go down 33-10.
In the regular season, the two met on week eleven, at the 3Com Park, in a game that saw both fail to score in three of the four quarters. Steve Mariucci’s side however stormed twenty-one, unanswered points, in the third (the Chiefs notched seven in the fourth) for the win. All four TDs were rushed from close, Jeff Garcia (2) and Charlie Garner for the 49ers, and Donnell Bennett with the final score, for the Chiefs.
In pre-season the two franchises met on 10 August at 3Com Park, the Chiefs edging a 17-14 OT success however, during the regular season, the 49ers won by a similar score, again at 3Com, the Niners claiming a 17-13 victory, the majority of the games’ thirty points arriving in the first half.
Four years later, the Chiefs found themselves in dominant, irresistible form, snapping the 49ers’ two-match win-streak, when scoring forty-one without reply at the Arrowhead; five scores, and two field goals putting the 49ers to the sword. Damon Huard tossed for two TDs, Larry Johnson burst through the middle for another two.
September 2010 would see the Chiefs go back-to-back when winning 31-10 before the 49ers claimed a narrow, 22-17 success at Candlestick Park in 2014.
That victory saw the 49ers move ahead 7-5 in the series, but, unfortunately for them, have lost three-in-a-row since, beginning with the high-scoring, 38-27 loss to the Chiefs, in September ’18, before ‘that’ Super Bowl.
At Arrowhead, early in the 2010 season, the Chiefs knocked up another thirty-one points, although the scoring never started until the second quarter when Matt Cassel hit Dexter McCluster from 31 yards, and Ryan Succop added a 32-yard field goal for a 10-3 lead at the half, Joe Nedney kicking a 51 yarder to keep the 49ers in the hunt.
The second half though would see the Chiefs run in three, unanswered scores as Cassel threw two, whilst Thomas Jones ran in the third of the three from close range. The 49ers completed the game’s scoring when Alex Smith hit Josh Morgan from 12 yards out, but it was too little, too late.
At Levi’s Stadium, in early October 2014, the 49ers would win their last meeting of the two franchises, edging a narrow, 22-17 score, before the Chiefs went three straight. Here though, in San Francisco, it was to be more a game of the two trading FGs, the three TDs would see the Chiefs’ Alex Smith hit a certain Travis Kelce from 3yds to open the scoring, the other two arriving either side of the half as first Colin Kaepernick, hit Steve Johnson for a score, before De’Anthony Thomas ran in for the Chiefs.
As for those FGs, all six of them, saw the 49ers’ Phil Dawson kick five-from-five to Cairo Santos’ effort for the Chiefs.
The final meeting of the decade would again see the Chiefs move back with one in the series, the pair putting together a 65-point game at the Arrowhead in what was the home debut, for a certain Patrick Mahomes. In this, the Chiefs ran riot in the first when hitting five touchdowns to the 49ers one.
Kareem Hunt grabbed the two, first quarter scores, and, although the 49ers pulled one back through Jimmy Garoppolo’s 35-yard pass to Kyle Juszczyk, the Chiefs added a further three TDs to wrap up a dominant half. Mahomes threw to Chris Conley, Demetrius Harris, and Sammy Watkins in the contest.
As dominant as the Chiefs were in the first, the 49ers tried to claw back in the second. Garoppolo threw to Marquise Goodwin for the first, and Alfred Morris through the middle from close range.
Super Bowl LIV, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, the San Francisco 49ers faced off against the Kansas City Chiefs at the home of the Dolphins, it was certainly sink-or-swim for one of these franchises. Unfortunately for the 49ers, they blew it in the end, despite holding a good advantage going into the final quarter.
The Chiefs led 7-3 at the end of the first, Patrick Mahomes ran it in from a yard. A Harrison Butker kick, cancelling the earlier Robbie Gould goal. Butker extended the Chiefs’ advantage to seven before the 49ers levelled the game at 10-10 courtesy of Kyle Juszczyk.
Level at the half, Gould pushed the 49ers back in front successfully converting after another 49ers TD, which was Raheem Mostert’s 1-yard run. This meant that they were ten ahead at the end of the third.
However, the 49ers failed to capitalise on that advantage and that fourth quarter, it firmly belonged to MVP, Mahomes, he first picked out Travis Kelce from close to moving within three, then hit Damien Williams to help push the Chiefs four ahead with minutes to play.
The deciding score arrived with 1:12 remaining, Williams putting on a run for the end zone to not only complete the comeback, Butker adding the extra for a 31-20 success, and tied the series up at sevens.
Two years later, and on October ’22, the Chiefs edged in-front in the series, winning 44-23 in California for, not only their third straight success but, as the cards have been dealt this season, the edge going into Super Bowl LVIII – or is it?
That ’22 regular season would see the Chiefs lose just three, regular season games, and one of their fourteen successes, which saw them move 8-7 in the series with the 49ers following a week seven, 44-23 score, in Levi’s Stadium, the first of two, five-game winning streaks they put together.
Narrowly leading, by one point, at the end of the first half, the Chiefs put on a dominant, second half display that overall saw Mercole Hardman claim two touchdowns, the first from a close-range Mahomes pass, the second off a 25yd run. The second was in reply to a score from Garoppolo to Ray-Ray McCloud. A pair of Robbie Gould kicks saw the Chiefs lead 14-13.
The Chiefs were relentless in the second half when, after Gould had added another goal, ran in five TDs, and managed a safety. The 49ers were restricted to a field goal and a touchdown. Mahomes and Hardman continue to prove thorns in an impressive win.
A New Destiny versus Rewriting History
Could this be a case of Andy Reid and the Chiefs chasing destiny and becoming only the eighth franchise in history to win back-to-back (Packers, Dolphins, Steelers twice, 49ers, Cowboys, Broncos, and Patriots the only seven to do so)?
Or, could Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers rewrite history and begin the road back to their glory days of the 1980s, turning divisional and championship success into overall glory once again?
Chiefs QB, Patrick Mahomes, along with his running buddy, Travis Kelce, are chasing a third ring, in five years. On the other hand, the 49ers and their QB, Brock Purdy, along with the likes of Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey, are out to upset the odds and lift the grandest prize of all, for the first time in three decades.
It’s certainly a case of the head saying one, and the heart saying the other but, personally, I’d like to go with the heart and see the 49ers claim another (apologies to the Chiefs Kingdom).
Feature Image Credit: Sacramento Bee
PETER IS A LIFELONG SPORTS FAN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR BASED IN COUNTY DURHAM. HE HAS FOLLOWED THE NFL AND THE RAIDERS SINCE THE 1980s, AND LOVES BOTH SPORTS AND FAMILY HISTORY. PETER HAS A DEGREE IN SPORT & EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY, AND CAN BE FOUND ON TWITTER @petermannwriter