49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

December 4, 2011
Gore on verge of passing Perry's mark ... or is he?

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First an admission: The story I wrote in today's Bee is a total ripoff of one that Dan Brown and Mark Emmons wrote in The Merc last month. But I thought the subject was too good and compelling to pass, and it's particularly pertinent today. I'm sure a lot of you -- most of you, perhaps -- have no opinion on "The Case of the Missing Stats," but if you do, I'm interested in reading what you have to say. Please include your comments below. Here's the story:

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SANTA CLARA -- Joe Perry never had a problem with Frank Gore, with the York family or the fact that someday, somebody would top his franchise mark for rushing yards. What he didn't care for was the 49ers' bookkeeping.

Until his death earlier this year, the Hall of Fame running back argued that the team should include the yards he gained when the 49ers were members of the All-American Football Conference, which was absorbed by the NFL in 1950.

The 49ers and the NFL don't recognize those statistics, which is why Gore begins today's game against the Rams needing only 22 yards to pass Perry on the franchise's all-time list. Add the 1,345 yards Perry accumulated in 1948 and '49 when the 49ers were in the AAFC, and Gore likely would have to wait until next year to break the record.

"Joe would not have wanted to be sour grapes, but it always bothered him," said his widow, Donna Perry. "It really bothered him."

In fact, it irked Perry to the point where he crafted an open letter in 1990 on the subject. "One of the things he wrote was, 'What do you think we played back then, tiddlywinks?' " Donna Perry said.

At one time, the missing AAFC statistics were a charged topic. But the issue slowly faded as former AAFC players-turned-NFL stars like Perry, Otto Graham and Y.A. Tittle slipped further down the all-time rankings and as players from that era passed away.

Visit Perry's bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, however, and you'll find his rushing total listed as 8,689 yards, not the 7,344 the 49ers and the NFL list.

"We do recognize it because we see the AAFC as a professional football league," said the Hall's Joe Horrigan. "It's always been our contention that those players and their stats should be recognized."

The AAFC began in 1946 with eight teams. During World War II, there was a shortage of football players. When it ended, there was a surplus. Many of the men who served, including Perry, who enlisted in the Navy in 1945, joined the upstart league.

Donna Perry said that before the 1948 season, the AAFC's 49ers offered Joe $4,500 to sign while the NFL's Los Angeles Rams offered $5,000. Perry went with the 49ers because he trusted then-owner Tony Morabito, with whom he would develop a close relationship.

In joining the 49ers, Perry became the franchise's first African American player. "The AAFC was much more receptive to black players than the NFL," Horrigan said. "It was a tough road in either league. But the opportunity was better in the AAFC."

By 1950, however, financial problems sunk the young league, and three teams - the 49ers, the Cleveland Browns and an early incarnation of the Baltimore Colts - merged with the NFL.

"The decision was made at that time that the records of the AAFC would not be counted as NFL records," said Joel Bussert, the NFL's Vice President of Player Personnel/Football Operations. "In any event, it was a less record-conscious time, and the decision seemed to attract little notice one way or the other."

There also was a notion that the AAFC was an inferior league, which infuriated AAFC veterans then and still does.

Tittle, who played two years in the AAFC for the Colts, said it was a "miscarriage of justice" that the NFL does not recognize Perry's AAFC statistics. "He was the one who really brought the San Francisco 49ers to prominence," said Tittle, 85. "It's a slap in the face, in my opinion."

Tittle noted that players such as Perry, Graham and Marion Motley, a fullback for the Browns, flourished in the NFL and that the Browns beat up on the supposedly superior NFL squads as soon as they merged. The Browns played in six straight championship games beginning in 1950, winning three. "It certainly wasn't a minor league," Tittle said of the AAFC.

Others note that when the AFL and NFL merged in 1970, the statistics of players such as Joe Namath, Daryle Lamonica, Bob Griese and Lance Alworth carried over. Bussert said one of the differences was that the AFL-NFL was a full merger, while the NFL-AAFC was a partial one.

Donna Perry said her husband met Gore a few years ago. "He had no problem with Frank. He liked him," she said. "The problem is the system. I think a better way for (the 49ers) to put it is, Frank Gore is going to break Joe's NFL record but not the franchise record."

Perry suffered from dementia brought on from trauma he received as a player, and he died in April at 84. Before his death, he contributed to a book called "Gridiron Gauntlet," which profiles the men who integrated professional football. At the end of the chapter dedicated to him, Perry spoke out about the missing statistics.

"If somebody wants to come out with something that makes any sense, I'll be glad to listen," he said. "But nobody has because I don't think there's any answer they could give. It's like they're saying those four years of the history of the San Francisco 49ers don't exist. Hey, I was there. I know they exist."

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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