The favored stunt of San Francisco's intrepid quarterback hunters—Tommy Hart, Cedrick Hardman, Cleveland Elam and Jimmy Webb, four Southerners who have found comfort in San Francisco—is a simple inside loop called "Tex" (see diagram). The play may be called at any time—and from the bench, the huddle or the line, depending on down and distance as well as the positioning of the offensive linemen. Tex is tailored to stop the pass by giving the quarterback a collision, not a completion. "If the other team's got third and eight," says 49er Defensive Line Coach Floyd Peters, "they may go cute for a while by running a draw on us, but eventually they know that D-Day is coming and that they're going to have to go back to pass." That's when the 49er sackers do their thing.
Tackles Webb (6'5", 249 pounds) and Elam (6'4", 253), a pair of second-year prodigies, launch the initial charge with a diagonal outside burst that opens the seams for a Hart-and-Hardman rush. "We want the element of surprise," says Coach Monte Clark. "The blocker's been lining up across from someone and BOOM. Suddenly he's got a different guy in his face." The opposing blockers may try to switch off, but since Hart and Hardman are exceptionally quick (both run the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds) one or both usually will have blown toward a sack before the blockers can react. On other occasions Hart and Hardman will come off the ball first, firing inside to open an outside loop rush for Webb and Elam. This 49er maneuver is known as "Rex."
In seven games the 49ers have Texed, Rexed and vexed the opposition for 37 sacks—and 367 yards lost on pass attempts. Both statistics are the best in the NFL, and, with half the schedule to be played, San Francisco needs only 11 sacks to match its 1967 season record of 48. Hart and Hardman have clearly benefited from the development of Webb and Elam. The inside pressure applied by the two 24-year-olds prevents quarterbacks from stepping up into the pocket to escape the outside rushes of Hart and Hardman.
Similar in size, strength and speed, Hart and Hardman are close friends. Hart, 31, comes from Macon and played at Morris Brown. He is quietly intense and shy, and tends to be embarrassed by media attention, as he was when the press blitzed him after the Rams game in Los Angeles. Clark calls Hart a "created player"; devotion to a weight program changed Hart from a 213-pound linebacker weakling to a 251-pound defensive-end muscleman. He leads the 49ers with 10 sacks, and says he feels sorry for foes who hold him. "Sometimes I sympathize with offensive ballplayers," he says, "it's third and 10 and they know you're coming. What can they do? They got to protect the quarterback."
November 1, 1976
The 6'4", 244-pound Hardman, 28, hails from Houston and was a No. 1 draft choice from North Texas State. He never is at a loss for words. Although he is a natural pass rusher, only in the last year or so has he improved his skill and discipline to the point where he now performs well in all phases of the defense. Still, he tends to be dissatisfied with his play even when Clark and Peters are pleased. "I think there's so much more I can do but haven't done," he says. "I'd just like to dominate a whole game." He rarely talks to his opponent on the field. "I don't like to fun and frolic with the enemy until the battle is over," he says. "If I need to slap him upside his head, I don't want no friendship getting in the way."
There was no friendship evident during San Francisco's shutout of the Falcons as the 49ers, who have allowed only nine points in their last four games, kept their points-against total at 63, presently the best in the NFL. Hart blasted out of Tex for a 19-yard sack of Quarterback Kim McQuilken that killed Atlanta's only real scoring chance. Hardman and Webb teamed up to sack McQuilken for another 11 yards. And Elam had four sacks and also forced a fumble. He picked up that fumble, trudged down to the Atlanta one-yard line but then fumbled it himself—and the Falcons recovered for a touchback.
In contrast to the fearsome nicknames that have identified other NFL rush lines, the San Francisco quartet will settle for "The Good Ol' Boys." By any name, they are one large case of Southern discomfort.