“75 for 75” is an article series from the 49ers Museum highlighting legendary moments in 49ers history as part of the team’s 75th anniversary celebrations in 2021.
On Halloween 1976, 49 men running backwards Delphine Williams looked like the Invisible Man. Louis Cardinals’ defenders were unable to see, touch or tackle as he rushed for 194 yards, a then-record 49 yards.
“We used the same plays over and over because they worked so well,” Williams said. “After a while I started feeling short of breath.”
San Francisco led 80 yards to score their first score, but the last 16 went to Williams. He made three in a row and earned four yards, then eight and four yards again while pulling two Cardinals over the goal line.
“Anytime he (Williams) hit a corner he was getting a lot of yards,” Cardinals end defensive tackle Bobby Bell said. “He had more speed than we thought.”
Late in the second quarter, Williams achieved a rare sense of harmony with his offensive streak. Behind the blocks leading a pile of Randy Kroos, Keith Fahnhorst and Jean Barrett, he continued to run through the Cardinals High School. He never doubted that Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis would be the site of the best fast day of his NFL career.
Williams’ noteworthy guard with his 2:23 shot in the first half gave the 49ers a 13-7 advantage. It featured several musicians with knee paralysis as he raced 23 yards before flopping in the finish zone.
In the second half, Williams continued blasting for big gains and finished with a 34 carry for 194 yards (a team record through 1998). He added a third touchdown in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Jim Plunkett set him up after passing for 67 yards. It ended with Williams storming into the end zone from one yard. He broke 194 yards in 34 coaches, Joe Perry’s singles dash mark for the 174-yard singles game set in 1958. Williams’ record stood for another 22 years until 49-man back Garrison Hurst scored 198 against the Detroit Lions in 1998.
“They’re a fantastic football club,” Cardinals coach Don Curiel said of the 49 players. “I saw them move the ball towards us almost like we wanted. We’ll hear more from Williams. I feel very lucky to get out of this match alive.”
After a week of his exceptional production against the Cardinals, Williams put the NFL under observation. He represented a 279-yard multi-purpose against Washington. On his fourth campaign, he headed to his right in a sweep, then reversed the field and raced 80 yards to land.
“We had a perfect defense for him on that play and he’s still leading 80 yards,” said exasperated Washington coach George Allen.
Later in the second quarter, Williams captured 85 yards from Plunkett, the longest touchdown pass in the club’s history at the time. He finished the game with three touchdowns, 180 fast yards, and four receptions for another 99 yards.
Williams finished the 1976 campaign with 1,203 sprinting yards and seven touchdowns while averaging nearly five yards per carry. He got his first berth in the Pro Bowl that year. He played four seasons in San Francisco: from 1974 to 1977.