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Frankie Albert: The First Quarterback

Updated: Oct 9, 2020

The 49ers have had an illustrious history of great quarterbacks. From Y.A. Tittle to Joe Montana and Steve Young, some of the greatest quarterbacks of all time have played in the City by the Bay. Their first quarterback was Frankie Albert and though he never reached the Hall of Fame, his legend still echoes within the halls of the franchise. He came in second his whole life and yet the first quarterback in the history of the San Francisco 49ers set the standard for the franchise.

Early Years

Frank Cullen “Frankie” Albert was born on January 27, 1920 in Chicago, Illinois. His family eventually moved to Glendale, California where he attended Glendale High School. After starring at quarterback in high school he accepted a scholarship to Stanford University.

Under the tutelage of T-formation founder Clark Shaughnessy, Albert became the first T-formation quarterback in the collegiate ranks in the modern era. 1940 was a legendary year for Albert. In that year he led Stanford to an undefeated record and a win over Nebraska in the Rose Bowl. Stanford was ranked second in the nation in 1940, right behind the University of Minnesota. During his collegiate career Frankie Albert was twice named an All-American and respectively finished fourth and third in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Professional Football

Following graduation, Albert served in the Navy during World War II and he was drafted by the Chicago Bears tenth overall in the 1942 NFL Draft. When his military service ended, he spent a year with the Los Angeles Bulldogs of the Pacific Coast Football League, a minor league based in California. From there he signed with the San Francisco 49ers of the brand new All American Football Conference in 1946.

Left handed and standing just 5’9”, he was quite the oddity in professional football. In his first year, as a 26 year old rookie, he completed 52.8% of his passes for 1,404 yards and 14 touchdown passes.

His best year was 1948 when he completed 58.3% of his passes for 1,990 yards and 29 touchdown passes against just 10 interceptions. He also ran for 349 yards and eight touchdowns. Despite a 12-2 record the 49ers failed to qualify for the playoffs with the division rival Cleveland Browns owning a perfect 14-0 record.

Albert led the team to the AAFC Championship Game the following year against the Browns in a season shortened by multiple teams folding. The 49ers lost 17-7 at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. After that defeat the 49ers, Browns and Baltimore Colts joined the NFL and the rest of the AAFC folded. During their four years in the AAFC, the 49ers finished second to the Browns in either their division or the AAFC.

When they entered the league, the 49ers struggled to compete with the rest of the NFL. Frankie Albert took much of the abuse for their inexperience and never threw more touchdowns than interceptions in any of his three years in the NFL. However, he showed a natural ability to scramble out of bad situations, similar to Steve Young decades later. In his three years in the NFL, he scored seven rushing touchdowns. In 1950 Albert started every game, throwing 14 touchdown passes against 23 interceptions and rushing for 272 yards and three touchdowns. Though he was invited to the Pro Bowl, the team finished 3-9 to end a painful first year in the NFL.

The following year was a bit easier as the team recognized the physicality that was required to survive in the NFL on a weekly basis. Their record improved to 7-4-1 but their quarterback was starting to show his age. Even though he only missed one game, he threw just five touchdown passes while being picked off 10 times. The end was near for Frankie Albert’s playing career.

1952 was his last year in the NFL and the 32 year old gave everything he had. In that final year, Albert completed 55% of his passes while throwing eight touchdown passes against 10 interceptions. He spent one year in Canada with the Calgary Stampeders before calling it a career.

Coaching Career

After his retirement as a player, Frankie Albert was hired as an assistant coach and scout for the 49ers. By 1956 he was the head coach and it became apparent that his style as a coach was completely different than his style as a player. When he played, Albert was daring and was never shy about calling a risky play. As a coach, he became a much more conservative play caller.

His first year was a subpar 5-6-1 record. He led the 49ers to their first post season berth since entering the NFL. Loaded with Hall of Fame talent on both sides of the ball from the Million Dollar Backfield to Leo Nomellini and Bob St. Clare, they tore through their schedule. Tragedy struck the franchise when owner and founder Tony Morabito succumbed to a heart attack during a game in the middle of the season. They won that game against the Bears and dedicated the rest of the year to his memory. Unfortunately, it ended with a blown 27-7 second half lead against the Detroit Lions in the Western Conference Playoff. After the 31-27 defeat, the 49ers wouldn’t reach the postseason again until 1970.

The 49ers fell back to Earth the following year with a 6-6 record and Albert left at the end of the season. His final coaching record was 19-16-1.

After leaving football behind, Frankie Albert got into real estate where he worked for the next 30 years. He passed away from Alzheimers Disease on September 4, 2002.

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