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Freddie Solomon

Before there was Jerry or Dwight, there was Freddie. When he first joined the 49ers in 1978, the organization had stumbled into some historically dark times. At the time, it looked like Freddie Solomon's career had hit a wall. But when Bill Walsh was hired just a year later, Solomon's whole life was instantly changed forever. Soon, a franchise that had yet to win anything, could only gasp as the speedster from the University of Tampa outran hapless defenders. It was like he couldn't wait to deliver the franchise its first Super Bowl title.

The Early Years

Freddie Solomon was born on January 11, 1953 in Sumter, South Carolina. After spending the early part of his prep years at all-Black Lincoln High School, Freddie transferred to Sumter High School when integration was enforced. It was there that his life would change forever.

As the quarterback, he fascinated teammates and befuddled opponents with his slick and quick running ability. By the time he graduated, he had led his team to the state championship and was considered the greatest football player ever to come out of the state in the 20th century.

Originally slated to attend nearby University of South Carolina, Freddie Solomon tested poorly and promptly left for the University of Tampa where they happened to be more accommodating.

It didn't take long for him to catch the attention of his school. In just his third game, the slick quarterback from Sumter, SC ran all over Ron Jaworski's Youngstown State Penguins to the tune of 147 yards. three years later, in the final game of his college career against Florida A&M, young Freddie Solomon carried the ball 14 times for 211 yards, putting a cap on a stellar collegiate career that saw him gain 5,803 total yards with 3,229 of those coming on the ground. Tampa cut football after his senior season, cementing him as a lasting reminder of the last vestige of a deceased program.

Freddie Solomon finished 12th in the Heisman Trophy race that year and was drafted 36th overall in the 1975 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins. But they didn't want him as a quarterback. Seeing how elusive he was on the field, Don Shula and his coaching staff felt that they could mold the signal caller into one of the best receivers in the game.


Early on, Freddie Solomon proved Don Shula to be prophetic. As a rookie, he caught 22 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns. Things looked promising for the young receiver, until they didn't. After a 12 catch 181 yard season two years later, the Dolphins decided to trade him to the worst team in the league: the San Francisco 49ers.

In those days, the 49ers were a directionless franchise, led by a smattering of overmatched coaches, overwhelmed quarterbacks and a general manager named Joe Thomas whose sole mission in life seemed to be to dismantle any hope his team may have had. In his first year as a Niner, Freddie Solomon caught 31 passes for 458 yard and two touchdowns for a two-win team.

The next year was the beginning of something special. Bill Walsh from Stanford University was hired as the 49ers coach, bringing with him a pass-oriented offense soon to be dubbed the West Coast Offense. It was the opportunity of a lifetime for Freddie.

In his first year under Walsh, he caught 57 passes for 807 yards and seven touchdowns, far and away the best numbers of his career. Meanwhile, he was building an inseparable bond with two rookies, quarterback Joe Montana and fellow receiver Dwight Clark. Along with team owner Eddie DeBartolo, the foursome quickly became close friends, sharing a bond that would last a lifetime.

The following year, after back-to-back 2-14 season, the 49ers began to rise from the dregs of the NFL. While they only won six games, a sense of change was in the air and people within the organization had a feeling that the 49ers were on the cusp.

The turning point for the franchise happened late in the year against the winless Saints. Despite facing a 35-7 halftime deficit, the 49ers were undaunted and charged back in the second half, scoring two unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter. Freddie Solomon added to the fireworks by scoring on a 14-yard reception early in the fourth to cut the deficit to seven. The 49ers would eventually win the game in overtime, changing the trajectory of the franchise for the next 18 years.

After all the losing, 1981 was a magical year for San Francisco. The 49ers tore through their schedule, going 13-3 and earning the top seed in the playoffs. Solomon excelled there too, catching six passes for 107 yards and a touchdown against the Giants on an exhilerating 58-yard catch-and-run. The following week, he scored the first touchdown of the game against hte Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game. He could have caught the game winner, but slipped on Candlestick Park's soggy field and could only watch as Joe Montana lofted the pass to Dwight Clark, thus "the Catch" was born.

Two weeks later, Freddie Solomon and the 49ers were Super Bowl champions. Life for him was never the same and from then on, he sought to give back to the community. No matter where he lived, the youth of the area was always on his heart.

Two years later, the 49ers were back in the NFC Championship Game down by 21 points to the defending Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins. to make matters worse, they were without Dwight Clark who had blown out his knee earlier in the year. Luckily for the Niners, they still had one of the faster players in the game.

Solomon caught a 76 yard touchdown in the middle of the fourth quarter, fueling a valiant comeback attempt. Due to some controversial late game penalties, the 49ers lost on a last second field goal. Demoralized, they vowed in the locker room to never have that feeling again.

The 49ers were nearly unstoppable in 1984, losing just once. They were a force to be reckoned with with one goal in mind: to win the Super Bowl. They were ready for the playoffs beating the Giants and the Bears while Freddie Solomon continued to gobble up touchdowns, scoring twice in those contests. While he only had a single catch for 14 yards in the Super Bowl against the Dolphins, the 49ers won the game 38-16.

He could see the writing on the wall in that year's draft as the 49ers traded up to select Jerry Rice. After all those years of burning secondaries around the league, age was starting to slow Freddie Solomon down. He retired after 1985 nad soon moved back to Tampa. While there, he spent much of his tiem mentoring the youth of the area. Freddie Solomon died on February 13, 2012 after a nine-month battle with lung and liver cancers.

Months before his death, many of his friends, including Eddie DeBartolo, gathered together at the University of Tampa to raise funds make a scholarship in his honor. They raised over $200,000. The man who had given so much would continue to give beyond the grave.

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