By Patrick Lujan
My blood has run red and gold since ‘The Catch’ in 1982. That same year, the San Francisco 49ers drafted kick returner and defensive back Dana McLemore out of the University of Hawaii.
McLemore went on the play six seasons with the 49ers, winning Super Bowl XIX in 1984 along the way. He was a part of the group of Niners (two retirees: McLemore and QB John Paye, three rookies: LB Cam Johnson, DE Tony Jerrod-Eddie and S Michael Thomas) that E.J. Calvo and Tropical Productions brought out to Guam to promote the sport of football.
GSPN caught up with the veteran 49er before the group departed back to the states.
GSPN: After a couple of days on Guam, how do you feel about the island and the reception you’ve had here.
DMc: Except for the last day (when it rained all day), you have beautiful weather just like Hawaii, people are very, very friendly and gracious. People have treated us like kings out here and I’d come back any time.
GSPN: I’m sure you’ve heard that Guam is 49er Country. Did you feel that sense while you were here?
DMc: Totally. I’d go to breakfast and the tourists would ask for autographs. They couldn’t speak English, but they knew ‘San Francisco 49ers’ and ‘Thank You’. There are tons of 49er fans on Guam. I only met two people – one was a Charger fan and the other was a Raider fan – all the rest were 49er fans.
GSPN: With you playing in what is considered the Glory Days in the 1980’s, how was it playing with the best quarterback of all-time?
DMc: Joe Montana, by far the best quarterback of all-time, is a great guy and a great teammate. One thing about the 49ers is it’s a first-class organization. Everything they do and Joe did was first-class.
GSPN: What about playing in the secondary with the best safety of all-time?
DMc: That would be Ronnie Lott. In fact, they (49ers secondary) made it all the the Pro Bowl one year – Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright, Carlton Williamson and Dwight Hicks. I was the only one that didn’t get to go in that 1984 team. We had like seven guys go that year and I was the only one left out, but we’ll save that for another day (says laughing). (There were actually 10 Pro Bowl Niners that year)
GSPN: Tells us about Ronnie Lott. How did it feel playing with him in the secondary?
DMc: Awesome leadership. We almost didn’t need a head coach because Ronnie was the leader of the entire team –offense and defense. When he spoke, everyone listened, even the coaches. He was by far the 49ers number one player.
GSPN: You were there when some receiver came on to the scene, and he was later rated the best player of all-time by the NFL Network. How was that when Jerry Rice joined the team (in 1985)?
DMc: Jerry Rice was the best receiver in the NFL in his first practice at training camp. He showed that ability and skill the first day he came out there. People probably know this, but he was the hardest working player in the NFL, bar none. No one even came close to his work ethic.
GSPN: You went one-on-one in practice?
DMc: Oh, everyday. We weren’t allowed to hit him. He got the best of everybody. He made our defensive backs that much better having to guard him everyday. When we went up against guys from other teams, it was that much easier.
GSPN: Tell us about the Super Bowl season (1984) when you lost only one game and went into the big game with Montana vs. (Dan) Marino. How special was that?
DMc: We lost against Pittsburgh at home (week 7). We missed a couple of field goals that was just out of our kicker’s range. We didn’t get blown out, it was just one of those games. After that, we focused and went on to win the Super Bowl. I don’t think (Miami QB Dan) Marino had gotten sacked more than 10 times the whole season (Marino was sacked 13 times in 1984). We probably sacked him four, five or six times (accurate sacks is four). We put a lot of pressure and frustrated him and he wasn’t frustrated all season long.
GSPN: Now retired, there are many stories about living life with injuries sustained while playing in the NFL. Do you live with long-term injuries sustained while playing in the NFL?
DMc: I was fortunate enough in my playing career that I didn’t get hurt playing football. I hurt my knees after I retired playing basketball. My knees ach now, but I can still do whatever I want to do and I’m still in pretty good shape.
GSPN: You were the Niners top punt returner for a couple of years. How was your mental state getting underneath a punt with huge men coming at you full speed?
DMc: That’s something I did since I was eight-years-old so I had plenty of practice at (returning punts). At the NFL level, people don’t realize how high punters kick the ball. I had great protection (with the 49ers) and all it is is making the first two guys miss and then try and take it to the house. I pretty much knew when to fair catch or not to fair catch. I got hit one time really, really hard. Probably just once in my whole career. I did it in Pop Warner, high school and in college…that was my forte.
GSPN: You came out to Guam with three rookies. You played in two different eras from these rookies. What is the difference of the football today?
DMc: When I played in the 80’s, the NFL was more 50/50 run/pass and it didn’t have as many rules as they have now and days. Now they’re trying to make the game safer for the next generation with all the head injuries. Now they are really protecting the quarterback and defenseless receivers. The players of my era aren’t as big as they are today. Cam Johnson is a linebacker and he’s 6’5”, 260 (lbs). Back when I played, that’s a defensive lineman or offensive lineman’s position. They are much bigger today.
GSPN: Speaking of the young players on this trip with you, how have you helped them in their career being outside of the football setting on Guam?
DMc: I had just met Tony and Cam at the airport coming over here. I’ve met Mike before. Mike and Tony were undrafted and Cam was drafted late (7th round). I told them that if you can play, they’ll find a way to get you on the field somehow. It doesn’t matter if you’re a first round pick, a free agent, you come from a big school or small school. That really doesn’t matter to an NFL team. All what matters is if you can play or not. (Dana was drafted by the 49ers in 1982 in the 10th round – 269th overall)
GSPN: How did you feel when the Niners lost the Super Bowl (to the Ravens)?
DMc: I could not believe that after winning five, that we could lose a Super Bowl. You can’t lose a game when you’re at the five-yard line with more than a minute to go. You got to find a way to get that touchdown.
GSPN: That was pretty painful.
DMc: Oh, definitely.
GSPN: Any last remarks to the 49er Faithful on Guam?
DMc: Guam treated us with the ultimate, utmost respect and dignity. I wouldn’t hesitate to come back to Guam any time they ask me to. All the Guamanians, keep being 49er fans…another Super Bowl is on it’s way!
NOTES: The 1984 49ers were the first team to win fifteen games in the NFL’s regular season…secondary teammates Lott, Wright and Williamson were all drafted a year ahead in 1981…1982 was the year of the strike in which only nine games were played (3-6)…the visiting 49ers held a youth camp prior to the Miller Bowl and a charity golf tournament with proceeds helping youth football…
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