By John Turney
Dan Bunz was one of several keys to the 1981 49ers win in Super Bowl XVI. He was part of a goalline stand that helped preserve the win that began the 1980s 49er dynasty. It was likely the highlight of his career, a worthy career.
Not all players get to go to the Hall of Fame or even the Hall of Very Good. Some may just be good or some may just be contributors. Bunz was a contributor.
The 49ers had high hopes for him, being drafted in the first round of the 1978 NFL Draft. He was a tall, lean (6-4, 228) middle linebacker with good (4.8 forty) speed—perhaps in the mold of Jack Lambert in the 49er brain trust mind.
He had been a top linebacker at Long Beach State totaling 448 tackles there, including 172 as a senior.
With the 49ers he stepped in as a starter as a rookie and led the team in tackles. In fact he repeated that feat in 1979 and 1980, though he missed a couple of games in 1979 and was not a full-time starter in 1980.
In 1979 Bunz's surfer looks landed him a speaking role in North Dallas Forty, probably the best of all the football movies, a film adapted from Pete Gent's book of the same name. He played a young linebacker name 'Tony Douglass'.
|Bunz with Nick Nolte in North Dallas Forty|
|"Douglass, We drafted you because they said you were smart and fast.|
Right now, I wish you were just one of those things"-Coach Johnson
As the Bill Walsh and the 49ers kept improving the roster and bringing in linebackers, especially role-playing linebackers (run stoppers for early downs and pass defenders and rushers for nickel) Bunz lost playing time and then injuries cost him more.
But really, aside from his moments of glory in Super Bowl XVI (being in on all four goalline plays including the solo tackle on Charles Alexander on a pass to the flat and being the lead tackler on the fourth-down play to end the drive), his contributions from 1981-83 were minimal.
However, in 1984, he won the starting "Buck" or strongside outside linebacker position (some schemes call it the SAM) and played well as the 49ers won their second title in four seasons. He came out of the game for Todd Shell in the nickel and for Jeff Fuller in the "Buffalo nickel" but on run downs he was there, turning in plays to the outside, jamming tight ends and doing his job.
The next year he was cut by Walsh, essentially losing his spot to Ron Ferrari who was a better special teams player. Todd Shell took over the Buck position and Ferrari kept his nickel linebacker position. Walsh simply said, "Bunz is a good special teams player but Ferrari is a great special teams player".
Bunz, understandably was upset. A year earlier (prior to the 1984 draft) He turned down a lucrative offer to sign with the Philadelphia Stars of the USFL to stay with the 49ers because he was told he was part of their plans as their Buck linebacker.
Late in 1985 the Lions needed some help at linebacker and signed Bunz who in two games picked off a pass, but that was Bunz's last NFL action. The Lions waived him in May of 1986, prior to training camp and that was it for Bunz.
Bunz led a fulfilling life after football, running a restaurant/winery, teaching phyical education and working with kids.
Yes, Dan Bunz was a worthy contributor. And that is enough. Two rings and one it could be argued the 49ers would not have had without his efforts.