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Freddie Solomon: ‘Freddie cared about you more than some people cared about themselves,’ said his teammate Charles Young.

‘He Was Such a Legitimate Guy’

Freddie Solomon

January 11, 1953-February 13, 2012

Freddie Solomon, who gave up his dream of being a professional quarterback to become an outstanding receiver for the Miami Dolphins (1975-77) and then for a San Francisco 49ers team (1978-85) that won two Super Bowls, died on February 13 in Tampa, FL, after a nine-month battle with colon and liver cancer. He was 59.

As a 49er Solomon ranks fourth in franchise history in yards per reception (15.7) and tied for sixth with 43 touchdown catches. His six postseason touchdown receptions rank second to Jerry Rice. He also played a part in one of the 49ers' legendary moments, for a pass not thrown to him. Against the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 10, 1982, with less than a minute to play and the ball on the Dallas six-yard line, quarterback Joe Montana was looking to Solomon as his first option. But in tight coverage Solomon slipped, and Montana, flushed from the pocket and rolling to his right, found Dwight Clark cutting across the end zone for the winning score on a reception that came to be called The Catch. Nevertheless, the 49ers would not have been where they were on the drive but for Solomon's 14-yard gain on a reverse and 12-yard pass reception. With the ball on the 13 he got open in the end zone, but Montana threw wide.


Freddie Solomon’s first playoff touchdown, on a 58-yard pass from Joe Montana against the New York Giants, January 3, 1982. Final score: San Francisco 38, New York 24.

In an 11-year National Football League career, Solomon had 371 receptions for 5,846 yards and 48 touchdowns in 151 games. He ran for 519 yards and four touchdowns. On Dec. 5, 1976, in a game between the Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills, he scored touchdowns three ways: he ran 59 yards on a reverse to score, caught a 53-yard pass for another touchdown, and returned a punt 79 yards to score again. His total yardage was 252.

Freddie Solomon, the son of a cobbler, was born on Jan. 11, 1953, in Sumter, S.C., and grew up idolizing Joe Namath. After his retirement from football in 1985, he worked with the Hillsborough County sheriff's office in Tampa to help disadvantaged youth.

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Freddie Solomon as a star quarterback at the University of Tampa. He left college as the NCAA’s leading rusher at his position.

Solomon's NFL career was bookended by his accomplishments, on and off the field, in Tampa. A quarterback at the University of Tampa, he finished 12th in the Heisman Trophy voting as a senior on an obscure 6-5 team. He left college with 3,299 rushing yards, then first in NCAA history among quarterbacks. He was voted Most Valuable Player in the 1972 Tangerine Bowl after leading Tampa to a 21-18 victory over Kent State 

After his playing days, he devoted himself to community service in Tampa. He worked with youths for 20 years through a program with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Called Coach, he was known for insisting that young men tuck in their shirts. He also teamed with former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, a Tampa resident and close friend, on an annual Christmas celebration for foster children.

"He was one of the most gentle and best men I have ever met in my life," said DeBartolo, who often took Solomon to his chemotherapy appointments. "Scores of generations will remember Freddie through their children and the youth he's helped over all these decades.

"I have never met a man who cared so much about the human race."

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After his playing days were over, Freddie Solomon worked with the outreach program for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, where he was a mentor and a friend to young people for more than two decades. 'I never met a man who cared so much abo tthe human race' said former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo.

Reporting for SFGate.com, Eric Branch found Solomon's former teammates and 49ers family friends remembering the man for his unselfishness and generosity.

"He was the consummate pro on the field, and the stats and the accomplishments speak for themselves," said former 49ers safety Tom Holmoe, now the athletic director at BYU. "But now that's it's been all these years since we played, I don't think much about the stats and stuff. I think about the people.

"And I will always, always remember Freddie as one of those guys that kept us going. I love Freddie Solomon. He was a one-in-a-million guy."

Said former 49ers tight end Charles Young: "Football is what Freddie did and what we did, but that's just a small glimpse at who Freddie was. Freddie was a giving person. In some cases, Freddie cared about you more than some people cared about themselves."


‘A name etched in stone, carried in a heart, carried through generations’: Remembering Freddie Solomon, community leader

Former 49ers President Carmen Policy said quarterback Joe Montana always appreciated how Solomon didn't come back to the huddle asking for Montana to throw the ball to him. Solomon also gracefully accepted a diminished role in 1985, his last season, when Rice was a rookie. On Monday, in a statement released through the team, Rice said Solomon taught him about "work ethic and professionalism."

"He was an amazing personality," Policy said. "He helped develop some of the great stars connected with the game and the 49ers. And he enjoyed doing whatever he could do to see them grow. Joe and Ronnie (Lott) and Dwight (Clark) and Jerry--all of them. They just revered him and loved him. He was everybody's favorite and that's because he was such a legitimate guy."

He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Dee; his mother, Bessie Ruth Solomon; and his brothers, Richard, ONeal and Roger.

***

‘Now Playing Quarterback, Freddie Solomon’

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In 1985 Freddie Solomon lined up at quarterback during the 49ers championship game against the Chicago Bears in San Francisco. The outcome--a 23-0 SF victory--was far more gratifying than what Solomon experienced in playing QB in the final 49ers game of a woeful 1978 season.

One of Freddie Solomon’s most memorable--and ignominious--moments in his NFL career came at the end of a forgettable 1978 season, in the season finale against the Detroit Lions. The 49ers fumbled 10 times, losing four. They lost the ball on a muffed punt and threw three interceptions in a 33-14 loss that was not as close as the score indicated.

For the 49ers, the only time the game got interesting was when Freddie Solomon was pressed into emergency service at quarterback, the position he excelled in at the University of Miami before being converted into a wide receiver as a pro. His opportunity came when starting quarterback Steve DeBerg and backup Scott Bull both got hurt. Third-string QB Bruce Threadgill, a defensive back who had played quarterback in Canada, entered the game after the team trainer cut a cast off his broken hand so he could take snaps. He threw two passes; both were intercepted.


A video profile of Freddie Solomon

At his wits’ end, head coach Fred O’Connor (who had taken the reins after general manager Joe Thomas fired head coach Pete McCulley nine games into the season) summoned Solomon to guide the offense. Reverting to his collegiate form, Solomon darted through Lions tacklers for 42 yards and passed for 85 more. When he scored on an 11-yard run, Lions fans cheered him.

Afterwards the beleaguered GM Thomas declared, "I can't remember a team I've been more impressed with. In two years, they'll be at the top."

Not two but three years later the 49ers fulfilled Thomas’s prediction, albeit minus Thomas. The game against the Lions was his last with the 49ers. Owner DeBartolo cleaned house and hired Stanford University head coach Bill Walsh, whose innovative pass-centric West Coast offense led by Joe Montana ushered in a new era in the NFL and a golden one for the 49ers, with Freddie Solomon right in the thick of things.

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