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On This Date in Sports December 14, 1987

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

With home field in the playoffs on the line, the San Francisco 49ers pummel the Chicago Bears 41-0 in a Monday Night showdown at Candlestick Park. The Niners win is done with a backup quarterback as Steve Young has four touchdown passes after Joe Montana exits with a hamstring injury. Three of the touchdown receptions are caught by Jerry Rice, who ties the single-season record with 18 TD receptions on the way to 22 for the season.

Chosen with the #16 overall pick out of Mississippi Valley State in the 1985 NFL Draft, Jerry Rice established himself as the best receiver in the NFL in just his first three seasons. Born October 13, 1962, in Starkville, Mississippi, Rice made a serious run at the NFL MVP, posting perhaps the best season ever by a pass catcher in 1987. This came after catching 49 passes for 927 yards with three touchdowns in his rookie season, and leading the league with 1,570 receiving yards on 86 catches, with 15 touchdowns in 1986.

Starting the season on the road, Jerry Rice had eight receptions for 106 yards with one touchdown as the 49ers suffered a 30-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rice caught two touchdowns with 86 yards in Week 2, including a last second catch to beat the Cincinnati Bengals 27-26. With three touchdown catches in his first two games, Rice’s season was put on hold as the NFL Players went on strike. While several stars crossed the picket line for the replacement games, Jerry Rice was not among them, missing four games in total. Rice collected one touchdown in each of his next three games when the regulars returned as the 49ers who went 3-0 in the scab games, held a record of 7-1 through eight games. Despite San Francisco suffering a 26-24 loss to the New Orleans Saints, Jerry Rice had four catches for 108 yards with two scores starting a stretch where he began dominating the game as he had three touchdowns in back-to-back wins over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns. After recording one touchdown reception in a win against the Green Bay Packers Jerry Rice went into a Week 13 Monday Night showdown with 15 touchdowns on the season.

The Chicago Bears coached by Mike Ditka and San Francisco 49ers led by Bill Walsh each had records of 10-2 entering the game. The winner of the game would have the inside track to the best record in the NFC, earning home-field advantage. Early on the 49ers got some bad news, when Joe Montana was lost to a hamstring injury. However, Steve Young who was acquired from the Buccaneers in the off-season finished an early scoring drive with a one-yard pass to Jerry Rice. After a pair of Ray Wersching field goals, Young connected with Dwight Clark to give the 49ers 20-0 halftime lead. San Francisco continued to roll over the Bears in the third quarter as Dana McLemore returned a punt 83 yards to make it 27-0. Young found Rice again in the third quarter on a 16-yard touchdown pass to make it 34-0. The two would connect again in the fourth quarter for the capper as the 49ers won the game 41-0. Jerry Rice’s fourth-quarter score was historic as it was his 18th of the season, tying the single-season record set by Marc Clayton of the Miami Dolphins in 1984. Jerry Rice would catch two touchdowns in both of the Niners final two games to finish with a record 22 touchdown passes as the 49ers finished the season with an NFL best record of 13-2.

The final numbers were nearly stunning as Jerry Rice finished the 1987 season with 65 catches for 1,078 yards with 22 touchdowns in just 121 games, earning the Offensive Player of the Year Award, while narrowly losing the MVP vote to Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway by six votes, as he split the vote with teammate Joe Montana. Rice’s record would stand for two decades when it was topped by Randy Moss of the New England Patriots in 2007. Moss finished that season with 23 touchdown catches, playing a full 16-game schedule. No other receiver had 20 touchdowns in a season.