STANFORD, Calif. -- Bill Walsh planned his own memorial
service in the months before his death with the same meticulous
attention he paid to every aspect of the San Francisco 49ers.
Even when a lengthy battle with leukemia finally sapped his
strength last month, Walsh made sure Thursday's quietly buoyant
tribute would be a celebration of a Hall of Fame coach's life, as
well as a chance for hundreds of old friends to reunite in praise
"He said he wasn't scared,'' Mike White, a longtime friend and
coaching colleague, said of his final conversation with Walsh. "He
said he was at peace, and he said he was ready to go. It was the
most impressive display of courage I've ever seen.''
Walsh's family and a remarkable cross-section of the football
fraternity gathered reverently at Stanford Memorial Church to
praise the 49ers great as both an innovative leader and a loyal
More than 1,000 mourners gathered at Stanford Memorial Church to
honor Walsh, who died of leukemia on July 30 at 75.
They walked to the church through solemn rows of Stanford football players wearing their jerseys in honor of Walsh, who won
three Super Bowls and revolutionized many aspects of the NFL during
a decade on the San Francisco sideline.
"He was a man who stood astride the football culture in America
like a colossus for 10 years,'' said Harry Edwards, a noted sports
sociologist and longtime friend who delivered Walsh's eulogy. "He
walked with generals, senators and secretaries of state, but never
lost his common touch.''
Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young made
poignant remarks in a ceremony livened by joyous music from San
Francisco's famed Glide Ensemble choir -- just as Walsh envisioned
when the consummate planner made arrangements for his own service
in the months before his death.
"Bill died the way he lived: With sublime grace and with
class,'' said former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, who hired Walsh.
"Up until the very end, Bill led us by example. ... Nearing the
end, he always said that we were in the fourth quarter. Bill
managed that fourth quarter with flawless accuracy.''
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Sen. Dianne Feinstein also
spoke to the congregation, praising Walsh's forward thinking and
Feinstein, the San Francisco mayor when Walsh took over the
49ers in 1979, praised the coach and his players for providing an
immeasurable lift to their beleaguered city.
When Walsh arrived, San Francisco was reeling from a trio of
devastating blows: the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and
Supervisor Harvey Milk; the deaths of around 900 Californians in
the Jonestown tragedy; and the public emergence of the AIDS virus
in the city.
"Bill Walsh was a legend for us,'' Feinstein said. "What he
gave to this city was putting together a team that would and could
Walsh, who didn't become an NFL head coach until he was 47, went
102-63-1 with the 49ers, winning 10 of his 14 postseason games
along with six division titles. He was named the NFL's coach of the
year in 1981 and 1984.
Walsh worked as an assistant coach at Stanford in the mid-1960s before beginning his pro coaching career as an assistant with the AFL's Oakland Raiders in 1966. He rejoined Stanford as head coach in the late 1970s and again in the early '90s.
Most of the prominent coaches who trace their success to a job
under Walsh attended the service, including George Seifert, Mike
Holmgren, Dennis Green, Ray Rhodes and Pete Carroll, along with
Walsh's former peers and friends, such as Don Shula, Dick Vermeil
and John Madden. Current 49ers coach Mike Nolan read a passage of
Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott joined dozens of Walsh's former
players with the 49ers and at Stanford, where he coached two terms
over five seasons.
"I live my life partly because of the way he molded me,'' a
teary-eyed Montana said. "He took a 189-pound, skinny-legged
quarterback out of western Pennsylvania and gave me the opportunity
to continue doing something that I loved.''
Young focused on Walsh's preternatural teaching abilities, but
also provided a moment of levity when he recalled his first meeting
with Walsh on a practice field in Provo, Utah, in 1987.
"He said, 'I thought you were 6-foot-2,' " recalled the 6-foot
"Somehow he could take inventory of what you were today and see
what you could become in the future,'' added Young, who was en
route to visit Walsh last month when the coach died. "What more
could anyone ask than to have a coach who could foretell how high
you could fly, and then gave you the wings?''
Edwards listed Walsh's football innovations, from his ingenious
pass-first schemes that later became known as the West Coast
offense to his landmark achievements in practice and game
preparation -- everything from the laminated play cards used by
coaches to the practice of scripting the game's opening offensive
"He was ahead of his time, and the game never did catch up to
him,'' Young said.
Edwards then praised Walsh for his founding role in the minority
internship program that developed several future head coaches, from
Super Bowl champion Tony Dungy to Dennis Green and Marvin Lewis.
Walsh also pioneered the idea of teaching post-football life skills
to players before they left the league, Goodell said.
"Everywhere one turns in this league, one will find the input
and influence of Bill Walsh,'' Edwards said. "Bill Walsh's life is
a portrait of a life well-lived.''
Thousands of 49ers fans are expected at Candlestick Park on
Friday for a public memorial service honoring Walsh.