By Sam McPherson

He may have been labeled as the genius who drafted Joe Montana and traded for Steve Young, but former San Francisco 49ers head coach, vice president and general manager Bill Walsh missed out on picking one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history when he had the chance in the 2000 NFL Draft.

The ill-fated decision to repeatedly ignore and overlook a local product from San Mateo probably cost the 49ers at least a few more Super Bowl wins. As San Francisco prepares to host the Patriots and Tom Brady this Sunday, it’s hard not to imagine what the last two decades might’ve looked like for the 49ers if Walsh had drafted Brady in 2000 instead of the other 11 guys the team did pick.

In 1999, San Francisco posted its first losing season since 1982, thanks to a career-ending concussion suffered by Young in the third game of the season. The 49ers went on to win just six games in 1999, leaving them with a premium draft pick for the first time in ages. After some draft-pick dealing, the team ended up with six picks in the first three rounds of the draft and nine picks in the first five rounds. Walsh did end up drafting two QBs in the 2000 NFL Draft, although he passed on Brady with all nine of those picks through the fifth round. The Patriots grabbed the kid from San Mateo with the 199th pick of the draft.

Walsh Swung And Missed Badly With Giovanni Carmazzi

If you’ve never heard of Carmazzi, you’re not alone. He never played a down in the regular season for the 49ers or any other NFL team, despite Walsh’s belief that Carmazzi had the skills to follow in the footsteps of Montana and Young. Carmazzi played his college ball at Hofstra and he was the second QB chosen in the NFL draft after the New York Jets took Chad Pennington in the first round. Still, the idea that Carmazzi had any chance in the NFL was hard to fathom at the time. Even though the QB field was thin in this draft, drafting an extremely raw QB from a mediocre Division I-AA school didn’t make sense as the 49ers used their first four picks in the top two rounds on defensive players.

Clearly, despite his success with Montana and Young, Walsh had lost his mojo by 2000. Remember, he had taken over a winning Stanford Cardinal team in 1992 from Dennis Green, and after three years, Walsh left the school in 1994 after posting a 7-14-1 record in his final two seasons. The 49ers clearly were desperate for Walsh’s lost magic when they brought him back to the organization after that Stanford fiasco, and the decision failed miserably, perhaps dooming the SF franchise to a mostly barren decade in the 2000s. Still to this day, any knowledgeable NFL fan has to wonder what Walsh saw in Carmazzi when there were much better options on the board for the 49ers.

How Could Walsh Have Missed On Brady?

Despite playing only part-time at the University of Michigan, Brady clearly was both a physically talented QB and a winner. After backing up Brian Griese on the Wolverines’ 1997 Big Ten championship team, Brady threw for 30 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions playing part-time in his final two seasons in Ann Arbor. He was forced to split time his senior year with another, less-talented QB on the Michigan roster, but Brady’s performance in the Orange Bowl that season should have told any casual observer how good he was going to be at the next level. He completed 34 of his 46 passes for 369 yards and four TDs against the Alabama Crimson Tide in a 35-34 overtime win. That one performance alone rated a higher draft pick than anything Carmazzi did at Hofstra.

Toss in the fact that Brady was a local kid from San Mateo that wanted to play for San Francisco, and it’s hard to fathom just why Walsh passed on Brady. Carmazzi was the 65th pick of the draft, and the 49ers chose four other players from that point on before New England chose Brady: Only diehard San Francisco fans remember fifth-round picks Paul Smith and John Milem, because no one else does. Strangely, just 13 picks after the Pats took Brady, the San Francisco brain trust selected Louisiana Tech QB Tim Rattay in the seventh round. Rattay was a better pick than Carmazzi, although he posted just a 4-12 record as the 49ers starter in parts of three seasons (2003-2005) despite putting up an 81.9 QB rating. Walsh simply screwed up here beyond comprehension, and he severely tarnished his own reputation in the process.

The Intersection Of NFL Success And Failure For The Pats and The 49ers, Respectively

The 49ers posted a 207-71-1 regular-season record from 1981 to 1998 with Montana and Young, and the Patriots were a mere 128-152 in the same time frame. Since the 2001 season when Brady first entered the New England starting lineup, the Pats have posted a 189-60 record, while the 49ers have gone a mediocre 118-130-1 themselves. Toss in the six Super Bowl appearances and four titles for New England, contrasted with one Super Bowl appearance and no titles for San Francisco, and it’s clear to see the 2000 NFL Draft was a watershed moment for both franchises.

Bill Walsh got it very, very wrong: Brady was literally the next Montana, and the man that made Montana missed it completely, costing the 49ers a lot of wins in the last two decades. Walsh always will be remembered as the genius that elevated the San Francisco organization to top-flight NFL status, but he also will be remembered for blowing it completely with Brady, too.