SUPER BOWL XVI
49ers 26, Cincinnati Bengals 21
FROM SI, FEB. 1, 1982
Here are some of the new plays the San Francisco 49ers put in but
did not use against the Cincinnati Bengals: an end-around pass; a
different option pass for every healthy running back; a
pitch-and-lateral, quarterback Joe Montana to running back Ricky
Patton to tight end Earl Cooper; something called a nickel blizzard,
which is a safety blitz out of the nickelback formation. What else?
Oh, yeah, ''short-yardage triple pass,'' which means sweep, reverse,
pitch back and pass . . . no, wait a minute, the Niners did use that.
They used it in the first half, when they were building a 20-0 lead
on the way to their 26-21 triumph at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich.
Why didn't they use that other stuff? Well, they had enough, quite
enough, more than enough. How many newfangled things can 49er coach
Bill Walsh throw at a team without having the Competition Committee
come up with another parity edict: O.K., Walsh, the other guys get
two weeks to prepare for the next Super Bowl, but we're giving you
three days, see. ''We were afraid we were going to get a new play on
our way to the game while our bus was stopped at the bottom of the
hill,'' Montana would say afterward.
Maxims of the playoffs: You dance with who brung ya; you don't get
away from your strength; people win, not formations. Forget them,
says Walsh, the mind in motion, a walking collection of X's and O's
seeking only a blackboard, a piece of lined paper, a napkin,
anything. The triple pass, in which Montana hands to Patton, who
hands to wide receiver Freddie Solomon, who pitches back to Montana,
who throws to tight end Charle Young, was designed for third-and-
one. It made its entry on the Niners' first third-and-one situation,
picked up a neat 14 yards and then bowed out for the day.
On Tuesday, Walsh and Ray Wersching, the kicker, also concocted a
hard squib kickoff specially designed for the Silverdome's AstroTurf,
which is seven years old and rock hard. The squibber was bobbled
twice and coughed up once by the Bengals, each time inside their
five-yard line. Even the day before kickoff, after he had already
installed a dozen new plays, Walsh added an unbalanced-line formation
that worked in both of the first-half TD drives, then crept back into
the mothballs to be resurrected . . . when? Super Bowl XVII?
''We hadn't used it,'' Walsh said later. ''We needed it for short
yardage. We got it.'' He paused. He noted the looks of incredulity on
the faces around him. Is this really the same old NFL? Need short
yardage, just plug in a new formation on Saturday? Walsh realized the
impression he was making. He smiled. His eyes rolled. ''It came to me
in a vision,'' he said, ''like a man clutching at a ledge, feeling
his hands sliding down.''
The Niner defense was feeling similarly imperiled late in the
third quarter. The Bengals had marched down to the three-yard line,
first-and-goal, trailing 20-7. The San Francisco goal line defense --
six linemen, four linebackers and safety Ronnie Lott in the secondary
-- bunched in to stop the thrusts of 249- pound Pete Johnson on the
first two downs; inside linebacker Jack Reynolds cracked him one time
for the hit of the game, a blow that left Reynolds ''groggy and
dazed, but I wasn't going to come out.'' Next, linebacker Dan Bunz
stopped Bengal running back Charles Alexander on a swing pass, an
almost impossible play for a big guy like Bunz. Then he was in the
middle of the final surge that stuffed Johnson. ''Snapped my chin
strap, knocked the screws loose from my face bar,'' Bunz said.
Walsh noted how few coaches and scouts had picked the 49ers to
win. ''But most of the players around the league picked us,'' he
said. ''Their vision was clearer. They could see something that the
others couldn't -- inspiration.''
SUPER BOWL XIX
49ers 38, Miami Dolphins 16
FROM SI, JAN. 28, 1985
In the mass interviews that go with the turmoil and hype of a
Super Bowl, a superathlete like San Francisco 49er quarterback Joe
Montana might appear bland, even a bit dull. But this isn't the
superathlete's arena. It's an artificial situation, and a blue-chip
competitor like Montana will only coast through it.
And then, on game day, the sleepy-eyed guy who seemed harmless
before that thicket of microphones changes. He's transformed into a
predator. The blue eyes flash, and he lifts his teammates into a
different dimension. At Stanford Stadium in front of 84,059 fans,
Montana crossed up those who had cast him as a spear-carrier to
Miami's dazzling young Dan Marino and cut loose with his finest game.
As a result, a Super Bowl that figured to go down to the final
heartbeat turned into a blowout: 38-16, San Francisco.
Montana's sweep was so clean that after he was through, Dolphin
coach Don Shula sadly admitted, ''He kept us off balance the entire
game.'' Briefly, this is what Montana did: He completed 24 of 35
passes for 331 yards, a Super Bowl record, and three touchdowns, with
no interceptions. He scrambled for 59 yards and one TD on five
carries. He led the 49ers to scores on five straight possessions, in
which they turned a three-point deficit into a 22-point lead. He
dodged the rush, threw on the run, spotted the holes in the Dolphin
defense -- there were plenty of those -- and always seemed to find
the right receiver.
When it was all over, when only Joe and his father, Joe Sr., were
left in the 49er locker room, the younger Montana tried to put the
day in perspective. ''I'd have to admit it was pretty close to the
best I've ever played,'' he said. ''I didn't throw anything I didn't
have confidence in. We got in sort of a groove. Once you get going
like that, you gain confidence, and it carries over to the defense
and then back to the offense. It's a snowball kind of thing.''
Snowball it did. The 49ers' 537 yards in total offense set a Super
Bowl record, and it was Marino, not Montana, who found himself trying
to keep pace with an offensive adding machine. Maybe it was just that
Marino didn't have the luxury of working against the Dolphin defense,
as Montana did. Instead, Marino faced a defense that would allow only
one touchdown in the playoffs, a defense led by 49er tackle Gary (Big
Hands) Johnson, the 32-year-old former All-Pro who had been cast off
by the San Diego Chargers and who gave Marino the type of gut
pressure he hadn't seen before. Johnson shot the gaps and then, when
double-teamed, beat the maneuver with a quick arm-over. He wound up
with a 12-yard sack, numerous flushes and four unassisted tackles.
On offense, head coach Bill Walsh wanted to set Miami up with
quick passes to Dwight Clark, then hit the Dolphin defenders with the
run and finally bring it all together with play-action passes to the
backs or to tight end Russ Francis cutting for the hole in the middle
of the Miami secondary. It broke down this way: Wendell Tyler led all
rushers with 65 yards and caught four passes for 70 more. Running
back Roger Craig grabbed seven for 72, and Francis had five catches,
equaling his season high.
And it all clicked because of Montana. ''A lithe, almost sensuous
athlete,'' Walsh once called him. Montana could turn the thing into a
blowout -- and he did. ''We blitzed a bit in the second half,''
Dolphin linebacker Mark Brown ) said, ''but it seemed like every time
we got there, Montana was already out of the pocket.''
Sadly, there are those who laugh at a 38-16 game that's supposed
to be an ultimate matchup. But it makes more sense to look at
something like this and find greatness. Sunday it belonged to
SUPER BOWL XXIII
49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16
FROM SI, JAN. 30, 1989
You heard it in the pressroom and in the parking lot as people
headed to their cars at Joe Robbie Stadium after watching the San
Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals 20-16. You heard it in
the bars in downtown Miami and on the streets. What you heard was
something you seldom hear in connection with the Super Bowl, which
has almost become a parody of itself: ''Great game.'' ''Great game.''
''Hey, that was some game, wasn't it?''
A great game? The final quarter certainly qualified -- the best in
Super Bowl history -- but for almost 45 minutes, it wasn't a great
game at all. Then Joe Montana, who saves his best performances for
the biggest games, stepped in and rescued it. So did Jerry Rice and
Roger Craig. The cream rose. San Francisco marched 92 yards in the
fading moments to pull out the win, and, yes, Montana and center
Randy Cross, the only two of Sunday's 49ers who had been on the field
for the great winning drive against the Cowboys in the 1982 NFC
championship, said this victory brought back memories of that Dallas
The climax this time had no play to match the breathtaking catch
Dwight Clark made against the Cowboys. Instead, it had lots of good
ones. The first crisis of the drive came on the ninth play, with the
Niners facing second-and- 10 on the Cincinnati 35. Cross was caught
downfield on a pass that started as a screen but ended as a dump-off
to Craig. The penalty left San Francisco with second-and-20 on the
Bengals' 45. At this point, Montana admitted, he was ''just thinking
about getting the field goal that would put the game into overtime.''
To get in range, he chose a particularly dangerous play, a
square-in to Rice. The pass covered 13 yards, but somehow Rice got
the ball in the middle of a pack of three defenders and broke clear
for another 14 yards. ''It had to be a perfect throw and catch,''
cornerback Lewis Billups said. ''He had all kinds of hands flashing
in front of him.''
The ball was on the 18, and then Montana found Craig on an
eight-yard crossing pattern, right to left. Now the 49ers had
second-and-two on the 10, and the Bengals went into a two-deep
zone: short and medium coverage on both Rice, on the right side, and
John Taylor, on the left. The book calls for man- to-man here, but
zone coverage is what Cincy does best.
The play was 20 halfback curl X-up. Rice went in motion to the
left, passing behind Taylor before the ball was snapped, and decoyed
into the left flat. Craig, who curled into the middle from the right,
was the primary receiver, but he got jammed up in traffic. Taylor put
on a little wiggle move and ran straight down the seam. Montana hit
him in stride inside safety Ray Horton's coverage in the end zone
with 34 seconds on the clock.
''When they started the last drive, do you know what I was
thinking?'' said Montana's mother, Theresa. ''The 1979 Cotton Bowl,
when he brought Notre Dame from behind in the fourth quarter. That
was the best -- until now.''
Counting the 10-yard penalty, the 49ers ate up 102 yards on the
march. Montana completed eight of nine passes on the drive for 97
yards and finished with 23 completions in 36 attempts for a record
357 yards. Rice, whose 11 catches tied one Super Bowl record and
whose 215 yards broke another, was voted the game's MVP.
Co-awards wouldn't have been a bad idea. ''Did I say anything
inspirational?'' said Montana afterward. ''Oh, no, I was concerned
with other things. We were calling two plays at a time, and I had to
think about the second one. I did say to myself, though, Here we go,
just like Dallas.''
Cross, the last player out of the 49er locker room, talked about
Montana. ''There's never been a better big-game quarterback,'' Cross
said. ''And he's not finished.''
SUPER BOWL XXIV
49ers 55, Denver Broncos 10
FROM SI FEB. 5, 1990
Room 5072 -- Joe Montana's room -- Hilton Riverside and Towers,
New Orleans, Super Bowl Sunday, 10:15 p.m. Bob Woolf, Montana's
agent, puts through a call to another of his clients, Larry Bird.
After two rings, Bird picks up the phone and says, ''Fifty-five to
10, Joe Montana.''
''Wait a minute,'' says Woolf, laughing. ''I'll let you speak to
Montana, who threw for a Super Bowl-record five touchdowns in the
San Francisco 49ers' shellacking of the Denver Broncos at the
Superdome and collected the MVP award, gets on the line. ''Hey, man,
how's the foot doing?'' says Montana. ''Looks like you're moving a
lot better. . . . Yeah, I know, we're homing in on five
championships. One more, man. . . . Hey, I'll be watching you. . . .
You, too. Take care.''
Montana hangs up and dials the hotel operator. Again. He has been
trying to get through to room service. Downstairs at the official
49er affair are the backslappers, many of whom wrote him off three
years ago, two years ago, last year. This is Montana's party. He is
getting ready for his own people -- his uncle and aunt from
Monongahela, Pa., friends of relatives -- maybe 40, all told. He has
put on a white shirt and a tie. On a couch, his dad, Joe Sr., is
changing his grandson Nathaniel's diaper. Next to him, Joe's wife,
Jennifer, is pouring '82 Dom Perignon as she apologizes for using
The TV in the corner is playing a tape of the game. Montana
watches his 38- yard touchdown pass to wideout Jerry Rice with 40
seconds left in the first half, the play that made the score 27-3 and
essentially put the game away. As running back Roger Craig goes in
motion, left to right, Bronco nickelback Mark Haynes switches off
Rice and picks up Craig. Rice then bends inside on a post pattern and
loses strong safety Dennis Smith, who gets no inside help. Rice is
all alone as he crosses the goal line. It's like stealing.
''I faked a slant pattern to John Taylor on the other side, and
that froze the free safety, Steve Atwater,'' says Montana. ''That's
the thing about them. They kept following my eyes. Every time I
looked somewhere, they overplayed.''
Rice, who finished with seven receptions for 148 yards, and
Taylor, who had three catches for 49 yards, including a 35-yard
score, flitted through the Denver zone like hummingbirds. Craig
bounced off tackles for 103 yards running and receiving. Fullback Tom
Rathman, who banged the left side for three short- yardage first
downs, pulled off the most remarkable play of the day, corkscrewing
his 232-pound body to make a one-handed reach-back catch at the
Bronco 10 to set up the 49ers' third touchdown. And, of course,
Montana was the master architect, completing 22 of 29 passes for 297
While Montana was dismantling Denver's defense, John Elway and the
Bronco offense were unraveling. Elway was under constant pressure,
especially from right end Kevin Fagan, who was charging in like a
maniac. Fagan played himself into exhaustion and spent half an hour
in the trainer's room after the game. Elway started to press, and
then the interceptions came -- two of them, both in the second half.
He completed only 10 passes in all, for 108 yards. The Bronco
running game picked up 64 yards. Put it together and you've got the
worst Super Bowl blowout ever.
''I think this is the best offensive team I've ever seen,''
someone says to Montana, who is watching himself being interviewed on
''A lot of weapons,'' says Montana. ''An awful lot of weapons.''