Note: Though this is an essay about a great Super Bowl tonight the Saints took home the Lombardi Trophy as they defeated the Colts 31-17. I have included a post script at the end of this article about the Saints’ historic win.
As anyone who knows me well or reads this site knows I am not a football person. God speaks to me through baseball, and despite its popularity football to me is somewhat interesting but not in the same league as the one true religion, the Church of Baseball of which I am a member of my local parish, Harbor Park in Norfolk Virginia. Despite this disclaimer I will watch the game though not with the same level of attention to or interest as I will baseball. Now does not mean that I am ignorant about the game for I have played it in High School and grew up in a family of fanatical Raiders and 49ers fans. I am a 49er fan through thick and thin lately mainly thin but back in the day of Saint Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Bill Walsh they were the dominant team in football. The had previously won two Super Bowls, Super Bowl XIX where they defeated Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins 38-16 and their first Super Bowl, Super Bowl XVI in which they defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 26-21.
Super Bowl XXIII played in Miami’s Joe Robbie Stadium on January 22nd 1989 featured a classic rematch between the 49ers and the Bengals. The Bengals coached by the freewheeling and ever colorful Sam Wyche and quarterbacked by Boomer Esiason had won the AFC with a 14-5 record. Esiason was the NFL Most Valuable Player throwing for 3,572 yards and 28 touchdown passes with only 14 interceptions. He had a league leading passer rating of 97.4. He also rushed for 248 yards. The Bengals had a top notch team with six Pro-bowlers including future Hall of Fame Offensive Tackle Anthony Munoz. Finishing the season at 12-4 the Bengals went on to defeat Seattle and Buffalo to advance to the Super Bowl.
The 49ers coached by Bill Walsh had already won 2 Super Bowls. This would be Walsh’s last game as the coach of the 49ers and a year that they went 13-6 including the win in the Super Bowl. The 49ers had started the season slow going 6-5 before Montana led them to wins in 4 of their next 5 games to end the season at 10-6. They then defeated both Minnesota and Chicago in very lopsided games to advance to Miami to meet the Bengals. Montana completed 238 passes for 2981 yards and 18 touchdowns. He would be aided by future Hall of Famers Jerry Rice, Roger Craig and Defensive Back Ronnie Lott.
The game was one of the closest Super Bowl in Super Bowl history and bucked a trend of blowouts that had marked many of the Super Bowls of the 1980s. With the game tied 6-6 with under a minute left in the 3rd Quarter following a 49er’s field goal Cincinnati kick-off returner took the ensuing kick 93 yards for a touchdown and a 13-6 lead. The 49ers then came back to tie the game with a 4 play 85 yard drive featuring a 31 yard pass to Rice, a 40 yard completion to Craig and finished with a 14 yard touchdown strike to Rice to tie the game 13-13. After an exchange of possessions which included a missed 49 yard field goal attempt by the 49ers the Bengals took possession at their 32 yard line. In a 46 yard 10 play drive the Bengals kicker Jim Breech hit a 40 yard Field Goal with 3:20 left in the game.
The 49ers were penalized on the ensuing kick-off for an illegal block in the back took possession at their own 8 yard line. It was at this point that Montana, Rice and crew would launch a magical drive that would go down in the annals of NFL lore as simply “the Drive.” Like “the Catch” against the Dallas Cowboys that ended that 1970s dynasty it was a defining moment for the 49ers which would forever place Montana and Rice as well as an unlikely hero named John Taylor in the made Super Bowl history in a game that NFL.com in 2006 named as the number one of the top ten Super Bowls of all time.
Montana entered the huddle with much on his shoulders. Apart from the scoring drive at the beginning of the quarter the Bengals defense had played the 49ers tough bending but not breaking. With the crowd roaring Montana looked up from the huddle and pointing to the stands said to his offense “Hey isn’t that John Candy?” to calm his team. In the ensuing drive Montana befuddled the Bengals defense throwing inside routes to Craig, Rice and Tight End John Frank and mixing in solid rushes by Craig to reach the Bengals 35 yard line. Montana then threw an incompletion and the following play Center Randy Cross was flagged for an illegal man downfield penalty which put the 49ers with a second and twenty at the Bengal 45 with just 1:15 left. Montana brought the 49ers back quickly hiting Rice for 27 yards before he was brought down at the Bengal 18. Montana then hit Craig for 8 years to the Bengal 10 with 39 seconds left. Montana capped the drive with a 10 yard strike to John Taylor in the end zone for the winning touchdown.
Rice who had 11 receptions for 215 yards and scored a touchdown was the Most Valuable Player. Montana passed for a Super Bowl Record 357 yards going 23 of 36 and two touchdowns. On the final drive “Joe Cool” went 8 for 9 for 97 yards. It was an amazing performance. The following year Montana would lead the 49ers to their fourth Super Bowl victory in which the 49ers went 17 and 2 and destroyed the Denver Broncos by a score of 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV at the Louisiana Super Dome in New Orleans.
Post Script” Since I am ending this post with the 49ers victory in New Orleans tonight in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami where 21 years ago Joe Montana worked his magic. In tonight’s game New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees led his team over the favored Indianapolis Colts by a score of 31-17. Brees picked apart the Colt’s secondary and was ably assisted by a stingy defense that after allowing the Colts an early 10-0 lead dominated the Indianapolis offense. The victory is especially sweet for the Saints and the city of New Orleans which until now had never won a major championship. The Saints who for many years were the doormat of the NFL being so bad at times that they were knows as the “Aints” and their fans would wear paper bags over their heads at their home games. With the devastation of the city in by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and suggestions that the team be moved to another city the Saints helped provide inspiration as the city recovered. It is a great story and congratulations to the Saints.