San Francisco 49ers: Ranking All 6 Super Bowl Appearances by Team Dominance
While the sting of the San Francisco 49ers' loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII is still felt by most Niners fans, they can still look back at a franchise that has appeared in six Super Bowls and won all but one of them.
Each of those Super Bowl appearances, including the most recent visit, signaled significant eras in 49ers history.
In 1981, the 49ers transformed from the dark years of the late 1970s into a dynamic franchise led by new head coach Bill Walsh and a young quarterback named Joe Montana. In 1984, the 49ers dominated a talented Miami Dolphins team led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino.
San Francisco reached "dynasty" status during the 1988 and 1989 seasons, winning back-to-back Super Bowls and forever cementing the legacies of Walsh, Montana and Jerry Rice.
In 1994, it was Steve Young's turn to lead the 49ers to a decisive victory over the San Diego Chargers.
Even in 2012, when San Francisco lost to the Ravens, the Super Bowl appearance has shown the return to prominence of a proud franchise with a rich history.
During each of the six 49ers visits to the Super Bowl, San Francisco was blessed with a multitude of talented and even legendary players. In the majority of its visits to the NFL championship, San Francisco was outright dominant, leaving no doubt that the 49ers were the best team in football and not just the last team standing.
Here is a look at each of San Francisco's six Super Bowl appearances, ranked by the overall team dominance in the season as well as its performance in the Super Bowl itself.
Team and player statistics courtesy of pro-football-reference.com.
Super Bowl XXIII vs. the Cincinnati Bengals
Super Bowl XXIII
Date: January 22, 1989
Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals
Score: SF 20, CIN 16
Super Bowl MVP: Jerry Rice
Down by three late in the fourth quarter against the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII, 49ers quarterback Joe Montana gathered his players in the huddle, calmly pointed toward the stands and said to teammate Harris Barton, "Hey, isn't that John Candy?"
It was the classic "Joe Cool" moment of Montana's career. He then orchestrated the drive that resulted in a touchdown, giving San Francisco the lead for good.
While the Super Bowl marked the third time San Francisco had won the NFL championship, it was not the prettiest game, nor was it the prettiest season the 49ers had during their decade of dominance.
The 1988 season was a struggle at times for the 49ers and included a quarterback controversy much more dynamic than the one recently experienced in 2012. For starters, Montana suffered an elbow injury in Week 1 that hampered his play for much of the season, forcing head coach Bill Walsh to alternate between Montana and backup Steve Young for the remainder of the year.
Fortunately, the talent-laden 49ers were able to bounce back and finished the regular season 10-6 en route to another playoff appearance.
Over the course of the regular season, their offense finished seventh in total points and their defense ranked eighth in total points allowed. Running back Roger Craig led the team in total rushing yards with 1,502 and Montana still managed to pass for 2,981 yards and 18 touchdowns despite only starting 13 games during the year.
Cincinnati was no fluke and quarterback Boomer Esiason was at the top of his game that year, eventually resulting in him being named league MVP.
One may think that, with weapons like Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Tom Rathman and Craig around him, Montana would have torn Cincinnati's defense apart early and often. However, the score was only 3-3 by halftime, with both teams' defenses putting on a show.
Both offenses found some rhythm during the second half, with Cincinnati taking a third-quarter lead off a field goal. Yet the 49ers were able to answer back two possessions later with a field goal of their own and the game remained tied until late in the third quarter when the Bengals scored the first touchdown of the game on a Stanford Jennings 93-yard kickoff return, which again gave them the lead.
Montana answered back, utilizing both Rice and Craig in a drive that eventually wound up in the end zone, tying the game at 13-13. The drive itself was nearly as classic as the one Montana would put together later in the fourth quarter.
Cincinnati responded with a late field goal to take the lead with 3:20 left in regulation. Then, with time running out, Montana orchestrated one of the greatest two-minute drills in the history of the NFL. After pointing out Candy, Montana led San Francisco down the field on an 11-play, 92-yard drive to put the 49ers up 20-16 and the score held.
Rice was named MVP of the game and, by all means, earned the title. He put up 215 yards on 11 receptions and scored one of the two lone 49er touchdowns.
Nevertheless, Montana's performance was also worth noting. He completed 23 of 36 passing attempts for 357 yards and two touchdowns against zero interceptions.
Perhaps most significant about Montana's performance was his final drive in the fourth quarter. If anything epitomized how calm and collected Montana was on the field, this drive would be it.
Larry Schwartz of ESPN.com summarizes Montana's cool demeanor under pressure:
He possessed an almost mystical calmness in the midst of chaos, especially with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. While others saw turmoil and danger after the snap, Montana saw order and opportunity. He was Joe Cool, the unflappable king of the comeback.
In addition, the Super Bowl victory cemented San Francisco's label of being the "team of the 1980s." One Super Bowl victory means you were good that year. Two means you had a great stretch. Three means you were a dynasty.
Super Bowl XLVII vs. the Baltimore Ravens
Super Bowl XLVII
Date: February 3, 2013
Opponent: Baltimore Ravens
Score: BAL 34, SF 31
Super Bowl MVP: Joe Flacco
Super Bowl XLVII will currently be remembered by San Francisco fans as the lone Super Bowl the 49ers ever lost.
Yet it also should be remembered as the coming-out party of the new-look and new-age 49ers.
San Francisco was long considered the "team of the 1980s," with four Super Bowl titles during the decade and then a fifth after the 1994 season.
Despite a number of good seasons in the years after their fifth title, the 49ers never made it back to the Super Bowl and eventually found themselves entering nearly a decade of heartache and disappointment.
As the coaching staffs and personnel changed, the 49ers were at least starting to put something together. Finally, in 2011, head coach Jim Harbaugh took over and turned what had been a lackluster team into one of the league's most dominant franchises.
One year removed from a trip to the NFC Championship Game, Harbaugh and the 49ers found themselves on their way to a second consecutive NFC West title.
However, the 2012 season was not without its fair share of difficulties.
Chief among them was an injury to defensive end and line anchor Justin Smith in Week 15. While he was able to make his way back on the field in time for the Super Bowl, the 49ers defense was never the same.
In addition, the San Francisco receiving corps suffered injuries to Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams late in the season, putting more pressure on the lone wide receiver standout, Michael Crabtree.
There was, of course, the transition from quarterback Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick. After Smith suffered a concussion in Week 10 against the St. Louis Rams, the door was open to Kaepernick and he never looked back.
While at times raw, Kaepernick epitomized the new "hybrid" breed of quarterback, showing his ability to not only throw with accuracy and power, but also to be an effective rusher in a system that allowed him to utilize the option.
The team's offense went from 26th in the league in total yards in 2011 to 11th in 2012. Assisted by the likes of Crabtree, Frank Gore and Vernon Davis, San Francisco's offense was now legitimate in time for the playoffs.
In years prior, San Francisco's defense was one of its only strengths. During most of the 2012 season, it stayed true to form, especially with second-year linebacker Aldon Smith taking a shot at the single-season sack record that year.
The Week 15 injury to Justin Smith took a toll on more than just the 49ers' pass rush, though. In multiple ways, it hampered the secondary as well.
The defense remained a concern as the 49ers moved towards the Super Bowl. San Francisco gave up a combined 55 points against the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons during the first two games of the playoffs and its secondary looked overmatched all too often. The pass rush also struggled, which was cause for concern moving forward.
Despite the stumbling blocks, the 49ers made it to Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens in a game that featured a battle between head coaching brothers Jim and John Harbaugh.
San Francisco was favored in the game, yet there remained questions surrounding the secondary and how the team would react to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
Any and all questions were quickly answered when, during the first half, Baltimore seemed to be doing everything right and San Francisco was doing nothing. The Ravens got out to a 21-6 first-half lead, marked by 49er turnovers and costly penalties.
In addition, Flacco got into rhythm—especially with veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin. The 49ers secondary seemed to have no answer for Flacco and the Ravens offense during the first half.
Fortunately for San Francisco, the 49ers had Kaepernick. After a shocking 108-yard Jacoby Jones kickoff return for a touchdown and subsequent extra point that put Baltimore up 28-6, the 49ers responded in dramatic fashion, with Kaepernick engineering a drive that resulted in San Francisco's first touchdown of the game.
Even with the score, the Ravens still led 28-13 and a comeback would have still been far from likely. Yet Kaepernick and the 49ers pressed on. After a couple of key 49er defensive plays, San Francisco was able to cut the lead to 28-23.
Signs pointed to a comeback that could have been performed by the likes of Joe Montana or Steve Young years before.
After another Baltimore field goal increased its lead to 31-23, Kaepernick answered back in quick succession—something that Montana would have been proud of. Kaepernick engineered a five-play drive, eventually resulting in a 15-yard touchdown rush by Kaepernick himself.
After a two-point conversion failed, the score was 31-29.
Baltimore put up another field goal, pushing its lead to 34-29 and leaving Kaepernick and the 49ers with 4:19 of regulation time to take the lead. In years past, San Francisco fans would have expected a quarterback like Montana to do just that.
Kaepernick almost did, but the drive faltered at Baltimore's 5-yard line. After an intentional Baltimore safety, the final score ended with the Ravens winning 34-31.
The game marked the first time San Francisco lost in the Super Bowl. Yet the loss by no means signaled the end of an era. If anything, it showed that the current 49ers franchise had not only completed its transition back to relevance but also emerged as one of the best in football.
For the most part, the 49ers are a young team filled with big expectations. True, they may not have been as dominant as some of the 49er teams of yesteryear, but they are one of the dominant franchises in today's NFL.
Kaepernick is no Montana or Young. Rather, he is Kaepernick and shall look to create his own legacy outside of the shadows of the great 49er quarterbacks of years past.
The Niners fell five yards short in Super Bowl XLVII, but they made titanic strides getting there.
Super Bowl XVI vs. the Cincinnati Bengals
Super Bowl XVI
Date: January 24, 1982
Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals
Score: SF 26, CIN 21
Super Bowl MVP: Joe Montana
Much like Super Bowl XLVII, Super Bowl XVI was a coming-out party for the 49ers of the 1980s. Similar to many of the teams prior to the 2012 49ers, the 49ers of the late 1970s were abysmal.
Fortunately, the team shifted direction away from the previous years of poor performance and bad coaching. It hired former Stanford head coach Bill Walsh in 1979 and wound up drafting former Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana and wide receiver Dwight Clark.
San Francisco struggled in 1979 and 1980, however, as the team transitioned under the new leadership and West Coast offense employed by Walsh.
In addition, Walsh brought Montana along slowly, allowing him to develop under the new system and find his rhythm at the NFL level. Fortunately, it all came together during the 1981 season that saw the 49ers go 13-3.
Before the year started, San Francisco drafted safety Ronnie Lott and cornerback Eric Wright, both of whom would have significant impacts in their rookie years. Lott would make the Pro Bowl in his first season.
The 49ers defense was one of the best in the league in 1981, ranking second overall that year. San Francisco allowed 20 or more points in only three of their regular-season games.
With their passing offense working well and an upgraded defense, the 49ers easily made their way towards the playoffs and a NFC West title—their first since 1972.
Eventually, they matched up against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game, facing a team that had been their nemesis in the previous decade.
That game is certainly best remembered for "The Catch." Trailing 27-21 with 58 seconds left in regulation, Montana completed arguably one of the most famous passes in NFL history by finding Clark in the back corner of the end zone.
The play gave San Francisco the lead for good and a trip to Super Bowl XVI against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The 49ers entered the game with one of the best passing offenses in the league, but they had little in regards to the running game. Fortunately, with the West Coast offense in full swing, San Francisco could move the ball downfield with effect.
In addition, the revamped defense had proven vital and would continue to do so in the upcoming Super Bowl.
Cincinnati would prove to be a tough opponent. Holding a 12-4 record that year, best in the AFC, the Bengals were also playing in their first Super Bowl. Cincinnati featured an excellent quarterback in Ken Anderson, who would go on to win the league's MVP award that season. In addition, the Bengals defense was solid.
Yet the 49ers were equal to the task and wound up getting out to a 20-0 lead after the first half. At times, it seemed as if the young defensive corps of the 49ers would be exploited. When all was said and done, the Bengals would wind up netting 356 yards of total offense during the game.
Nonetheless, San Francisco's defense made plays when it had to, forcing three key turnovers in the first half.
The 49ers got on the board first with a one-yard Montana sneak.
San Francisco then backed up its first touchdown with another thanks to a 92-yard drive to make it 14-0. A couple of late field goals put the 49ers up 20-0 going into halftime.
The lead might have signaled a 49er runaway, but 49erswebzone.com writes that Walsh knew Cincinnati would come back strong in the second half:
I wasn't comfortable with the lead. I told them what to expect. We knew we were playing a great team. Maybe if it had been 24-0, the Bengals might have caved in, but not with the score 20-0.
The Bengals did not go away. In fact, they came out in the second half eager to get back into the game. A fired-up defense held the 49ers at bay during the third quarter and Cincinnati was able to score a touchdown of its own early in the quarter.
It almost scored another shortly thereafter, but a brilliant goal-line stand by San Francisco thwarted the effort, resulting in no score.
Cincinnati cut the lead to 20-14 in the fourth quarter, yet San Francisco answered back with a Montana-led drive resulting in a field goal, putting the 49ers up 23-14. Another late field goal increased San Francisco's lead to 26-14 and the Bengals, desperate to get back into the game, were only able to score a lone touchdown in the remaining time left.
For the 49ers, it was the culmination of two years of smart drafting, good coaching, hard work and development. It was their first Super Bowl championship and signified the beginning of a new era.
Montana had emerged as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
"Montana will be the great quarterback of the future," said Walsh of his third-year quarterback. "He is one of the coolest competitors of all time and he has just started."
Walsh was becoming known as a top head coach as well and the young 49er defense brandished weapons that would be key for years to come.
It was the start of a dynasty.
Super Bowl XXIX vs. the San Diego Chargers
Super Bowl XXIX
Date: January 29, 1995
Opponent: San Diego Chargers
Score: SF 49, SD 26
Super Bowl MVP: Steve Young
For five years, quarterback Steve Young remained in the shadow of Joe Montana. Yet after the 1992 season and a storied quarterback controversy, Montana was out and Young was in.
Young had big shoes to fill. Montana had cemented his reputation as one of the best quarterbacks in history. He had helped get San Francisco back on the map and had been crucial to its four Super Bowl championships.
The only way for Young to fill those shoes would be to win a Super Bowl of his own and do it in dramatic fashion.
San Francisco was able to put together a dream team of sorts by signing a multitude of free agents, including the likes of cornerback Deion Sanders. As ESPN.com reports, he wanted to be with a team that would win.
With head coach George Seifert at the helm, the 1994 49ers seemed poised to be one of the league's dominant teams that year. However, the season did not start off as planned.
Seifert bore the brunt of 49er fans' frustrations, as the team was clearly intended to do better on the field than it had performed to that point.
Fortunately, San Francisco turned things around and the 49ers were able to finish the season with a 13-3 record that included a 10-game winning streak.
During the regular season, the 49ers offense led the league in points scored and had a scoring differential of 209 points, also first in the league. Jerry Rice led all 49ers receivers with 1,499 receiving yards and Steve Young had a passing completion percentage of 70.3 as well as 35 passing touchdowns.
The defense, led by Sanders and safety Merton Hanks, also fell into place and remained a dominant force for the remainder of the season.
In the postseason, the 49ers dominated the Chicago Bears 44-15 and then survived a late-game comeback by the Dallas Cowboys, winning the NFC Championship Game 38-28.
San Francisco would then face the AFC champion San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. This would be the first time two California teams would square off in the Super Bowl.
If there ever was a David-and-Goliath story to take place in the Super Bowl, this was the year. The 49ers were heavy favorites, especially considering the seasons that players like Young and Rice had put in. Combined with the defense, San Francisco appeared ready to steamroll the Chargers.
That is exactly what happened.
San Diego was a pleasant surprise for the AFC at a time when the conference was relatively weak compared to the much stronger NFC.
Led by running back Natrone Means and linebacker Junior Seau, the Chargers had a difficult road to the Super Bowl in the playoffs, playing tough games against the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Yet when matched up against the 49ers, the Chargers seemed to have no chance. As NinersNation.com writes, San Francisco was favored by 18.5 points and had all the tools in place to win the championship.
The game started out just as one would have anticipated. Young found Rice on the third offensive play of the game for a 44-yard touchdown. On its next possession, San Francisco enjoyed a 79-yard drive, with Young finding running back Ricky Waters for a 51-yard touchdown pass which put the 49ers up 14-0 before even five minutes had passed in the first quarter.
San Diego appeared to make a game out of it shortly thereafter by responding with an impressive touchdown drive of its own, cutting the 49ers' lead to 14-7.
By halftime, however, it was all 49ers, who were leading 28-10. This was the closest scoring margin the Chargers would have for the rest of the game.
The second half was completely dominated by Young and the 49ers. San Francisco ran away with Super Bowl 49-26. The score makes the game look closer than it actually was. It might as well have read 60-17.
Young finished the game with 325 passing yards and an unprecedented six touchdown passes. He also led all rushers with 49 rushing yards.
"Is this great or what? I mean, I haven't thrown six touchdown passes in a game in my life," Young told Sports Illustrated after the game. "Then I throw six in the Super Bowl! Unbelievable."
Indeed Young's performance was unbelievable.
Young was named the game's MVP after the game. It is the single greatest game by a quarterback in Super Bowl history. The Chargers threw three interceptions and turned the ball over on downs twice. The combined score is still the highest in Super Bowl history.
Perhaps more important for Young was the fact that he had finally emerged from the shadows of Montana. There was no doubting him after his blockbuster performance during the Super Bowl.
Sadly, the 49ers were due for some tough times ahead. Sure, there would be some good teams in the years to follow the 1994 season, but the "dream team" that had been assembled for one goal had accomplished its objective and many of those players would be moving on.
Super Bowl XXIX marked the last time San Francisco made it to the NFL championship before 2013 and still remains the last Super Bowl victory in franchise history.
Yet given the performance by Young and the dominant showing the 49ers presented on the field, it is an easy Super Bowl for San Francisco fans to look back upon and cherish.
Super Bowl XIX vs. the Miami Dolphins
Super Bowl XIX
Date: January 20, 1985
Opponent: Miami Dolphins
Score: SF 38, MIA 16
Super Bowl MVP: Joe Montana
It was all about Joe Montana and Dan Marino during the 1984 season.
En route to the NFL MVP award that year, Dan Marino put up the best numbers of his fabled career with the Miami Dolphins. Over the course of the season, Marino completed 362 of 564 attempts for 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns against 17 interceptions.
The Dolphins steamrolled their way to a 14-2 regular-season record and easily captured the AFC East title.
On the other side of the country, Montana put up another impressive year with the 49ers. He completed 279 of 432 attempts for 3,630 yards and 28 touchdowns against 10 interceptions.
Marino was playing in his second season and had already established himself as one of the game's best young stars. Montana had already done that years prior, having helped the 49ers win their first Super Bowl three seasons earlier.
San Francisco had one of the most dominant teams of the decade in 1984, eventually going 15-1 over the year, which set a record for most wins during the regular season. Helping set that record were Montana, the offense and the best defense in football.
The 49ers defense, led by a secondary that included Ronnie Lott and Eric Wright, was first in the league in points allowed that year and all four members of the secondary were elected to the Pro Bowl that season.
In addition, the offense averaged 29.7 points per game. That was second only to the Miami Dolphins, who averaged 32.1.
The 1984 season was a great one for San Francisco for a number of reasons. It had struggled one year after its first Super Bowl title, going 3-6 in a strike-shortened 1982 season. The 49ers went 10-6 in 1983 and made it to the NFC Championship Game only to lose to the eventual Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins.
With the 15-1 record under their belt, the 49ers easily moved past the New York Giants and Chicago Bears to advance to Super Bowl XIX. The Miami Dolphins would meet them there.
It was only fitting that the top two teams in the NFL would wind up playing head-to-head that year in the Super Bowl. It was also fitting that the game would feature two elite quarterbacks: Montana and Marino.
Also unique to the game was the fact that it was a homecoming of sorts for 49ers head coach Bill Walsh. The game was played at Stanford Stadium just south of San Francisco. Walsh had coached Stanford before taking over the 49ers in 1979.
Marino and the Dolphins were expected to give San Francisco's defense plenty of trouble during the game and it initially looked like that would be the case.
After the first quarter, Miami held a 10-7 lead, with the Dolphins' touchdown coming off an impressive drive that featured Marino utilizing a no-huddle offense that hindered the 49ers defense.
Yet in the second quarter, San Francisco answered back and began to take over.
On an impressive 47-yard drive, Montana found running back Roger Craig on an eight-yard pass for a touchdown. The 49ers were up 14-10. On their next possession, Montana scrambled for a touchdown of his own, giving San Francisco a 21-10 lead. The 49ers would tack on another touchdown to make it 28-10 before the half was over.
A quick Miami march down the field resulted in a Dolphins field goal, and thanks to a botched kickoff, Miami recovered the ball again and was able to score another field goal before the half expired.
Going into the second half, San Francisco still commanded a 28-16 lead.
However, any hopes of a Dolphins comeback were thwarted by the excellent 49ers defense. San Francisco would add 10 more points, including another touchdown from Craig, who scored three during the course of the game.
At the end, the 49ers were crowned champions once again, winning Super Bowl XIX 38-16.
Montana received his second Super Bowl MVP, although the award could have been given to Craig, who had an equally impressive game.
If the award could be given to an entire unit, however, it is arguable that San Francisco's defense should have received it. Not only did it sack Marino four times during the course of the game, it also forced two interceptions in addition to holding Miami to only 314 yards and zero points for the entire second half.
Considering how potent the vaunted Miami offense was during the regular season, such stats must be regarded as equally impressive.
NinersNation.com suggests one of the reasons why San Francisco's defense was able to thwart Marino and the Miami offense was because Walsh had switched his defensive alignment to a dime defense, utilizing only one linebacker up front.
The move worked and the Dolphins never seemed to get it going after the transition. It was a great move by a great head coach.
According to 49erswebzone.com, even Marino was impressed by the 49ers defense:
Sometimes I didn't throw the ball well, sometimes I didn't have time and sometimes guys didn't get open. They played the best any team has played against us defensively. They took us out of our scheme, I think. We knew what we had to do -- we had to throw the ball against a four-man line -- and we didn't.
Marino had been halted by San Francisco's defense, but Miami could not thwart Montana and the 49ers offense. The big showdown of quarterbacks in Super Bowl XIX had gone entirely in favor of Montana.
49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark praised Montana's efforts during the game and highlighted how the hype that preceded the Super Bowl gave Montana the motivation he needed.
"Joe will never say it, but it's understandable that with all the talk about Marino he would like to do well," said Clark. "The talk pushed him. I know I am prejudiced, but he is the best quarterback around today, no question."
While Marino put up gaudy statistics during the regular season and subsequently his entire career, Montana became known as the best playoff quarterback of all time. His calm demeanor, leadership qualities and playmaking abilities speak for themselves.
Montana was able to combine those attributes and place them alongside a solid 49er offense. Paired with one of the best defenses in 49ers history, the 1984 team must still be considered one of the greatest of all time.
That season will not be soon forgotten by 49er fans.
Super Bowl XXIV vs. the Denver Broncos
Super Bowl XXIV
Date: January 28, 1990
Opponent: Denver Broncos
Score: SF 55, DEN 10
Super Bowl MVP: Joe Montana
The grand finale of the "team of the 1980s" culminated in one of the most dominant Super Bowls ever played and the greatest championship in the storied history of the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers had already won three Super Bowl titles entering the 1989 season, including one the year before. They had established themselves as an NFL dynasty and were poised to take another shot at the championship.
Yet the before the season even began, head coach Bill Walsh retired, leaving behind a legacy that still resonates today. He had turned a floundering franchise into a dynasty and won three Super Bowls in the process.
Fortunately, Walsh was able to tab 49ers' defensive coordinator George Seifert as his successor and all the pieces remained in place for San Francisco to return to the Super Bowl once more.
In a season that saw the 49ers go 14-2, San Francisco once more enjoyed stellar performances by star players Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.
Montana threw for 3,521 yards and 26 touchdowns against eight interceptions, giving him a 112.4 quarterback rating. At the time, it was the highest single-season passer rating in NFL history and led to MVP honors.
Rice complemented Montana's efforts by leading the league with 1,483 receiving yards on 82 receptions and 17 touchdowns.
The offense was running on all cylinders, ranking first in the league in both points and yards gained. The defense was also spectacular, ranking third that year in points allowed and hauling in an impressive 21 interceptions over the course of the season.
The combined units gave the 49ers the best scoring differential in the league at 11.8 points per game.
San Francisco made the playoffs again in 1989, marking its seventh consecutive appearance and fourth straight division title. It easily defeated both the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams en route to Super Bowl XXIV against the Denver Broncos.
Denver had an impressive year of its own, going 11-5 over the course of the regular season and enjoying the top-ranked defense in points allowed.
The Broncos were able to knock off both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns in the playoffs on the road to their fourth Super Bowl appearance.
Future Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway led the offense, yet had struggled with his consistency over the season. While he did throw for 3,051 yards and 18 touchdowns, he also had a completion percentage of only 53.6 percent—the lowest since his rookie season. He also matched his 18 touchdowns with 18 interceptions.
Fortunately for Denver, as NinersNation.com revisits, its defense was able to carry the team for much of the regular season, thanks to stars like Karl Mecklenburg and Simon Fletcher.
Nonetheless, the Broncos' top-rated defense looked to thwart the 49ers' dominant offense in a game that was set to be a showdown for the ages.
As 49erswebzone.com writes, Denver safeties Dennis Smith and Steve Atwater vowed before the game to make San Francisco's receivers pay for every reception. "We are going to beat Rice and [John] Taylor up a bit. They really haven't been hit a lot in the playoffs. But when they catch a ball against us, they are going to remember it."
However, the game started off well for San Francisco, with the 49ers scoring first on a 66-yard drive, ending with a 20-yard pass from Montana to Rice.
Denver was able to cut into the early lead with a 42-yard field goal, making it 7-3. On Denver's next possession, though, a costly fumble turned the ball over to San Francisco and it never looked back. Three unanswered touchdowns gave the 49ers a 27-3 lead by halftime.
Elway struggled during the second half, throwing two interceptions that eventually resulted in two 49er touchdowns courtesy of Montana. The 49ers' quarterback finished the game with 297 passing yards and five touchdowns.
The Broncos' lone touchdown came in the third quarter on a three-yard rush from Elway.
The story was completely dominated by Rice, Montana and the 49ers. At game's end, San Francisco walked away with a 55-10 victory and its fourth Super Bowl championship. Montana would receive his third Super Bowl MVP award and it was well-deserved.
San Francisco's 55 points broke the previous Super Bowl scoring mark of 46 points by Chicago in Super Bowl XX. The 49ers scored touchdowns on four of their six first-half possessions.
While the offensive show once again highlighted the 49ers' dominance, their defense also deserves plenty of credit, forcing four turnovers and allowing only 108 passing yards.
Ronnie Lott, one of San Francisco's defensive stars during the season and the game, championed his team's efforts and pointed out just how great the 49ers had become.
"[We are] as good as any Super Bowl winner. I knew we were great, but I didn't think we were going to be this great. No question, this is the most talented 49er team I've been on."
Indeed, San Francisco was great, rolling over Denver on the road to one of the most lopsided Super Bowl victories in NFL history. Furthermore, the game forever cemented the legacy of the 1989 49ers as the greatest team in franchise history.
One may think that winning four Super Bowls over the course of a decade would get old. Of course, if Montana had his way, he would never tire of it.
After the game, Montana said, "Each Super Bowl becomes more precious. The more, the merrier. They are all sweet, and this was the sweetest yet. It was so much fun, we couldn't wait to get back onto the field."
How could anyone argue with that?
San Francisco was the team of the decade and it put its endorsement on the phrase by showcasing itself in the most dominant Super Bowl performance in franchise history.
Its offense was top-caliber. Its defense was stellar. The coaching was impeccable. Everything about this team screamed elite.
The 49ers would go on to win another Super Bowl five years later. Another quarterback would be calling the plays, though. It would be a dominant win as well, but not quite as impressive as San Francisco's victory in Super Bowl XXIV.
This win was one for the ages and gives credence to the notion that the 1989 49ers were the greatest team in San Francisco history.
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