Super Bowl XXIII Memories: The Day I Became a Fan for Life
The 1980’s were a time of decadence, and a period marked by a socio-economic boom in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it was an even better time for football. It was a decade of dominance for San Francisco’s home team that boasted a revolutionary offense and a stout defense.
In 1982 (1981 NFL season), 1985 (1984 NFL season), and 1989 (1988 NFL season), the pride of the City raised the Super Bowl’s Lombardi Trophy high above their shoulders in absolute victory. As a result, the San Francisco 49ers were crowned the NFL’s “Team of the Eighties” and they did it in dramatic fashion. I was seven years old and just learning the game, but I knew this was a do or die situation.
On January 22nd, 1989 at Joe Robbie Stadium with 3:10 left on the game clock, the 49ers were losing to the Cincinnati Bengals 16-13 and stood at their own 8 yard line. 49er fans across the nation sat in anxiety but quarterback Joe Montana stood stoic and unemotional.
He had earned the moniker of “Joe Cool” because of his almost cold blooded approach to the game. There was no obstacle too big and no football field too long for Joe Montana and the 49er team he quarterbacked for two Super Bowl victories earlier in the decade. He was the epitome of the field general, a man who always stayed cool under pressure no matter what the circumstances.
“Coolness” was a quality that was much admired in quarterbacks and Joe Montana was the epitome of the term. He was simply a man with unbelievable nerves of steel.
“This is crap,” offensive lineman Harris Barton exclaimed with displeasure on the final drive. “What are we doing?”
“Hey H, check it out,” Montana asked Barton calmly. “There’s John Candy in the end zone.”
“It is John Candy,” Barton responded. “Well, look at that!”
The offensive unit was ready to go, broke the huddle, and got under the center. Montana had the entire length of the football field to go for the winning touchdown, but this was nothing new to him as he had brought the 49ers back from the brink of defeat numerous times. Ninety-two yards? No problem for Joe.
Montana quickly went to work by hitting running back Roger Craig with an eight yard pass over the middle. Then a seven yard pass to tight end John Frank set up a first and 10 at the 23 yard line. The offense ran back up to the line of scrimmage in a hurry then Montana threw a strike at the right sideline to Jerry Rice for seven more yards. After a one yard run by Craig, the two minute warning ominously marked the 49ers' presence at their own 30 yard line.
After the two minute mark the 49ers faced a 3rd-and-2 and Montana handed the ball off tackle to Craig for four yards and kept the chains moving. San Francisco immediately called a timeout, stopping the game clock at 1:54.
On 1st-and-10, Montana's magic was at work when he hit Rice for a huge 17 yard gain on the left sideline. The alert receiver quickly ran out of bounds, stopping the clock at 1:49.
In a similar play that kicked off the drive, Montana would hit Craig over the middle again, this time for 13 precious yards placing the marching 49ers in Bengal territory. The Cincinnati 48 yard line was where they landed for the invasion.
Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense was rolling on all cylinders thanks to Joe Montana’s absolute precision. Halfway through the drive, Montana made a timeout signal but Bill Walsh waved him off. Montana made the time out signal again, this time with more urgency. Joe Montana was hyperventilating.
On 1st-and-10, Montana threw his first incompletion then things started to turn sour for the 49ers' momentum. On the very next play, an illegal man downfield penalty on Randy Cross backed the offense up 10 yards to the Cincinnati 45 yard line.
Then the "Magic Man" performed under pressure once again.
Montana took a 5 step drop and with perfect accuracy hit Jerry Rice over the middle. "Flash 80" caught the ball in stride at the 34 yard line and wasn't caught until the 19 yard line. This was no doubt the play that clinched the Super Bowl MVP award to Jerry Rice. It was also his Super Bowl record eleventh catch.
The Niner offensive unit quickly ran back to the line of scrimmage with even more urgency, snapped the ball, and Montana immediately hit "Cat Fish" over the middle once again for eight more yards.
Then the 49ers burned their second timeout.
Eighty-four yards later with 39 seconds left in the game, Montana and the 49ers found themselves in Cincinnati territory, eight short yards from the game winning score. For the last 10 plays, the 49ers assaulted down the field like the United States Marine Corps.
Bill Walsh called the play “20 Half Back Curl X Up” and Montana went back to pass. He scanned the field and quickly saw wide receiver John Taylor beat his coverage as he ran to the back of the end zone. Montana threw a strike and Taylor caught the football in full stride and leaped in the air as high as he could. With his only grab of the game, John Taylor caught the game winning touchdown pass from Joe Montana with :34 on the clock.
Bill Walsh always stressed to all his players that they were an extension of each other. They proved it on that gut wrenching drive.
San Francisco exploded with honking horns and revelers in the street as the victory was sealed. The 49ers vanquished the Bengals and won Super Bowl XXIII, 20-16.
My heart was forever won over.
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