"America's Team" felt invincible against the upstart no-name 49ers, already forcing San Francisco to commit six turnovers faced a daunting task as they stood at their own 11-yard line.
In an epic chess battle, Bill Walsh's genius faced off against Tom Landry's "Doomsday Defense" to earn the right to play in the Super Bowl XVI.
What would unfold in the final minutes of this memorable game would see the birth of an almost two-decade long dynasty.
Joe Montana calmly walked up behind center and immediately threw an incomplete pass to running back Lenvil Elliott.
2nd and 10.
Landry felt the 49ers were going to use their highly effective short-passing attack but then Walsh decided to play some good old NFC East-style smash mouth power football.
Montana then handed the ball off to Elliott who slashed right through the middle of the Cowboys' defense for a San Francisco first down. It was obvious Dallas wasn't prepared to stop the run with seven defensive backs on the field.
The 49ers tried to go to the air again, but would only get a minimal gain on a catch by wide receiver Freddie Solomon.
Then Walsh took a play out of Vince Lombardi's playbook and ran a power sweep with Elliott to the right resulting in another first down, leaving the 49ers at their own 34-yard line.
San Francisco ran the same exact play except to the left side of the Dallas defense for seven more precious yards, but time was running out with 2:53 remaining in the game.
Montana tried to throw it to Elliott again but the pass went through his hands.
3rd-and-3 at their own 41-yard line with 2:22 left.
Walsh decided to keep the pressure on Dallas and had Montana hand the ball off to Elliott up the gut for four yards and the first down.
On first down, Montana drilled a pass to tight end/fullback Earl Cooper, finally entering Dallas territory.
Then the two-minute warning sounded as the 49ers stood at the Cowboy 49-yard line.
Then the tricky Walsh called a reverse to Solomon that landed the 49ers at the 35-yard line, giving San Francisco another first down.
Montana would throw a strike at the right sideline to wide receiver Dwight Clark, giving the 49ers a 1st-and-10 at the 25-yard line as the Candlestick crowd erupted.
The Dallas Cowboys' "Doomsday Defense" was reeling.
Solomon would make the next big play as he caught a 12-yard pass from Montana, placing San Francisco at the Dallas 13-yard line.
Timeout 49ers, their first one with 1:15 on the game clock.
On the next play, Montana saw an open Freddie Solomon in the end zone but overthrew him.
Another power sweep to the left by Lenvil Elliott put the San Francisco 49ers at the Dallas Cowboys' 6-yard line and a 3rd-and-3 with 54 seconds as they called another timeout.
Joe Montana conferred with Bill Walsh and was given the order to run a "Sprint Right Option."
"If you don't get what you want," Walsh told Montana. "Just simply throw the ball away."
As the 49ers broke the huddle, emotions ran high and with the tension thick, "Joe Cool" walked up to the line of scrimmage and began the play.
Freddie Solomon—Montana's first option—was covered, so he rolled to the right with Ed "Too Tall" Jones and the rest of the "Doomsday Defense" in high pursuit of the slippery quarterback.
After multiple pump fakes, Montana lofted a pass that looked like it was going out of bounds in the right corner of the end zone.
Then out of nowhere, Dwight Clark came streaking to the back of the end zone, leaped as high as he could, and brought the football down with him in the back of the end zone as Dallas cornerback Everson Walls looked on hopelessly.
The home crowd screamed with tears of joy as Clark spiked the ball with all his might.
"You just beat America's Team," Ed "Too Tall" Jones told Joe Montana according to an old football legend.
"Well, you can sit at home with the rest of America and watch the Super Bowl," Montana responded.
The extra-point would give the 49ers a slim 28-27 lead over the Cowboys, but Dallas still had some fight left.
After the ensuing kickoff, Cowboy wide receiver Drew Pearson caught a pass over the middle in stride, ran by rookie Ronnie Lott and appeared to be on his way for the go-ahead touchdown.
Then just like Clark, rookie cornerback Eric Wright made the big play by grabbing the back of Pearson's jersey and bringing him down on the San Francisco 44-yard line with 39 seconds to go.
Dallas was getting close to field-goal range and giving San Francisco another broken heart.
Dallas quarterback Danny White took the next snap, dropped back five steps, and in came Lawrence Pillers with a full head of steam as he beat his man at the line of scrimmage.
White dropped the ball and Jim Stuckey fell on it. Then Stuckey ran to the sideline with the ball up in the air signifying the victory with only 30 seconds left in the game.
"The glass slipper finally fits," Brent Musberger of CBS Sports said after the final score. "Cinderella is alive and well at the City by the Bay."
"One of the most exciting NFC Championship games ever played and congratulations to Bill Walsh, that calm man over on the sidelines who with two minutes to play. His quarterback Joe Montana played just like his coach, he never panicked and the 49ers came back against the Dallas Cowboys."
After Montana took a couple knees, he raised his index finger in the air and ran back to the locker room where the exhausted quarterback began hyperventilating, but the mission was accomplished as the Candlestick crowd came pouring down from the bleachers.
"That was the beginning of being Joe Montana," former center Randy Cross said on the 1981 San Francisco 49ers edition of America's Game. "It was the abnormality of a once normal life from that point on."
It was truly a special day for anyone associated with the San Francisco 49ers.
"I've been told that there was a poor Asian kid born on the Jan. 10, 1982, and his name is Dwight Clark Mitumitzo," Clark said on America's Game. "So, I don't know if it's true but for his sake I hope not but that's quite an honor if it is true."
"It's humbling really because I feel honored people are still talking about it 25 years later," Clark continued on America's Game. "I'm honored to be able to be a part of a play that was the culmination of this incredible, surprise season. It's great to give 49er fans a moment that they can re-live over and over."