I'm going to go mostly by memory in this story, and see if it stirs any other remembrances from other 49er Faithful.
On November 20, 1983, the 49ers traveled to Atlanta to play their heated rivals, the Atlanta Falcons. While the 49ers were typically the better team, this was always a tough game, especially in Atlanta. I was living in Atlanta at the time and attended this game. Getting tickets was no problem. It never was.
The 49ers jumped out to an early 14-0 lead with touchdowns by Roger Craig and Wendell Tyler. This was going to be fun, I thought, as long as I kept my mouth shut. The Falcons answered with an 18 yard touchdown pass from former Cal star Steve Bartkowski to wide receiver Stacey Bailey.
The last play of the first half is one that I will never forget. Joe Montana threw a pass over the middle to none other than Renaldo Nehemiah, who, while trying to control the ball, was hit head on just under the face mask by the helmet of Falcon safety Bobby Butler. Butler was known as a hard hitter, but none was harder than this one. The former track star Nehemiah, was flattened and did not move. As hard as the hit looked from my seat far away, it must have been even more impactful on the field, as Butler not only stood over Nehemiah on the field, but held out his hands to protect him from further harm.
Meanwhile, the ball bounced to the turf and was returned for a 64 yard touchdown by Blane Gaison. Truth be told, Nehemiah never had a handle on the ball, but there were no instant replays in 1983. At halftime, the score was 14-14. Nehemiah, who had laid on the field for at least 10 minutes before being carted off, did not return. Amazingly, he was not seriously injured, although if he played again, I don't remember.
The only score in the third quarter was a 25 yard field goal by Ray Wersching. Gerald Riggs gave the Falcons a 21-17 lead in the 4th quarter before Montana rushed for an 11 yard touchdown to give the Niners a 24-21 lead.
The Falcons had just one last chance at the 49er 47 yard line with no more than 6 seconds on the clock. Time for one play - the Hail Mary. Bartkowski let it fly and a host of 49ers were there to greet it when it came down inside the ten yard line. The ball was tipped in the air, caught by Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, who was then tackled from behind by Ronnie Lott on about the 3 yard line, which drove him down inside the one. Johnson laid flat out on the ground, reached the ball out to a half yard from the end zone, then crawled across the goal line.
A referee marked the spot with his foot a good half yard from the end zone, but another ref - or maybe it was a crazed fan with a black and white striped shirt - his hands in the air calling it a touchdown and that was the ballgame.
Ironic, I guess, that the 49ers would lose a game due to the official giving their opponent not one, but two, touchdowns in a season that ended with officials horribly botching the end of the NFC Championship game and eliminating any chance of the 49ers completing a monumental comeback, which seemed a given the way that game was going. But that's another story.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!