By the slimmest of margins (4.0 percent to 3.9 percent) the 1990 49ers come into this game as the favorites over the Super Bowl XXIII champion 1988 49ers. The team that sent Bill Walsh off in high style versus the team that came so close to a three-peat.
The 1990 49ers entered the season as the prohibitive favorites to win the Super Bowl, coming off back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1988 and 1989. Their offensive production tailed off considerably, despite Joe Montana rebounding from missing three games in 1989 to make 15 starts in the regular season in 1990.
Unlike 1989, where both Montana and Young put up QB ratings in the triple digits, neither passer broke 100 in 1990.
Despite more catches and more yards, Jerry Rice scored four fewer touchdowns in 1990, leading the team with 13. This translated to the lowest regular season point total of any team in the tournament, at just 353.
Their defense was stellar, however, surrendering just 239 points in the regular season (third best in the tournament) and helped carry the team to a 14-2 regular season record.
Despite allowing over 400 yards of offense to the Washington Redskins in the first round of the playoffs, the 1990 49ers emerged victorious, 28-10. This set up a showdown against Bill Parcells and the Giants for the right to play in Super Bowl XXV and a chance for the 49ers to become the first team to three-peat as Super Bowl champions.
In a game that featured just one touchdown (a 61-yard scamper by John Taylor), the 49ers had the ball and the lead in the fourth quarter, when a Roger Craig fumble set up a last-minute game-winning field goal to sink the 49ers three-peat hopes 15-13 and send the Giants to the Super Bowl instead.
The 1988 49ers setup the front end of the would-be three-peat, winning Super Bowl XXIII over the Cincinnati Bengals in dramatic fashion. But it was not easy.
In Bill Walsh’s final season as an NFL head coach, his team put up the smallest regular season point differential of any team in the tournament, outscoring their opponents by just a combined 75 points, 369-294.
The 1988 team was held under 6,000 yards from scrimmage at 5,900 and Joe Montana went just 8-5 in 13 regular season starts, posting a passer rating of just 87.9. The team compiled by far the worst regular season record of any in the tournament, going just 10-6.
They seemed to hit their stride in the playoffs, though, at least until the Super Bowl.
The 1988 49ers waltzed past the Minnesota Vikings in the first round 34-9 and went into Soldier Field in sub-freezing conditions with wind chill down to -26 F° and pummeled the Bears 28-3. They scored a touchdown in every quarter and racked up 406 yards from scrimmage, earning them a berth in their third Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XXIII was perhaps the most exciting of all-time. In a battle between Walsh and his former protégé—Bengals head coach Sam Wyche—the 49ers’ scoring prowess disappeared. A late Bengals field goal set up an ending for the ages.
Joe Montana broke the ice of starting a 92-yard drive with 3:10 to play by pointing out comedian John Candy in the far end zone stands.
Then he crafted a drive capped by a John Taylor touchdown which kept the 49ers perfect in the Super Bowl. Jerry Rice would earn Super Bowl MVP honors for his record-setting 11 receptions and 215 yards.
It was the only Super Bowl in which Joe Montana played where he was not named MVP.
With a comeback like that under their belts, it is difficult to ever count the 1988 squad out.