Classic Rewind: Montana Magic Lifts 49ers Past Eagles

Dean HyblAnalyst IDecember 18, 2009

When the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers meet on the football field this weekend, the Eagles will be looking to strengthen their playoff position while the 49ers are trying to stay in the hunt for a playoff bid.

In the current decade, the Eagles have made seven playoff appearances, played in five NFC Championship Games and reached Super Bowl XXXIX.  Conversely, the San Francisco 49ers have not made the playoffs since 2002 and have also not recorded a winning season during that stretch.

It is a far cry from the 1980s when the San Francisco 49ers were the unquestioned team of the decade and, after opening the decade with a Super Bowl appearance, the Philadelphia Eagles struggled through a stretch of mediocrity.

By 1989, the 49ers were zeroing in on their fourth Super Bowl Championship of the decade under the guidance of first year head coach George Seifert. The 49ers were a team of superstars at the peak of their talents.

On the other hand, the Eagles were the brash and bold upstarts led by feisty head coach Buddy Ryan. After winning the NFC East in 1988 and losing to the Chicago Bears in the famous “Fog Bowl,” the Eagles were looking to take the next step in 1989 and push past the perennial champion 49ers.

In our Classic Rewind, we will look at their exciting meeting in the third week of the 1989 season. In many ways, this game would serve as a microcosm of how both franchises fared during that period of NFL history.

The Matchup: San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles

Series Record: The 49ers hold a 17-10-1 series advantage though the Eagles have claimed four of the last five meetings. .

The Game: Sept. 24, 1989, Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia

Team Records: San Francisco 2-0, Philadelphia 2-0

Overview: Coming off an exhilarating 42-37 last-second victory the previous week in Washington, the Eagles were looking to secure their place among the elite teams in the NFL with a home game against the defending Super Bowl Champions.

San Francisco was coming off a surprisingly tough game at Tampa Bay where they needed a touchdown run by Joe Montana in the final minute to stay undefeated.

Coaches: San Francisco – George Seifert (first year); Philadelphia – Buddy Ryan (fourth year)

Notable 49ers: Joe Montana (QB), Roger Craig (RB), Tom Rathman (FB), Jerry Rice (WR), John Taylor (WR), Brent Jones (TE), Bubba Paris (T), Guy McIntyre (G), Jesse Sapulo (C), Michael Carter (NT), Charles Haley (LB), Matt Millen (LB), Keena Turner (LB), Bill Romanowski (LB), Don Griffin (CB), Ronnie Lott (FS), Mike Cofer (PK)

Notable Eagles: Randall Cunningham (QB), Keith Byars (RB), Heath Sherman (FB), Cris Carter (WR), Mike Quick (WR), Keith Jackson (TE), Jimmie Giles (TE), Ron Heller (T), David Alexander (C), Reggie White (DE), Jerome Brown (DT), Clyde Simmons (DE), Seth Joyner (lb), Byron Evans (LB), Al Harris (LB), Eric Allen (CB), Wes Hopkins (FS), Luis Zendejas (PK), John Teltschik (P)

Interesting Notes: The CBS broadcasters for the game were Verne Lundquist and Terry Bradshaw. By the end of the 1989 season, Montana would join Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks with four Super Bowl victories. The game was the second of four straight games for the Eagles against the last four Super Bowl Champions.

They had defeated Washington the previous week, traveled to Chicago for a Monday night game the next week then hosted the New York Giants.

The Game: It didn’t take long for Montana and Jerry Rice to remind the much-heralded Philadelphia defense of their offensive firepower. On just the sixth play of the game, Montana and Rice connected on a 68-yard touchdown pass to give the 49ers a quick lead.

Philadelphia was held without a first down on each of their first two possessions and then fumbled the ball away on their third possession after having recovered a fumbled punt by John Taylor.

However, when a mishandled snap by 49ers punter Barry Helton gave the Eagles the ball deep in San Francisco territory for the second time in the first quarter, they finally were able to take advantage. A pass from Randall Cunningham to Keith Jackson put the ball on the two-yard line and Heath Sherman rushed the final two yards to tie the score.

Led by the vaunted front line of Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Mike Pitts and Clyde Simmons, the Eagles spent most of the game harassing and pressuring Montana.

On the next 49ers possession, consecutive sacks of Joe Montana led to a safety and a 9-7 advantage for the Eagles. Reggie White recorded the first sack with Al Harris getting the second one after Montana slipped and fell in the end zone.

The two teams traded field goals in the second quarter as Philadelphia took a 12-10 advantage into the locker room.

After being stopped on their initial drive of the second half, the Eagles regained momentum with a 23-yard run on a fake punt by punter John Teltschik. However, in what would become a theme of the quarter, the Eagles were unable to fully capitalize and instead settled for a 35-yard field goal by Luis Zendejas.

Zendejas kicked two field goals in the third quarter and another early in the fourth period to give Philadelphia a 21-10 advantage.

After being stymied ever since their initial drive, Montana and the San Francisco offense finally came alive early in the final period when Montana hit John Taylor on short pass that Taylor turned into 70-yard scoring play to cut the lead back to four points.

The Eagles were again stopped on their next possession, but the 49ers suffered their third special teams error of the game as the punt hit Bill Romanowski on the helmet and was recovered by the Eagles near midfield. Cunningham then drove the Eagles the rest of the way and finally was able to get the ball into the end zone as he connected with Jimmie Giles on a three-yard scoring pass to make the score 28-17 with 8:24 remaining in the contest.

With the exception of two big plays, the 49ers offense had been ineffective throughout the entire game, but suddenly with the game on the line Montana and the 49ers started to play with the intensity of champions.

Using a combination of runs and short passes, Montana quickly moved the 49ers down the field on an 80-yard drive that took slightly more than two minutes. An eight-yard touchdown pass to Tom Rathman made the score 28-24 with 6:03 to play.

After Philadelphia was unable to move the ball on their next possession, Montana took over at the Eagles 47-yard line following a 12-yard return by John Taylor.

Following a sack by White, his third of the game and the seventh of the contest for the Eagles, Montana connected with Taylor on a 36-yard pass and then followed it up with a 25-yard touchdown strike to Brent Jones to stun the Eagles and give the 49ers a 31-28 advantage with 3:17 remaining.

Trailing for the first time since the initial quarter, Cunningham and the Eagles needed a big drive, but instead committed a crippling miscue as a Cunningham pass was tipped and intercepted by Ronnie Lott to give the 49ers a chance to seal the victory.

The scoring ended the same way as it had begun with Montana and Jerry Rice connecting on a 33-yard touchdown pass to give the 49ers a stunning 38-28 victory.

Montana finished the game with 25 completions in 34 attempts for 428 yards and five touchdowns. Rice caught six passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Taylor also had a big game with six catches for 136 yards.

Cunningham converted 19 of 38 passes for 192 yards, one touchdown and one crucial interception. Rookie Heath Sherman had 43 yards rushing and 53 yards receiving to lead the offense.

Post Script: The victory for the 49ers was their third straight on the road to start the season. After losing to the Los Angeles Rams 13-12 the following week, they won two more road games to open the season with five road victories.

San Francisco went on to finish with a 14-2 record and earned the top seed in the NFC playoffs.

It looked like the Eagles might get a rematch as they earned a Wild Card playoff spot with an 11-5 record. They needed to win their first playoff game at home against the Rams to earn a date in San Francisco.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, they could not secure the rematch as they lost to the Rams 21-7 to end their season.

The 49ers instead faced the Minnesota Vikings in their first playoff game and after posting a 41-13 victory went on to defeat the Rams 30-3 in the NFC Championship Game. They ended the season with a 55-10 demolishing of the Denver Broncos to win Super Bowl XXIV.

Under the direction of Buddy Ryan, the Eagles made their third straight playoff appearance in 1990, but their third straight first round exit led to the end of the Buddy Ryan era.

This article is an original story from Sports Then and Now , which was created to give passionate sports fans a place where they can analyze and discuss current sports topics while also remembering some of the great athletes, moments, teams and games in sports history all at one site. If you haven't been there yet, check it out today.


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