To the San Francisco 49ers go the '80s. With a drive for the ages, they reeled in a decade, which is only fitting, because they started it off the same way.
In 1981 NFC championship game, Joe Montana rallied San Francisco over the Dallas Cowboys with a desperate 89-yard drive, ending it with a touchdown pass play to Dwight Clark.Sunday, the 22nd day of 1989, Montana rallied his team to beat the Cincinnati Bengals with an equally improbable 92-yard drive, ending it with 34 seconds left on a 10-yard touchdown pass play to the unheralded John Taylor for a 20-16 victory, their third Super Bowl championship of the '80s, breaking their tie with the Los Angeles Raiders and the Washington Redskins.
What do they do for an encore?
Maybe nothing. San Francisco Coach Bill Walsh has been hinting that he'll retire and break up his magic partnership with Montana, the one that survived so narrowly this season after Walsh's early attempts to ease his veteran out in favor of Steve Young.
Ask the Bengals, Montana . . . and Jerry Rice . . . won't go quietly.
"It was just like '81 . . . watching them make that drive against the Cowboys," said 49ers safety Ronnie Lott. "Don Griffin came up to me and said, `You got to believe we're going to win this one.'
"The same thing happened in 1981. Archie Reese came up to me and said the same thing."
It was one of the poorest Super Bowl games - and the series' greatest finish. It was 3-3 at the half. There were no touchdowns until the game was 44:26 old, when Cincinnati's Stanford Jennings returned a kickoff 93 yards to give the Bengals a 13-6 lead.
Whereupon Montana, who had been held to 131 yards passing to that point, picked up another 81 in a hurry on four completions in five plays, the last a 10-yarder for the score to the one, the only, Jerry Rice.
Rice had sprained his right ankle in practice Monday . . . and had been spotted dancing at a local beach club named Penrod's Wednesday night. He limped off once in this game to get the ankle retaped, but he was in at the end _ 11 catches and 215 yards worth.
Could these guys suck it up or what? Lott, the free safety whose hits on 230-pound Ickey Woods shook the stands, stuck it out through a late Bengals drive, remaining in the game, doubled over between plays, shaking off backup Tom Holmoe, who came out onto the field, took him by the arm and tried to ferry him to the sideline.
Were these guys tested, or what?
It was the Bengals, who broke the 13-13 tie late in the fourth period, marching 46 yards to the San Francisco 22 . . . as Boomer Esiason picked up a third and 13 with a 17-yard completion to Ira Hillary in front of Talkin' Tim McKyer . . . and Woods ran for 22 yards in five carries . . . and Jim Breech kicked his third field goal, a 40-yarder that gave the Bengals a 16-13 lead, with a mere 3:20 between them and the upset of the decade.
And here's how it went:
First and 10 at the 8 _ Montana throws over the middle to Roger Craig for 8 yards.
Second and 2 _ Montana hits John Frank for 7 as the clock keeps running.
First and 10 at the 23 _ Montana hits Rice, who has being given plenty of room by Bengals left corner Lewis Billups. Rice steps out at the 30 for a 7-yard gain.
Second and 3 _ The Niners try to catch the Bengals by surprise with Craig carrying up the middle on a draw play. The Bengals aren't surprised; they stop Craig for a 1-yard gain and the clock runs down to the two-minute warning.
Third and 2 _ Craig rips off right tackle for 4 yards and a first down.
First and 10 at the 35 _ Montana hits Rice for 17 yards on a sideline pattern. Rice beats right corner Eric Thomas and steps out of bounds at the Cincinnati 48, with 1:34 left.
First and 10 at the Bengal 48 _ Montana hits Craig over the middle for 13. The clock keeps running.
First and 10 at the Bengal 35 _ Montana overthrows Rice, running another sideline pattern against man-to-man coverage by Thomas.
"I overthrew him," Montana says later. "I was sitting there screaming as loud as I could (at himself) and I hyperventilated. I got dizzy. I almost called time out, but it faded away."
Second and 10 _ Cross is penalized for being downfield. The 49ers are set back to the Cincinnati 45, with 1:00 left.
Cross, the three-time Pro Bowl choice playing in his final game, is having a grisly end to a fine career. Besides this penalty, he also has a bad snap, leading to a botched chip-shot field goal, and a holding penalty.
"With the plays I had in this game," Cross says later, "I owe a lot to Joe Montana.
"The bad snap? I could tell you it was low biorhythms ... or the curvature of the earth . . . or the ball was in a divot . . . or the mood wasn't right. The bottom line, it was bad concentration. Hence, a bad snap."
"A bad snap, a holding penalty, an ineligible downfield. I mean, you'll be amazed at what kind of game I'll have had 10 years from now when I look back at this one."
Suffice to say, the last penalty didn't seem as funny at the time.
Second and 20 _ Montana hits Rice, who tears away from Bengals safety Ray Horton and runs for another 15 yards, making it a 27-yard gain and a first down at the 18.
Everyone says that this was the play of the game.
Everyone is right.
First and 10 at the 18 _ Montana passes over the middle to Craig, under a zone coverage, who runs it 8 yards to the 10. The 49ers take their second timeout with 39 seconds left.
Second and 2 at the 10 _ The Bengals are playing zone, as the Niners expect them to, and Montana zips a 10-yard touchdown pass to Taylor, his first reception of the night.