For the next few Fridays, we're going to have a little bit of fun with 49ers history. As 49ers fans, there isn't much outside of rooting for our team on Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday, or occasionally Saturday) that we seem to enjoy more than reliving the glory days. And why not? Those days were good.
In that spirit, we're going to take a few weeks here to figure out which of the five 49ers' Super Bowl wins is the collective NinersNation favorite. And we're going to do it tournament style.
Of course, there's a hitch. It's tough to run a tournament with an odd number of participants, so we're following the NCAAB's lead and instituting a play-in game to whittle the contenders down to four. After some, ahem, official deliberation, Fooch and I decided to play in one of the two Super Bowl victories over Cincinnati. The common opponent made the decision easy because it allows us to simply follow the all-important Highlander rule of thumb.
So, after the jump I'll break down the 1981 and 1988 Super Bowls. If you want to check out the recaps, hit the jump. If you just want to vote in the poll, by all means. And of course, feel free to use the comments section to discuss the games.
1981: San Francisco 49ers vs. Cincinnati Bengals
After defeating the Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game to advance to their first franchise Super Bowl, a matchup with Ken Anderson and his Cincinnati Bengals at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan, Joe Montana's 49ers were loose and confident.
After finishing the season with a league-best record, and having defeated the Bengals rather convincingly in the regular season, the 49ers were marginal favorites to win the Super Bowl. However, many experts believed that the experience of Ken Anderson, enjoying the best season of his career, as well as the running ability of Pete Johnson could be enough to give the Bengals the big-game edge they needed.
The 49ers' confidence from their conference victory carried over into the Super Bowl, but had to overcome some early jitters. The 49ers fumbled the opening kickoff and gave the Bengals control of the game early on. Immediately, it seemed that the Bengals were going to set the pace and the tone of the game. Anderson coolly directed his offense down the field to the 49ers' 11-yard line, and appeared poised to score the first points of the game. Then, Dwight Hicks picked off a Ken Anderson pass - the quarterback's first interception of the entire postseason - and returned it to the 32 yard line.
That play would mark the end of the 49ers jitters and set the defensive tone for the rest of the game.
From there, the 49ers made it look easy. They turned that turnover into seven points and never looked back, building a 20-0 halftime lead on the backs of a calm and efficient Joe Montana, an accurate and poised Ray Wersching, and an absolutely dominating defense.
The Bengals pushed hard on offense in the second half, though, and twice got themselves back into spitting distance of the lead. At the opening of the new half, the Bengals drove 83 yards on the way to five-yard touchdown scramble from Anderson himself. They cut the deficit to six when Anderson hit tight end Dan Ross for a score at the start of the fourth quarter.
The 49ers ground out the rest of the quarter, salvaging two more Ray Wersching field goals before Anderson struck back again. With less than a minute to go in the game, Anderson once again found Ross for a touchdown, reigniting the Bengals' hopes for an upset. Everything would come down to the ensuing onside kick...
... which Dwight Clark recovered to seal the 49ers' first ever Super Bowl victory.
1988: San Francisco 49ers vs. Cincinnati Bengals
In 1988, the 49ers were mired in on-field controversy. For the first time in almost a decade, the position of Joe Montana as the 49ers' unopposed starter was challenged. Bill Walsh liked Steve Young's style of play, and the media was all too eager to jump on any and every quote that implied a quarterback controversy. The whole thing would have been a non-issue, except that Montana couldn't stay on the field that season. From a sprained elbow to dysentery to back spasms, Montana frequently had to sit on the sidelines while Young occupied the headlines. The result was a difficult regular season for the red and gold, and one that ended with them struggling to a rather disappointing 10-6 season.
When the playoffs rolled around, though, the entire energy of the team changed. That 49ers' team was as stacked as ever, with Montana, Rice, Craig, Rathman, Taylor, Haley, Romanowski, Lott, Turner, and more. And with Montana healthy and the pressure on, they brought their best. The 49ers coasted past the Vikings and the Bears to make their third Super Bowl appearance in less than a decade. And just like their first, they would be playing the Bengals.
The 49ers were big favorites going into the game, but for three solid quarters they - and the game - failed to live up to the billing. Both teams slogged through a slow, sloppy, low-scoring affair that featured stalled drives, fumbles, interceptions, and field goals. Then, in the third quarter, Cincinnati kick returner Stanford Jennings took a kickoff back 93 yards for a touchdown that changed the game completely. It focused both teams, and suddenly the game was exciting again.
The 49ers countered almost immediately with a decisive touchdown drive of their own. Then, battling and scrapping through the fourth-quarter, the Bengals finally regained the lead on a field goal with a little over three minutes to play. Time was running out for the 49ers, and the Bengals buckled down.
But Montana, Rice, Craig and the rest of the 49ers saw things differently. In one of the most memorable drives in 49ers history, the 49ers marched down the field. And on a drive highlighted by critical receptions from stars Jerry Rice and Roger Craig, it was ultimately John Taylor who caught the winning touchdown pass with less than a minute to play. There would be no more scoring, and the 49ers won their third franchise championship.