Last week in the Super Bowl tourney, we got the Steve Young/Joe Montana question out of the way... or did we? The victory of Steve Young's 1994 Super Bowl triumph over Joe Montana's 1989 Super Bowl trouncing ensured that Young's win will move on to the next round, but with two Super Bowls to go, Joe Montana is still in this thing.
If you just want to vote, feel free. I'm going to recap the games after the jump. You might notice a little cross-post action from a couple of weeks ago, but I'm going to avoid repeating myself next time. As usual, feel free to reminisce to your heart's content in the comments section.
1984: San Francisco 49ers vs. Miami Dolphins
Though San Francisco had been a nearly unstoppable force during their dominating 15-1 regular season (in large part due to the continued improvement of Montana in Walsh's system, Wendell Tyler's improvements holding onto the ball, Roger Craig perfectly complementing Tyler in the backfield while giving Montana another option on passing downs, the health of Roger Craig, the health of Dwight Clark, the career defining seasons of Dwaine Board and Eric Wright, the move of Ronnie Lott from corner to safety, and vastly improved all-around depth), many people still sold them short throughout the playoffs.
All they did to answer those questions was to manhandle the New York Giants and Chicago Bears in consecutive weeks, playing so well as to make mincemeat of the Bears now legendary 46 defense - the system that current 49ers head coach Mike Singletary became a Hall of Famer playing in.
But even after crushing the Giants and Bears, the 49ers were still regarded as almost heavy underdogs to the Dolphins. Even with Montana, Tyler, Solomon, Clark and Craig running on all cylinders, it was the Dolphins historically strong offense, led by Marino, Mark Clayton, Mark Duper and the three-pronged running attack of Woody Bennett, Tony Nathan, and Joe Carter, that got all the press.
Montana took the Marino coverage personally, and was hoping set the world straight on the biggest stage. Meanwhile, Walsh saw weakness in the Dolphins' linebacking corps, and devised a gameplan that would put Montana's mobility on display by using Roger Craig as a distraction to keep those linebackers out of his quarterback's hair.
The dividends of that gameplan didn't show up right away in the box score, though. After the first quarter, the Dolphins were leading the game 10-7 and Marino was moving the ball smoothly. But then, after a few defensive adjustments by the 49ers, Miami became frustrated on offense. At the same time, the 49ers only picked up steam. In the second quarter the 49ers score three times, once on a touchdown pass from Montana to Craig, once on a six yard Montana run, and once on a two yard Craig run.
By halftime, the 49ers were winning 28-16, and by the end of regulation, the score was a lopsided 38-16.
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.