So, what happens if you win 5 Super Bowls in a relatively short stretch of time? Your victories start getting noted for something about the loser. That's exactly what has occurred with Super Bowl XIX, which will forever be known as Dan Marino's only Super Bowl. You may only know him as a talking head on CBS, but us older fans remember him fondly as a salesman of gloves. He also retired as the NFL's all-time leader in most prominent passing categories. Following his 17-season career, he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
The 49ers trotted out their very own first-ballot Hall of Famer, Joe Montana. Joe Cool was, like Marino, from the Pittsburgh area. Montana doesn't have the gaudy lifetime statistics that Marino does, but the difference is evident when it mattered most: in the playoffs. Montana is still the leader for most career playoff touchdown passes, most Super Bowl MVPs and his Super Bowl stats are incredible. In four games, Montana completed 83 of 122 passes with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions for a quarterback rating of 127.8. Regular season stats are nice, but I'll take the rings.
The 1984 season marked some of my first football memories. I was 7 then. I distinctly remember a kid at school named Byron telling me in the middle of the year that the 49ers weren't the best team because the Dolphins had more wins. We went to the sports page (this was in the days before wikipedia) and, sure enough, the Dolphins were still undefeated. It didn't last long. The 49ers would go on to win 15 games that season, the first ever team to do so in a regular season. The Dolphins would go 14-2, with Dan Marino setting practically every imaginable single season passing record. Mark Clayton had 18 touchdown receptions. The Dolphins had a seriously high-powered offense and the Super Bowl matchup was expected to pack some fireworks.
The game was played in Palo Alto, just down the road from Candlestick Park. You might have heard it said during the season, as the New Orleans Saints watched their bountygate-soiled season slip through their fingers, that no team has played a Super Bowl in their home stadium. That is true, but we played one in our backyard. My uncle Henry went to the game. I'm still mad at him.
In the playoffs, the Dolphins steamrolled opponents. They bested the Seahawks and Steelers by a combined score of 76-38. Marino had the hot hand, throwing for 421 yards and 4 touchdowns against Seattle (you almost forget they played in the AFC West for all those years). Montana, on the other hand, was colder than a penguins tail feathers (do you like how I kept that PG-rated). He threw 5 interceptions in the two playoff games, but behind the strength of one of the greatest defenses of all-time to never get any respect, the Niners destroyed the competition with a combined score of 44-10.
Everyone in the football-loving world was expecting a shootout. We did not disappoint. The Dolphins, on the other hand, were rendered one-dimensional by the 49ers' run defense (sound familiar?) and had trouble getting the ball in the end zone and would end up kicking a bunch of field goals. This is retold in the Ace Ventura: Pet Detective documentary about Super Bowl XIX. The Niners would have no such issues, with Roger Craig scoring three touchdowns and Joe Montana throwing for 331 yards and 3 touchdowns while rushing for another. Glory would be ours. Again.
The game started off poorly for the 49ers. They didn't fumble the opening kickoff, as they had done against the Bengals in the Super Bowl three years earlier, but return man Derrick Harmon inadvertently stepped out of bounds at the 6-yard line while fielding the kick, giving the team horrible field position to open the game. After punting the ball away to the Dolphins, Marino led the team all the way to the 2-yard line, where Mark Clayton was tackled by Eric Wright on another key third down Super Bowl stop for the 49ers. The Dolphins settled for a field goal, a theme that, as you are now aware, would be revisited throughout the evening.
The 49ers responded swiftly. Montana marched them 78 yards in 8 plays to take the lead. Backup running back Carl Monroe got the team on the board with a 33-yard touchdown reception. The Dolphins missed a few tackles on the play allowing Monroe to run the final 10 yards into the end zone. The drive featured multiple passes to running backs out of the backfield, a common ploy used by the West Coast offense that Bill Walsh had instituted, was in the process of perfecting, and would come to dominate football. A bit of irony for you...Bill Walsh developed the offense while working as an assistant for the Bengals, whom we defeated for our first Super Bowl victory following the 1981 season, and Ken Anderson could be considered the first quarterback to successfully run it.
The Dolphins didn't waste any time in retaking the lead. Following a 5-yard run by Tony Nathan, Miami employed a no-huddle offense, keeping the 49ers from changing out of their run personnel package. It worked. Marino completed passes to Clayton, Mark Duper, Clayton, Dan Johnson, and, finally, Johnson again for the two-yard score. The 49ers were flat-footed for most of the drive. The no-huddle offense would come into vogue a few years later with the Cincinnati Bengals, under coach Sam Wyche and quarterback Boomer Esiason. Super Bowl XIX showed it off in all its glory and effectiveness. Dolphins 10, 49ers 7.
The game had been an even-matched affair throughout the first quarter. The second quarter would see a massive swing in momentum. Joe Montana took over the game, as only few can on this biggest of stage, with the 49ers scoring 21 unanswered points to start the term. In my humble opinion, this marks the beginning of the 49ers' dynasty. It delivered us our second Super Bowl and put 'the fear' in every defense in the league. It also launched Roger Craig into stardom, as he would score two of his three scores in the quarter.
Bill Walsh made the switch to a dime defense, using 6 defensive backs to slow down Marino and the passing game. With the Dolphins unable to run the ball (their 9 rushes for the game are still a Super Bowl low) and one-dimensional, the Niners were able to key on the pass, force some punts and let their offense go to work on the suspect Miami defense. After taking over on the Miami 47-yard line, Montana took 4 plays to get the ball into the painted area of the field. Roger Craig caught an 8-yard touchdown on a slant pattern out of the backfield for his first score of the game. The play was beautifully designed, with Dwight Clark running a slant through the same area half a second before to draw the coverage. Craig followed him into the end zone and the Niners had a 14-10 lead.
Miami, unable to move the ball, punted it back to the 49ers, who, following a 28-yard punt return by Dana McLemore, began another drive near midfield. 6 plays later, Montana would scramble into the end zone from 6 yards out. Another Dolphins three-and-out gave the 49ers the ball back near the NFL logo. Montana would again take the boys in red and gold to the land of milk and honey. But not without some controversy.
On the fourth play of the drive, Montana found wide receiver Freddie Solomon who caught the ball, took a step, and was hit by Dolphins' safety Lyle Blackwood. The ball popped loose from the impact and was quickly scooped up by Blackwood who began racing down the sideline. There was only one problem. The play was ruled an incomplete pass, much to the displeasure of Dolphins fans everywhere. Had Blackwood scored, a very strong possibility, the game would have been 21-17. Instead, Montana put the Niners on the goal line four plays later. Roger Craig ran it behind the left side of the line for his second touchdown and a 28-10, all-but-insermountable, lead.
Marino took the ensuing kickoff, running a two-minute drill, and marched to the 49ers red zone. The defense tightened up, making some key plays to keep them out of the end zone. First, Keena Turner lit up Nathan on a pass to the left flat. Then Ronnie Lott broke up a fade route to Duper. The Dolphins settled for a field goal once again. The ensuing kickoff provided one of the silliest plays in 49ers' Super Bowl history. Miami elected to kick a short ball and 5-time Pro Bowl guard Guy McIntyre received it. In his first and last Super Bowl kick return, he couldn't decide what to do, chose to run with the ball late and was hit shortly thereafter, fumbling instantly and allowing the Dolphins recovering. Miami kicked their second field goal in 15 seconds as time ran out on the half, scoring what would be their last points of the game. 49ers 28, Miami 16.
If the second quarter was about the Niners' offense, the second half was about the defense. The 49ers would add a Ray Wersching field goal and Roger Craig would score his third touchdown of the game, on another Montana throw. The defense would intercept Dan "Laces Out" Marino twice and would sack him 4 times on the day, with Dwayne Board collecting two of them. The fourth quarter was a scoreless affair as the Niners ground the clock to a halt, smothering the Dolphins on their way to the 38-16 victory and their second Lombardi Trophy.
The game was the first time both quarterbacks passed for over 300 yards. Montana outrushed the Dolphins 57-29 on his way to his second Super Bowl MVP award. Roger Craig shone like a diamond. His three touchdowns scored are still tied for the most in a Super Bowl. His pass catching, as well as rushing was on full display. He had 58 yards and a score on the ground, coupled with 7 catches, 77 yards and two more scores through the air. Craig's receiving skills are the stuff of legend. In 1985 he would become the first player to amass 1,000 yards on the ground and through the air, a feat matched only by the great Marshall Falk during the Rams Super Bowl season of 1999.
The game ended up a one-sided affair. For the many who thought they'd see a showcase of two of the best quarterbacks in the league the game left no doubt about who you'd want to quarterback your team with a title on the line. For Marino, he'd never make it back to the Super Bowl. He topped 300 yards in the game, but his two interceptions and an aggressive 49ers defense combined to shut down the Dolphins offense. He was dogged by the 'never-wins-the-big-game' chorus that follows the 99.9% of quarterbacks who don't win it. Luckily, the 49ers have never experienced that feeling.
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