Some games are decided before they even begin. There are a lot of adages and maxims and what-nots about football claiming that 'anything can happen' and 'on any given Sunday'... Not this Sunday. The 49ers, having won the Super Bowl following the 1988 season, were favorites from the start of the '89 season on through to the big game, and didn't disappoint, except maybe the Broncos fans.
Bill Walsh, the architect of the Niners' dynasty, retired following the victory over the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII. In George Seifert's first year, the team dominated like few others have. They went 14-2 on the season, with their two losses by a combined five points. Joe Montana was named the MVP for the regular season and finished with what was the single-highest quarterback rating in history. Both Jerry Rice and John Taylor, on the heels of their starring roles in SB XXIII, topped 1,000 yards receiving.
Rice, particularly, had an outstanding season, one of many in his storied careers. 82 catches for 1,483 yards and 17 touchdowns stand out, but were really par for the course for the GOAT. Here's an idea of how dominant he was in his career. His 82 catches were his 9th best career total and his 1,483 yards were good for his 6th best season. I love you Randy, but, seriously?
The 49ers' offense led the league in points and yards. The defense ranked 3rd in points allowed. Their point differential on the season was 189. As I mentioned, few teams had as dominant a year as the '89 Niners.
Sent in to the Colosseum to be eaten by the lions were the Denver Broncos, led by John Elway. The Broncos had lost two Super Bowls in a row, following the '86 and '87 season. The Broncos were attempting to avoid a fourth loss in a Super Bowl, which would tie them with the Minnesota Vikings for the most futile record of all-time. The 49ers were attempting to match the Pittsburgh Steelers with a fourth Lombardi Trophy and a perfect 4-0 record in the big game.
Elway had a less-than-memorable regular season. He threw 18 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. The Broncos were led through the regular season by a formidable defense, led by Karl Mecklenburg and Simon Fletcher, and a trio of rookie contributors. Running back Bobby Humphrey led the team in rushing with 1,151 yards. Kicker David Treadwell made the Pro Bowl and was third in the league in points scored. Safety Steve Atwater was probably the most significant of the triumvirate, bringing a hard-hitting presence to the secondary. When I watch Dashon Goldson's physical brand of play, I always think of Atwater, and his hit on the 'Nigerian Nightmare,' Christian Okoye is one of the best of all-time.
Thankfully for the Mile-High City, Elway played his best football in the playoffs. First, the Broncos, led by one of Elway's numerous fourth quarter comebacks, defeated the Steelers 24-23. In the AFC Championship Game they faced the Cleveland Browns for the third time in four years, and, as per custom, beat them en route to a Super Bowl defeat. The 49ers defeated the Vikings and Rams by a combined score of 71-16 and Joe Montana threw for 6 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.
The game took place in New Orleans, same as this year, and is still the benchmark for Super Bowl blowouts. The 49ers outgained the Broncos 461-167 yards. The time of possession was 39:39 - 20:21 in favor of the Niners. The Broncos had 12 first downs. The Niners scored touchdowns on 6 of their first 8 possessions and the game was decided from the coin flip. If ever there were a team of destiny, not in the Baltimore-Ravens-have-a-retiring-player-who-cries-a-lot sense, but in the there's-no-way-any-other-team-is-winning-this-Super-Bowl sense, then this 49ers' squad was it.
Following a Denver three-and-out on their first possession, one of many on the day, the 49ers set the tone on their first drive. A 20-yard scoring strike to Rice from Montana started the scoring off. The Broncos were able to respond with a field goal, making it 7-3, but the game would soon be put out of reach. After a 49ers punt on the ensuing drive, the rookie Humphrey fumbled following a Kevin Fagan hit. The 49ers marched down to make it 13-3 on a 7-yard pass to Brent Jones. Mike Cofer missed the extra point, and following his poor showing in the previous year's Super Bowl, could rightfully be labelled as the worst Super Bowl 49er. His failed XP would be the only 49er miscue on the day.
The second quarter brought more of the same. Another Broncos three-and-out gave the 49ers the ball with good field position. A Tom Rathman-led drive, highlighted by three receptions for the fullback and 4th-and-short conversion and punctuated by a 1-yard touchdown run, added to the lead. Montana would find Rice on a 38-yard touchdown strike to make it 27-3 at halftime, leaving the outcome virtually resolved.
The second half provided more of the same. John Elway was intercepted on his first two drives of the term, first by Mike Walter, then by Chet Brooks. The first came on his first throw of the half. On the next play, Montana found Rice again on another long score, this one a 28-yarder. The second pick led to a 35-yard strike to John Taylor. The scoreboard read 41-3. The route was on.
The Bronco's lone highlight of the game came on their next drive. Elway moved them 61 yards in 5 plays to set up their only, lonely touchdown. Aided by a 39-yard kickoff return, a 34-yard run from Humphrey and a pass interference call on Bill Romanowski, the Broncos reached the 49ers' goal line. John Elway ran the ball in from the 3-yard line, making it 41-10.
In one of my favorite Simpsons moments, in the episode Cape Fear, Homer is told he can start a new life in the witness relocation program. He can be anything he likes. He fantasizes about being quarterback of the Denver Broncos. They cut to him sneaking the ball in on the goal line. He does a dance to celebrate. The view pans up to the scoreboard showing the team down 55-10. Once the Simpsons have immortalized your failure, it becomes part of popular culture. John Elway was best known for losing Super Bowls and would have gone down in history as the game's greatest loser, had it not been for the two victories in his final two years, a a fitting end for one of the best quarterbacks of all-time.
In the fourth quarter, the 49ers continued on their course to victory. Following the Broncos' score, Joe Cool took the Niners on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ate nearly seven minutes of game time. Rathman punched the ball in. On the next Denver possession, Elway fumbled after being sacked. Danny Stubbs scooped it up and ran it back to the goal line where Roger Craig put the ball into the end zone, to account for the final margin, 55-10.
Joe Montana was named the game's MVP. He completed 22 of 29 passes for 297 yards and 5 touchdowns, a record that would stand until the next Niners' Super Bowl appearance. Rice was his usual self, collecting 7 receptions for 148 yards and three scores. The three scores tied Roger Craig's tally from Super Bowl XIX against the Dolphins, and is still the single highest total, though more have matched it in the passing years.
The offense gets all of the credit for the 49ers' glory years, but once again, the defense led the way. 4 turnovers on the day aided in the Broncos' demise. Elway was picked twice and the team fumbled three times, two of them recovered by San Francisco. Denver ran 52 plays to gain 167 yards, an average of 3.2 yards per play. Elway finished 10 of 26 for 108 yards and two interceptions. The Broncos were sacked 6 times.
Oddly enough, the most dominant game played in Super Bowl history has left me with the least to write about in this series on the 49ers' glory years. I'll use the rest of this post to go over some of the records and accolades of the team.
Some Individual Records
Most MVP awards: Joe Montana, 3
Most wins, quarterback: Joe Montana, 4 (tied with Terry Bradshaw)
Most points, career: Jerry Rice, 48
Most touchdowns, game: Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, Ricky Waters (...coming soon), 3 (tied with Terrell Davis)
Highest passer rating, career: Joe Montana, 127.83
Most touchdown passes, career: Joe Montana, 11
Most touchdown passes, game: Steve Young, 6 (...coming soon)
Most receptions, career: Jerry Rice, 33
Most receptions, game: Jerry Rice, 11 (tied with 3 others)
Most receiving yards, career: Jerry Rice, 589
Most receiving yards, game: Jerry Rice, 215
Some Team Records
Most appearances without a loss: 49ers, 5
Most points scored, game: 49ers, 55 (vs Broncos)
Largest margin of victory: 49ers, 45 (vs Broncos)
Most first downs, game: 49ers, 31 (vs Dolphins)
Being a Sheep
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