It was 26 years ago today that the San Francisco 49ers won their last championship.
George Siefert was in his sixth season as head coach, and the pressure was on him and quarterback Steve Young to bring a sixth Lombardi Trophy to the Bay Area.
The 1994 season was Young’s fourth as the starter. His predecessor — the beloved Joe Montana — was in his second season with the Kansas City Chiefs. Despite winning the NFL MVP Award in 1992, The Faithful were growing skeptical that Young would lead the team to another Super Bowl title.
San Francisco focused on improving its defense over the offseason to try and topple the two-time defending champion Cowboys. Siefert and Carmen Policy zeroed in on their targets. They signed Ken Norton Jr., Bart Oates, Derrick Deese, Ricky Jackson and Gary Plummer while jettisoning popular players like Tom Rathman and Bill Romanowski.
The Niners added some talented players via the draft, selecting Bryant Young, Doug Brien and William Floyd, among others.
Everything started off well for the 49ers. They smashed the Los Angeles Raiders 44-14 in Week 1, setting up a Week 2 showdown against Montana and the Chiefs. It was the first time Montana and Young were squaring off as opponents.
Unfortunately for Young, it didn’t turn out the way he would have liked. Young threw two picks and was sacked four times in a 24-17 loss to Kansas City. Montana went 19-of-31 for 205 yards, two TDs and no picks in the win.
Here is a quote from the postgame story by Paul Zimmerman via Sports Illustrated’s Vault.
After the game, Montana looked fresh and relaxed. He was enjoying himself, enjoying the moment. As usual, he was the last player out of the locker room. Earlier, he had made the rounds with a bag of hamburgers, handing one to Smith and anyone else who was still around. “Guys like Neil, these were the guys putting the pressure on.” he said, “I wasn’t watching Steve all that much out there, but I knew he was under a lot of pressure, and what it meant to me was, Hey, those are the guys who are getting us the ball back.
“Steve came over and said hello during the warmups, just normal chitchat. After the game he came over and wished me luck, and I did the same. I said hello to Jerry Rice and a few other guys until it became a madhouse out there. How do I feel? I’m glad it’s all over.”
In the back of the room during Joe’s postgame press conference, Jennifer was answering questions. “Nervous? I’m always nervous at game time,” she said. “But I was so confident last night, and I told him so.”
“Why?” someone asked.
“Because it’s him,” she said. “It means a lot, emotionally. The thing between him and Steve means a lot because it’s what you’ve all been writing all week.”
The loss led to the Niners bringing in one of the best defensive players in history. The 49ers signed Deion Sanders. Primetime became the missing piece the defense needed, but the ride didn’t start smoothly.
Philly beat the 49ers in every aspect of the game. The Eagles held a 22-point at the half and went on to a 40-8 victory. Young was pulled by Siefert and let the head coach know he wasn’t happy about the decision.
Young and Brent Jones talked about the incident years later in an NFL Network documentary on the 1994 squad.
Young and Jones hit the nail on the head. San Francisco was a completely different team after the loss to Philadelphia.
The 49ers went on to win their next 10 games, beating their opponents by an average of 19.9 points. That run included a hard-fought 21-14 against Dallas in Week 11, setting the stage for a potential playoff matchup.
Siefert elected to rest the starters in the regular season finale, which led to a 21-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. San Francisco finished the 1994 campaign 13-3 and earned home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Niners trounced the Chicago Bears 44-15 in the Divisional Round, setting up an NFC Championship matchup with the Cowboys for a third-straight season.
San Francisco pounced on Dallas early. Eric Davis picked off Troy Aikman on the third play of the game and returned it for a 44-yard touchdown. The 49ers then scored touchdowns on their first two offensive possessions and jumped out to a 21-0 lead less than five minutes into the game, and the Cowboys couldn’t recover, never cutting the deficit to less than 10 points the rest of the way.
Young finished the game with 155 yards through the air, two passing touchdowns, and a rushing score as the Niners went on to a 38-28 win.
As great as that win felt, the job still wasn’t done. The Niners were taking on the San Diego Chargers in the Super Bowl.
San Francisco had beaten San Diego 38-15 in Week 15. Even though the Chargers went 11-5, the 49ers came in as a Super Bowl record 18.5-point favorite.
Young and the Niners’ offense put the world on notice on their opening drive. Young connected with the great Jerry Rice for a 44-yard touchdown on the third play from scrimmage as the 49ers took a 7-0 lead less than 90 seconds into the game.
It was all San Francisco from there.
Young had the most outstanding performance by a quarterback in Super Bowl history. He went 24-of-36 for 325 yards, a still-standing Super Bowl-record six touchdowns and no picks. Rice was dominant as well, finishing with 10 receptions for 149 yards and three scores as the 49ers went on to a comfortable 49-26 win.
With most of the starters out of the game in the fourth quarter, Young had this memorable moment.
After years in Montana’s shadow, Young had finally led the franchise to a championship. The 1994 Niners team was simply dominant. The bitterness of the previous defeats to Dallas motivated the 49ers to come back in 1994 and finish the job, which they emphatically did.
What are some of your memories from the 1994 season?