49ERS FINALLY BEAT THE COWBOYS IN THE PLAYOFFS BY THE GREATEST “CATCH” IN NFL HISTORY BY DWIGHT CLARK, 49ERS BEAT THE BENGALS IN THE SUPER BOWL TO BRING HOME THEIR FIRST TITLE TO SAN FRAN, JOE MONTANA IS NAMED SUPER BOWL MVP:
With the offense in good shape, Walsh and the 49ers focused on overhauling the defense in 1981. Walsh took the highly unusual step of overhauling his entire secondary with rookies and untested players, bringing on board Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright and Carlton Williamson and giving Dwight Hicks a prominent role. He also acquired veteran linebacker Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds and veteran defensive lineman and sack specialist Fred Dean.
These new additions, when added to existing defensive mainstays like Keena Turner, turned the 49ers into a dominant team. After a 1–2 start, the 49ers won all but one of their final games to finish with a 13–3 record which was the best in the team’s history at that point. Dean made the Pro Bowl, as did Lott, in his rookie season, and Hicks.
Led by Montana, the unusual offense was centered around the short passing game, which Walsh used as ball control. Both Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon had excellent years receiving; Clark as the possession receiver, and Solomon as more of a deep threat. The 49ers running game, however, was among the weakest for any champion in NFL history. Ricky Patton led the 49ers with only 543 yards rushing. The 49ers’ most valuable running back, however, might have been Earl Cooper, whose strength was as a pass-catching back (he had 51 catches during the season.)
The 49ers faced the New York Giants in the divisional playoffs and won, 38–24, in a game that was not as close as the score suggests. This set up an NFC Championship Game matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, whom the 49ers could never get past during their earlier successful run in the early 1970s.
As they had earlier in the season (beating the Cowboys 45–14), the 49ers played the Cowboys tough, but the Cowboys forced turnovers and held the lead late. Unlike the playoff games of the ‘70s, this would end differently. In a scenario not unlike the 1972 divisional playoff, the 49ers were down 27–21 and on their own 11 yard line with 4:54 remaining. As Montana had done for Notre Dame and the 49ers so many times before, he led the 49ers on a sustained drive to the Cowboys’ 6-yard line. On a 3rd-and-3 play, with his primary receiver covered, Montana rolled right and threw the ball off balance to Dwight Clark in the end zone, who leaped up and caught the ball to tie the game at 27, with the extra point giving the 49ers the lead.
“The Catch”, as the play has since been named by sportscasters, reminded older 49er fans of the “Alley-oop” passes thatY.A. Tittle threw to lanky receiver R.C. Owens back in the 1950s. A picture of Clark’s leap in the air appeared on the cover of that week's Sports Illustrated and was also featured in an autumn 2005 commercial for Gatorade.
Despite this, the Cowboys had one last chance to win. And indeed, on the first play of the next possession, Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson caught a pass from Danny White and got to midfield before he was pulled down by the jersey at the 49ers 44 yard line by Cornerback Eric Wright. Had Pearson not have been jersey-tackled, there was a good chance he would have scored a touchdown, as there were no 49ers downfield. On the next play, White was sacked by Lawrence Pillersand fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Jim Stuckey, giving the 49ers the win and a trip to their first ever Super Bowl against the Cincinnati Bengals, who were also in their first Super Bowl.
The 49ers would take a 20–0 halftime lead and hold on to win Super Bowl XVI 26–21 behind kicker Ray Wersching’s four field goals and a key defensive stand. Throughout the '81 season, the defense had been a significant reason for the team’s success, despite residing in the shadow of the then-innovative offense. Montana won MVP honors mostly on the strength of leading the 49ers on a 92 yard, 12 play drive culminating in a touchdown pass to Earl Cooper. Thus did the 49ers complete one of the most dramatic and complete turnarounds in NFL history, going from back-to-back 2–14 seasons to a Super Bowl championship in just two years.
Montana’s success in the playoffs, and his success in leading the 49ers on big comebacks, made him one of the biggest stars in the NFL, and arguably the best quarterback ever to play the game. Not only was he the face of the 49ers, but his easygoing and modest manner enabled his celebrity to transcend football. Additionally, it caused other teams to consider players who, although not physically gifted, nonetheless had certain intangibles and tendencies that made them great players who could come up big in the toughest of situations.
During their first Super Bowl run, the team was known for its short-range passing game and the play-making ability of quarterback Joe Montana. Later, they became proficient in all aspects of the game, featuring a dominant defense (always in the offense’s shadow) and a fast-scoring passing attack (with wide-receivers Jerry Rice and John Taylor).
Super Bowl XVI was an American football game between the National Football Conference (NFC) champion San Francisco 49ers and theAmerican Football Conference (AFC) champion Cincinnati Bengals to decide the National Football League (NFL) champion for the 1981 season. The 49ers defeated the Bengals by the score of 26–21 to win their first Super Bowl.
The game was played on January 24, 1982, at the Pontiac Silverdomein Pontiac, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. It marked the first time that a Super Bowl was held at a cold-weather city. The domed stadium saved the crowd at the game from the very cold and snowy weather, but the weather did affect traffic and other logistical issues related to the game. Super Bowl XVI also became one of the most watched broadcasts inAmerican television history, with more than 85 million viewers, and a final national Nielsen rating of 49.1 (a 73 share).
For the first time since Super Bowl III, both teams were making their first Super Bowl appearance. The 49ers posted a 13–3 regular season record, and playoff wins over the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys. The Bengals finished the regular season with a 12–4 record, and had postseason victories over the Buffalo Bills and the San Diego Chargers.
Although the Bengals gained 356 yards of total offense to the 49ers’ 275, this marked the first time in Super Bowl history that the team which compiled the most yards and touchdowns lost. San Francisco built a Super Bowl record 20–0 halftime lead off of a touchdown pass and a rushing touchdown from quarterback Joe Montana and two field goals by Ray Wersching. Cincinnati began to rally in the second half with quarterback Ken Anderson’s 5-yard touchdown run and 4-yard touchdown pass, but a third-quarter goal line stand by the 49ers defense and two more Wersching field goals ultimately pulled the game out of reach. The Bengals managed to score their final touchdown with 20 seconds left, but could not recover the ensuing onside kick. Montana was named the Super Bowl MVP, completing 14 of 22 passes for 157 yards and one touchdown, while also rushing for 18 yards and a touchdown on the ground.