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On This Date in Sports January 22, 1989: The Drive of Joe Cool

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The San Francisco 49ers win their third Lombardi Trophy, beating the Cincinnati Bengals 20-16 in Super Bowl XXIII at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami. It was the most thrilling Super Bowl to date, as Joe Montana, led the 49ers on an 11-play, 92-yard drive in the final three minutes to win the game with a ten-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left in the game.

It was a season of tumult for the San Francisco 49ers, who became the third team with three Super Bowl titles, joining the Steelers and Raiders. The troubles started a year earlier, as the 49ers were beaten in the Divisional Round by the Minnesota Vikings after a 13-2 season. During the game, Joe Montana was benched for Steve Young setting the stage for a quarterback controversy that would linger for five seasons. Some felt that coach Bill Walsh wanted to move on to the younger more mobile Young after Montana continued to deal with back issues. This led to rumors of Walsh himself getting fired, as Ownership wanted to stay loyal to Joe Montana. In one game that Steve Young started his 49-yard stumbling run proved key as they exacted revenge on Minnesota. Through all the tension the Niners managed to win the NFC West with a 10-6 record, beating out the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints via a tiebreaker. In the playoffs the 49ers and Montana came alive, beating the Vikings 34-9 in the Divisional Round and shutting down the Chicago Bears on the road 28-3 in the NFC Championship Game.

The Cincinnati Bengals meanwhile had a dream season, posting a record of 12-4 under Sam Wyche to win the AFC Central Division. This was one year after a 4-11 season that included a gut-wrenching last-second loss at home to the 49ers at Riverfront Stadium. Boomer Esiason led the way, winning the NFL MVP while Ickey Woods had a big rookie season, and had all of Cincinnati dancing the Ickey Shuffle. In the playoffs, the Bengals ousted the Seattle Seahawks 21-13 in the Divisional Round and beat the Buffalo Bills 21-10 in the AFC Championship.

It was the second time the Bengals and 49ers met in the Super Bowl, seven years earlier San Francisco won 26-21 in Super Bowl XVI in the Pontiac Silverdome. In that game, Sam Wyche served as the 49ers’ offensive coordinator. Walsh himself had worked with the Bengals before landing the head coaching job with the 49ers in 1979. Before the game even began trouble began for Cincinnati as Stanley Wilson was kicked off the team after going on a cocaine binge. Wilson would never again play in the NFL. It had been a rough Super Bowl week all around, as race riots had part of the city on fire after police killed a black motorist who had been pulled over for speeding. This led the NFL to consider moving the game to Tampa, as the tension in the nearby Overtown neighborhood created a sense of danger.

The game got off to a slow start as the field conditions were muddy in Miami after pregame rain showers. This may have contributed to one of the gruesome injuries in Super Bowl history when Tim Krumrie suffered a broken leg that looked as if his foot was going to detach from his body. Neither offense could do much in the first quarter as Mike Cofer gave San Francisco a 3-0 lead with a 41-yard field goal. In the second quarter, the teams remained bogged down, with Jim Breech tying the game with a 34-yard field goal as the game went into halftime tied 3-3. It was the first time that a Super Bowl had been tied at the half.

In the days before the halftime show became an event with big recording artist, they often took on a theme led by “Up with People”. Trying to be fancy the halftime show was aired in 3D on NBC, but the effects came off lame as poor Elvis Impersonator named Elvis Presto did a routine that seemed like it came from a child’s birthday party. This certainly made everyone watching feel Bee Bop Bamboozled as it was considered the worst halftime show in the history of the big game.

Fortunately, the game would turn into a classic after a slow start and a terrible halftime show. The Bengals opened the third quarter with a nice long drive taking nearly ten minutes that resulted in a 43-yard field goal by Jim Breech to take a 6-3 lead. The Bengals defense meanwhile kept Joe Montana under warps and forced a punt. Looking to extend their lead, the Bengals came out throwing, leading to a Boomer Esiason interception. The Niners would not move the ball the ball far as Mike Cofer tied the game with a 32-yard field goal. Moments later came the game’s most exciting play as Sanford Jennings ran the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown. It was just the second kick return for a touchdown in Super Bowl history. Down 13-6 the 49ers offense finally awoke as Joe Montana connected with Jerry Rice on a 31-yard play to end the third quarter. As the fourth quarter began, Montana hit Roger Craig on a 40-yard pass, setting up their first touchdown two plays later as Rice reeled in a 14-yard pass. After a Cincinnati punt, the Niners reborn offense continued to move with Montana and Rice hooking up on a 44-yard play. However, they could not move the ball further as Cofer missed a 49-yard field goal that would have given San Francisco the lead. It was Cofer’s second miss after missing a 19-yard chip shot early in the game. The Bengals would answer with another big drive, once again settling for a 40-yard field goal by Jim Breech.

Down 16-13 with 3:10 left the 49ers faced the clock now as they got the ball back on their own eight after a holding call on a kickoff return. While everyone would expect them to be tense, Joe Montana was cool and calm, pointing out John Candy sitting nearby in the stands. From there with precision and excellence, he began the best drive in the history of the Super Bowl up to that point. Never before had a team that trailed in the last two minutes won the game, but down three the 49ers were as the two-minute warning arrived. The Niners completed a big third-down play with a four-yard run by Roger Craig after the brief timeout. Continuing to move the ball, Rice reeled in a key 27-yard pass to get the ball down to the Cincinnati 18-yard line. Knowing that their kicker was struggling, the 49ers knew scoring a touchdown was imperative. Following an eight-yard run by Craig, the Niners had the ball at the ten with 39 seconds left. The game was about to get its biggest moment, as Joe Montana hit John Taylor in stride in the end zone to give San Francisco the lead. The Bengals now down 20-16 tried to answer but Charles Haley took down Boomer, whose last two passes sailed over the head of Cris Collinsworth who was unable to slide in smoothly as the game came to an end.

Jerry Rice was named Super Bowl MVP setting record with 11 catches for 215 yards, scoring one touchdown. As the 49ers celebrated their coach Bill Walsh was reflective, deciding after the game to retire. The 49ers would go on to repeat the following season under his replacement George Seifert.