It was Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami, Florida on January 22, 1989, that hosted Super Bowl XXIII. Following the regular 1988 season, Miami was truly excited, having not hosted the Super Bowl in over ten years. The San Francisco 49ers were all the rage in 1988, and they were headed to Miami to meet up with the Cincinnati Bengals - their second Super Bowl `meeting` with the first one being seven years earlier.
This is the Super Bowl that many sports enthusiasts, professionals, and interviewers still say was the best Super Bowl ever played. It will always be remembered for the 49ers` fourth-quarter game-winning drive. When the magnificent Joe Montana threw the winning touchdown to John Taylor with only thirty-four seconds left in the game, the entire world was enthralled. From their own eight-yard-line, Montana marched his team ninety-two yards down the field in under three minutes, and flew home with the Lombardi trophy.
This was the 49ers of yesterday. This was the team that seemed to rule over the 1980s simply because of the bond that existed between Montana and Jerry Rice. These two Hall of Famers worked together perfectly and deserved every accolade they ever received. In most cases, fans and professionals will tell you that they were THE duo that brought football to a whole new level. Jerry Rice was named the MVP for this memorable Super Bowl, having caught eleven passes for a Super Bowl record 215 yards and a touchdown.
The game would also go down as one of the saddest for 49ers fans, seeing as that this was the final NFL game coached by the 49ers` great, Bill Walsh. NFL.com still ranks this game as #1 on its list of the top 10 Super Bowls of all time, and it is no surprise. Even the videos of the final play on Youtube STILL garner attention from sports fans across the globe.
As if America was psychic, twelve cities were a part of the bidding process to be the hosts of this particular Super Bowl, including everyone from Anaheim to Tempe, Arizona, but Miami won the ultimate prize.
For the 49ers, this was their first Super Bowl appearance since they defeated the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX. They had made the playoffs every season in between but were eliminated each time in the first round, primarily because of the sudden poor performances by their offensive stars.
In the 1988 season, San Francisco won the NFC West with a 10-6 record, but it was a long uphill battle which began with a quarterback controversy between Montana and a man who would become another `perfect` 49ers` quarterback - Steve Young. Each man played at the starting quarterback position during the season, but after a slow 6-5 start, Montana led the 49ers to win 4 of their final 5 regular season games. Montana finished the regular season with 238 completions for 2,981 yards and 18 touchdowns, and also added 132 rushing yards to his stats. Always his favorite target, Jerry Rice, recorded 64 receptions for 1,306 yards (a 20.4 yards per catch average) and 9 touchdowns. San Francisco also had a major special teams threat who would become an icon - a second-year receiver by the name of John Taylor who led the NFL in punt return yards and touchdowns. This was also the season that the 49ers defense was led by a line of `terror` that included even more Hall of Famers such as, Ronnie Lott. For most fans, watching the 49ers `comeback` was extraordinary.
The Cincinnati Bengals, who are no longer really mentioned in the same sentence as the Super Bowl, was also a team on the rebound, beginning the 1988 season with quarterback, Boomer Esiason, and head coach, Sam Wyche, trying to fix their `disagreements` that occurred during the 1987 season - when they finished with a 4-11 record. Esiason ended up having the best season of his career en route to Super Bowl XXIII, even becoming the top rated quarterback with a 97.4 passer rating which earned him the NFL Most Valuable Player Award.
They did have their own offensive weapons, but the Bengals simply didn`t have enough for the Montana/Rice parade. Bill Walsh guided the 49ers to their crushing playoff wins over the Vikings, 34-9, and the Bears, 28-3, and made them the first road team to win an NFC Championship Game since 1979.
Although the Bengals had a better regular season record and Esiason had won the MVP award, the 49ers were still heavily favored to win the Super Bowl, mainly because of Montana. Joe Montana had already led the 49ers to two previous Super Bowls and both times left with a championship ring and Super Bowl MVP honors. And even though Montana had problems during the regular season, he appeared to be playing better than he ever had before in the postseason.
The first half provided both teams with injuries galore, as some of their best players were out before the game ever really got started. Unfortunately for the Bengals, Montana and Rice were still good to go. Oddly enough there were no touchdowns. In fact, with less than a minute to play in the third quarter, it appeared that this would become the very first Super Bowl to go three quarters without either team scoring a touchdown. But it was the fourth quarter and that last drive that no one will ever forget.
Down 16-13 with 3:20 left in the game, the 49ers returned the ensuing kickoff to their own 15-yard line with 3:10 on the clock, but an illegal block penalty on the play pushed the ball back half the distance to the goal line.
In order to calm his teammates in the huddle just before the final game-winning drive, Montana pointed into the crowd and said, Hey, isn`t that John Candy? The tactic worked, and the 49ers were able to drive down the field. This was the moment that Joe Montana became Joe Cool.
Assuming that the Bengals would expect him to throw the ball near the sidelines so that his receiver could step out of bounds to immediately stop the clock, Montana threw a pair of completions in the middle of the field. His next pass went just seven yards to Rice, which was then followed up by a pair of runs by Craig. Montana then completed a 17-yard pass to Rice to advance the team to the Bengals 48-yard line, and followed it up with a 13-yard completion to move them up to the 35.
On the next play, Montana threw his first incomplete pass of the drive. After that, an offensive player committed an illegal man downfield penalty, which moved the ball back to Joe`s 45-yard line with just 1:15 left in the game.
Joe Cool overcame that particular situation with a twenty-seven-yard completion to Rice, who caught the ball, evaded three defenders, and ran to the 18-yard line before they managed to tackle him to prevent a touchdown. An 8-yard pass brought them to the ten-yard line, and then with thirty-nine seconds left, Montana very `coolly` finished the drive with a ten-yard touchdown pass, winning the game.
Although Jerry Rice was named MVP, Montana had a stellar MVP-worthy performance. Either way, it didn`t matter - the 49ers had just played the `best` Super Bowl of all time, and solidified themselves as one of the best teams in football history! I wonder if this Super Bowl even has a chance of being better?
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