January 24, 1982 - Pontiac Silverdome, Detroit
Super Bowl XVI was played to an improbable script. Three turnovers cost the Bengals 17 points in a 20-point first half that set a Super Bowl record; the 49ers staged a dramatic goal line stand that might have saved the game, and Ray Wersching kicked a record-tying four field goals.
The location of the game also set a precedent. After 15 games in warm weather climates, the 1982 championship contest was played in the Pontiac (Mich.) Silverdome, 25 miles from Detroit. While surrounding areas shivered in below zero chill factors, 81,270 enjoyed 72-degree comfort in the huge, 5-year-old stadium.
That the 49ers and Bengals were in the Super Bowl was remarkable in itself. For more than 30 years, the 49ers had strained and struggled in a bid for distinction, but their best efforts produced only three division titles. On each occasion they were eliminated by the Dallas Cowboys.
The Bengals, admitted to the American Football League in 1968, won a Central Division title in the realigned NFL in 1970, but succumbed to Baltimore in the playoffs. In 1973, the division-champion Bengals were beaten by the Miami Dolphins in the playoffs.
The emergence of the two teams into title form was unexpected and unprecedented.
Playoff wins over the New York Giants, 38-24, and the Dallas Cowboys, 28-27 on a last-minute Montana pass to Dwight Clark, earned the 49ers a trip to the Silverdome.
Meanwhile, the Bengals lost two of their first five games, then bowed only to New Orleans, 17-7, and San Francisco the rest of the way.
The 49ers, who lost 12 of 26 fumbles in their NFC title march, opened their first Super Bowl game on an inauspicious note.
Amos Lawrence, after returning the kickoff 17 yards, fumbled on the 26, where John Simmons recovered for the Bengals.
The AFC champions advanced to a second-and-goal on the 5-yard line before Anderson was sacked for a six-yard loss by Jim Stuckey. On third-and-11, Anderson fired a pass intended for Isaac Curtis, but Dwight Hicks intercepted and returned the football 27 yards to the San Francisco 32.
In 11 plays, the 49ers traveled 68 yards.
Two of the plays were passes, for nine and 14 yards, to wide receiver Freddie Solomon, a doubtful quantity in the 49ers' pregame plan because of a knee injury suffered three days earlier.
The second pass carried to the 1-yard line, from where Montana dived across for the first touchdown.
"This was for the world championship and there was no way I was going to miss it," explained Solomon, who caught four passes for 52 yards during the game.
On their first possession of the second quarter, the Bengals mounted another drive. They had progressed to the San Francisco 27 when Anderson completed a 19-yard pass to Cris Collinsworth. The wide receiver fumbled when tackled by Eric Wright, however, and Lynn Thomas recovered on the 8-yard line.
"I was pivoting and trying to make
more yards when Wright stripped the ball from me," reported Collinsworth.
"The 49ers have been doing that all season and are pretty good at it."
Again the opportunistic 49ers capitalized on the turnover. Eleven plays carried the Niners to the Cincinnati 11, from where Montana passed to Earl Cooper on the 3. The second-year running back out of Rice barreled into the end zone, completing a Super Bowl record 92-yard march.
Explaining his role in the TD play, Cooper said, "It was a fake up the middle to the fullback. The wide receiver on the left clears out so I can come underneath the zone coverage."
Cincinnati's horrendous luck continued in the ensuing series of plays. Wersching's squib kickoff was fielded by David Verser on the 5-yard line. By the time Verser completed his lateral sprint, the ball was on the 4. An illegal chuck set the Bengals back two more yards and, six plays later, Pat McInally's punt set the 49ers up on their own 34.
With Montana passing and Cooper and Ricky Patton running, the Niners advanced to the Cincinnati 5 with 18 seconds remaining before intermission. With Montana holding, Wersching kicked a 22-yard field goal, increasing the Niners' lead to 17-0.
Wersching's kickoff was another squibber. Archie Griffin touched the ball at the 15, but failed to grab it and watched the ball bounce to the 4, where it was downed by Milt McColl of the 49ers. An illegal procedure penalty cost five yards, but Wersching, refusing as always to look at the goal posts, got his bearings from Montana, the holder, and booted a 26-yard field goal, boosting the San Francisco lead to 20-0.
The two scoring plays within the space of 13 seconds set a Super Bowl record.
Walsh's halftime oration to the troops emphasized that "I wasn't comfortable with the lead. I told them what to expect. We knew we were playing a great team. Maybe if it had been 24-0, the Bengals might have caved in, but not with the score 20-0."
John Ayers revealed that the coach had instructed the Niners to treat the second half as though the score was 0-0.
"He told us we would have to score at least two more times," reported the left guard. "He told us we couldn't let their offense on the field too long or eventually Anderson would burn us."
Gregg's halftime pitch to the Bengals scaled no emotional peaks. "I reminded 'em," said the coach, "that we had been behind before. I referred to our first game of the season when we came from a 21-0 first-quarter deficit to beat Seattle. We didn't do anything different in the second half. We just played better."
The improvement was noticeable immediately after Wersching's second-half kickoff. Nine plays, plus two Niner face mask penalties, carried Cincinnati to the San Francisco 5-yard line, from where Anderson, after dropping back to pass, sprinted into the end zone.
Two possessions later, the Bengals were at midfield with 6:53 remaining in the third period. The Bengals were pushed back to their own 41 and Fred Dean, the defensive end obtained from San Diego, made matters worse by tackling Anderson for another four-yard loss, one of four Niner sacks during the game. But Anderson, on a third-and-23 situation, connected with Collinsworth for 49 yards to the San Francisco 14.
Five plays, including Johnson's fourth-and-one plunge from the 5 that netted two yards, resulted in a first-and-goal at the 3. Johnson hit center for two yards and then left guard, where he was stopped by John Harty for no gain. On third down Anderson passed to Charles Alexander in the right flat, but linebacker Dan Bunz came up fast, grabbed the receiver around the waist, and hurled him backward before he could break the plane of the goal line. Had Bunz tackled him low, Alexander's momentum would have carried him into the end zone.
Disdaining a field goal, the Bengals gave the ball again to Johnson, who was stopped by the entire defensive line for no gain.
"It was the first time all season
we were stopped on that play," asserted Forrest Gregg. "If I had to do
it again, I'd still give it to Pete."
first down, Anderson handed off to Pete Johnson, the 6-foot, 250-pound
fullback. Back-up guard John Choma shed two blockers and wrapped himself
around Johnson's thighs, slowing him down enough for Bunz and tackle John
Harty to make the stop at the 1.
second down, Anderson sent Johnson off left tackle behind 6-6, 280-pound
Antony Munoz. This time Harty filled the hole while Reynolds made the big
hit on Johnson. No hit.
On third down, Anderson threw a swing pass to halfback Charles Alexander in the flat. The 6-1, 220-pound Alexander caught the ball at the 1, but was immediately slammed down by the 6-4, 220-pound Bunz. "That was un unbelievable play for a linebacker", Studley said later. "Twenty times out of twenty that play is a touchdown. Bunz read it perfectly and made a great hit". "I thought about going for the ball", Bunz said. "Then i thought, 'what if I miss?' So I played it safe and went for the man. He tried to turn into the end zone, but I had him wrapped up".
and Goal from the 1.
While Bill Walsh regarded the fourth-down stop of Johnson as "the play that won the game for us," Chuck Studley considered Bunz' tackle of Alexander more significant.
The touchdown denied the Bengals in the third period was scored at 4:54 of the fourth, when Anderson passed four yards to tight end Dan Ross.
With their lead pared to six points, the 49ers turned to their time-consuming ground attack. In 10 plays, seven of them rushes, the Niners advanced 50 yards and, with 5:25 remaining, Wersching kicked his third field goal, a 40-yarder that raised the NFC club's lead to 23-14.
The Bengals' next-to-last possession of the game endured for just one play, on which an Anderson pass, intended for Collinsworth, was intercepted by Wright on the Cincinnati 47 and returned to the 22, where he fumbled when trying to lateral the ball to a teammate. Willie Harper recovered, however, for the 49ers. A 16-yard drive, eating up three minutes, moved the ball to the 6 and, on fourth down, Wersching kicked a 23-yard field goal with only 1:57 to go.
That was enough time for Anderson to complete six consecutive passes, none of which was run out of bounds to stop the clock.
Anderson's final pass was a three-yard heave to tight end Ross which, with Jim Breech's third extra point, narrowed the Cincinnati deficit to 26-21. When Breech's onside kickoff nestled in the arms of Dwight Clark, however, all that remained to seal the 49ers victory was for Montana to take a snap, retreat four yards and kneel gently on the synthetic turf as time expired.
After Commissioner Pete Rozelle's presentation of the Vince Lombardi Trophy to 49ers Owner Edward DeBartolo, Jr., a telephone was thrust into Walsh's hand.
Clapping his other hand over an ear to muffle the shrieks of exuberant players, Walsh said, "I thought it might be you calling."
On the other end of the line, President Ronald Reagan said, "I wanted to congratulate you. Tell the fellows they really did win one for the Gipper."
Reagan, a Californian, had portrayed legendary George Gipp, a Notre Dame star of more than six decades earlier, in a 1940 movie version of the life of Knute Rockne.
"I think Joe was thinking of the Gipper when we won. Thank you very, very much," said Walsh.
Montana, selected the game's most valuable player, completed 14 of 22 passes, ran for 18 yards in six carries and scored a touchdown.
"Montana will be the great quarterback of the future," said Walsh of his third-year field general. "He is one of the coolest competitors of all time and he has just started."