75 for 75: Montana to Rice Times Five

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"75 for 75" is an article series from the 49ers Museum highlighting legendary moments in 49ers history as part of the team's 75th Anniversary celebrations in 2021.

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October 14, 1990 

For some crazy reason, coach Jerry Glanville "guaranteed" to the Atlanta press that his Falcons would beat the 49ers at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. It was a horribly bad prediction.

Before most Falcons fans had settled into their seats, San Francisco posted its first touchdown on a 24-yard pass from quarterback Joe Montana to wide receiver Jerry Rice. Just 57 seconds had melted off the clock. Eight minutes later, Montana found Rice again, this time on a skinny post for a 25-yard touchdown. Unfortunately for Glanville, the 49ers were just getting started.

Montana and Rice disassembled Atlanta's secondary with breathtaking efficiency. After Rice's two scoring receptions, Montana gave him a break. Early in the second quarter, he connected with wide receiver Mike Sherrard on a 43-yard touchdown pass. Later in the first half, Montana went back to Rice. He guided the 49ers 62 yards, connecting on four passes for 52 yards and then finished the march with a 19-yard dart to Rice.

"Joe has a knack for reading the field," Rice said. 

The 49ers aerial attack was only part of the first half show. With 22 seconds remaining before halftime, Montana was behind center again. He quickly hit on two passes for 25 yards and kicker Mike Cofer trotted out to attempt a 56-yard field goal. If good, it would be the longest field goal in team history. On a day when the 49ers were clicking on all cylinders, the kick sailed through the uprights as the half ended.

Before the final gun sounded, Montana and Rice hooked up for five touchdowns in a 45-35 victory. It was a record-setting performance by two future Pro Football Hall of Famers.

Montana established a pair of 49ers single-game records by throwing for 476 yards and six touchdowns. "Joe played great. No doubt about it," said Dwight Clark, a 49ers administrator at the time. "But not his greatest. Ask him, he'll tell you."

Glanville begged to differ. "I don't know if a quarterback can play any better," the Falcons head coach said. "He gave us a lesson. My hat's off to the guy. I can't wait until he retires."

Rice hauled in 13 catches for 225 yards and notched two team records of his own. His 30-point performance snapped Gordie Soltau's single-game scoring mark of 26 points set against the Los Angeles Rams in 1951. Rice's five touchdown receptions also established a 49ers team record (and tied an NFL record).

"Rice is the total package," Atlanta cornerback Charles Dimry said after chasing the All-Pro receiver from end zone to end zone. "He has pull-away speed. I tried to jump him early but it's difficult when you're playing one of the best."

Of course, Rice was not the only one catching Montana's 32 completed passes. Sherrard nabbed four for 93 yards and tight end Brent Jones caught five for 56. The Montana-to-Rice combination was clearly something special. During their six complete seasons together, they connected on 55 regular season and 12 postseason touchdowns.

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