"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.
November 11, 1985
A well-thrown snowball settled a Monday night quarterback showdown between football-flinging future Pro Football Hall of Famers Joe Montana and John Elway.
After posting a 15-1 record in 1984, and whipping the Miami Dolphins at Super Bowl XIX, the 49ers were experiencing a mild Super Bowl hangover. Midway through the 1985 campaign, San Francisco had dropped four of nine games. The Denver Broncos were riding a 6-3 record. At Denver's Mile High Stadium, piles of fresh snow and 20-degree weather greeted the 49ers.
Denver outplayed the 49ers in the first two quarters, posting a 14-3 lead. Right before the first half ended, Montana came to life marching the 49ers 56 yards on nine plays to the two yard line. With 11 seconds remaining, kicker Ray Wersching trotted out to line up a chip-shot field goal, an easy three pointer from 16 yards.
As usual, Wersching refused to look at the goal posts as he jogged onto the field and he kept one hand on the back of his holder, Matt Cavanaugh. Only after the kick would Wersching lift his head to see the outcome.
Just as center Randy Cross snapped the football, a well-placed snowball sailed out of the end zone seats and plopped beside the holder, scattering a slew of icy fragments. It caused a momentary distraction. Cavanaugh, who also served as backup quarterback, bobbled the football then sprang to his feet and threw a desperation pass to no one in particular. It fell to the turf incomplete.
"The snowball came down between Randy and me just as the ball was snapped and it took my mind off the ball," Cavanaugh said. "No part of the snowball hit me, but it did distract me enough to foul up the hold."
From his suite, 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. placed a call to the field demanding a rule interpretation. Referee Jim Tunney later explained it to the press, "We have no recourse in terms of a foul or to call it on the home team or the fans. There's nothing in the rule book that allows us to do that."
At the time, the snowball caper seemed to be an annoying, comical and nearly insignificant pre-halftime moment. Thirty minutes later, it loomed large as the 49ers walked off the freezing Mile High Stadium turf with a 17-16 loss.
The defeat also played havoc with the 49ers playoff run. They finished one game behind the Los Angeles Rams for the NFC West crown, which forced the 49ers into a Wild Card game on the road against the New York Giants. The 49ers lost 17-3.
Wersching took it in stride. During his 11-season 49ers career from 1977-1987, he recorded 979 points, the second all-time leading scorer with the club behind only Jerry Rice, and earned two Super Bowl rings. The game was a minor blip in a winding road.
"Whoever tossed that snowball made one hell of a throw," Wersching quipped.