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Faithful Time Machine: Super Bowl XVI

Greetings Faithful! It's Mavo and I've been Faithful since 1959 when I was seven years old and saw my first Niners game at Kezar Stadium. From time to time I will be taking you back with me in my time machine to relive important 49ers milestones and glorious moments of triumph. During our journey through time, I will relate my personal remembrances as a member of the Faithful for over 60 years. I've set the target date to January 24, 1982, another HUGE red letter day in 49ers history. So c'mon, strap in tight and let's get going!

Last week, the Faithful Time Machine relived the 1981 NFC Championship game that culminated with The Catch by Dwight Clark. Today we will relive Super Bowl XVI, the Niners reward for that victory.

This is my personal story of my trip to Super Bowl XVI where our 49ers captured their first of five Lombardi trophies. My journey to Pontiac, Mich., the site of the Super Bowl that year, began a year before.

On my Pan Am flight home from Super Bowl XV, won by the Oakland Raiders, my journey to Super Bowl XVI began. Why, because my Niners idol, at that time, John Brodie sat down next to me on the flight. Brodie was in New Orleans as part of the NBC broadcast team.

Before we slept on the night flight, our flight attendant served us some snacks and drinks as we chatted about how Bill Walsh had the Niners on the right course to the playoffs.

The week after the 1981 NFC Championship Game I was back in the Levi's Dallas office. My plan was to fly from Dallas to Detroit on Friday afternoon, two days before the game. I had my rental car and a hotel room reserved. I was going to buy my ticket in Detroit and was counting on ticket prices dropping due to the frigid forecast for gameday in Pontiac.

It was a very bumpy flight to Detroit because of an approaching ice storm. On arrival, I got my tiny rental car and drove to the 49ers hotel to find John Brodie and hopefully buy my bargain ticket. Once at the Sheraton Hotel in Southfield, Mich., I had a great time visiting with some of my past Niners heroes like Bob "The Geek" St. Clair and Joe "The Jet" Perry. But, I couldn't find John Brodie or buy my ticket.

When I woke up the next morning it was freezing outside. After I escaped my nearby hotel to drive back to the Niners hotel for breakfast, I put out the word to the hotel staff that I was looking for a ticket.

I was sitting at the bar with KTVU's sportscaster Gary Park discussing the game when the bartender told me he had a ticket for me. He told me it was a great ticket in the club level at the 40-yard line. The seller wanted to keep the sale secret so I was to meet him in a hallway by a cigarette machine.

It was with much trepidation that I went to the hallway at the appointed time. Two guys eventually showed up 15 minutes late, but I got my ticket. Life was good!

Super Bowl XVI Game Day

From the get go, my gameday plan to avoid the below zero weather went horribly wrong! Since I didn't pack any cold weather clothes, my plan was to arrive at the Silverdome an hour before the parking lot opened. Then, after parking close to an entrance, I'd run in quickly. How bad could the cold be I thought.


After driving around scouting for a parking lot, I parked in one about a quarter mile from the nearest entrance. When the time came for the stadium gates to open, I ventured out into the bone-chilling cold. Instantly my ears ached from the 25 mile per hour wind that cut through my flimsy sports coat like a knife. Once I shuffled carefully out of the ice covered auxiliary lot, I and other fans faced a huge obstacle!

There was a huge puddle of de-icing fluid beside the road blocking our path to the entrance. They had de-iced the huge main parking lot the night before and huge puddles of 13 degree de-icing fluid ringed the stadium. The frozen solid storm drains prevented the fluid from draining.

A teenager, who knew the Silverdome, told us that the nearest parking entrance without a puddle was on the other side of the stadium. Us fans faced a terrible choice, brave going through the freezing puddle or walk a half mile to the clear entrance.

I gritted my teeth and plunged into the freezing ankle high puddle. Mercifully, my feet went numb a few seconds after the shock of the cold. I broke into a dead run for the entrance. Just as I thought my lungs would burst from the frigid air, I reached the entrance and it was closed!

When the gate opened up after 15 minutes, I raced into the comforting 72 degree warmth of the Pontiac Silverdome. I went searching for a Super Bowl XVI ski cap to protect my noggin and ears for my trek back to my car, got a hot chocolate and found my seat. It was still almost two hours before kickoff.

The Matchup

The game matched two teams that had identical 6-10 records the previous season. The Bengals were coming off three-straight losing seasons and the Niners had four-straight losing seasons. It was the first time that two teams with losing records the previous season met in the Super Bowl.

For Bill Walsh, he had history with the opposing team. Walsh had coached under Paul Brown for eight years from 1968 through 1975. For the last five years of Walsh's tenure with the Bengals, he was the quarterbacks coach and had a significant role in developing Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson into an All-Pro.

The Game

The game began very badly for the 49ers. After the Niners won the coin toss and elected to receive, Bengals kicker Jim Breech kicked off out of bounds. On his second kickoff, Niners kick returner Amos Lawrence fumbled the ball after getting hit at the 49ers 26 yard line and the Bengals recovered.

The Bengals picked up two quick first downs to reach the 49ers five yard line, it was first and goal. Up to that time, the team that scored first had won 13 of the last 15 Super Bowls. On second down, Jim Stuckey sacked Anderson to move the ball back to the 49ers 11.

The next play is not as famous as others in the game, but I feel it was the key turning point of Super Bowl XVI. Anderson tried to hit Isaac Curtis over the middle at the five, but free safety Dwight Hicks anticipated the pass route and picked it off. Hicks returned the ball to the 49ers 32.

Dwight Hicks

Without Hicks' interception, the game might have developed much differently. That season, Anderson had led NFL quarterbacks in avoiding interceptions. It was a huge momentum shift that set the tone for the rest of the game.

Joe Montana marched the Niners all the way down to the Bengals one yard line in ten plays. Montana scored the first points of Super Bowl XVI when he leaped over the pile on a quarterback sneak. The 49ers ubiquitous red caped Banjo Man, Stacy Samuels, plucked his banjo furiously. Ray Wersching added the extra point and it was 49ers 7 - Bengals 0 with 5:52 left in the first quarter.

At the start of the second quarter, after an exchange of punts, Cincinnati was driving into 49ers territory. From San Francisco's 27, Anderson threw a nice pass to Cris Collinsworth at the five. Collinsworth caught it, but rookie cornerback Eric Wright punched the ball out and the Niners recovered at the eight yard line, marking the Bengals second turnover of the night.

Next, the 49ers set a new Super Bowl record by driving 92 yards in 12 plays, the longest drive in the Super Bowl era, to score their second touchdown. The scoring play was immortalized on the next week's Sports Illustrated. Montana hit fullback Earl Cooper in the left flat at about the five yard line. The throw was high, but Cooper jumped to corral it, turned upfield and blasted his way into the end zone. The Faithful's side erupted loudly with cries of, "Coop Coop Coop!" Wersching kicked the extra point and it was 49ers 14 - Bengals 0 with 6:53 to go in the second quarter.

Late in the second quarter, the Bengals had to punt from their own 25 yard line and Hicks returned it to the 49ers 34 yard line with 4:11 to go in the half. Montana efficiently moved the Niners down to the Bengals five yard line. On second down, Montana appeared to hit Dwight Clark for a touchdown, but the Bengals defenders knocked the ball out on the tackle. The 49ers settled for a 22-yard Wersching field goal. With 15 seconds left in half it was Niners 17 - Bengals 0.

There's a fascinating story about the ensuing kickoff by Wersching. The 49ers opened the 1981 season against the Detroit Lions at the Pontiac Silverdome. Wersching had hurt his kicking leg and his kickoffs were affected. Bill Walsh noticed that Wersching's line drive kickoffs bounced crazily on the astroturf at the Silverdome and the Lions had trouble fielding Wersching's kicks.

Back at Super Bowl XVI, Wersching kicked off intentionally with a low line drive kick. The football bounced like crazy on the artificial turf as in the opening game. Bengals kick returner Archie Griffin had trouble with the ball, fumbled it and after a wild scramble, 49ers reserve linebacker Milt McColl recovered it on the Bengals four with 5 seconds to go in the half. We all thought that Walsh would take a shot for the end zone. Instead, Walsh had Wersching trot on to kick a 26-yard field goal after a penalty moved the football back five yards. At the half it was Niners 20 - Bengals 0.

Joe Montana, Ray Wersching

The 20 point lead was a Super Bowl record at the time. The halftime statistics heavily favored our Niners. San Francisco had out-gained the Bengals 208 yards to 99. The 49ers advantage in first downs was 15 to 7. But the key statistic, as it is invariably, was Cincinnati's three turnovers to the 49ers one.

Cincinnati took the second half kickoff and quickly marched 83 yards down the field for a touchdown in nine plays. Anderson scored on a 5-yard quarterback keeper when he couldn't find an open receiver. The key play of the drive was a nicely designed gadget play. At the Niners 35, Anderson took the snap and pitched to Griffin, who lateralled it back to Anderson, who then threw to Isaac Curtis at the 49ers 22. Wright got penalized for a late hit when he tried to separate the football from Curtis on the ground. The penalty moved the ball to the 49ers 11. Breech added the extra point and with 11:25 to go in the third quarter it was Niners 20 - Bengals 7.

The Niners went three and out twice in the third quarter, but the Bengals couldn't get anything going either. The next critical juncture began when Cincinnati returned a 49ers punt to the 50 yard line with 6:53 to go in the third. The drive started out promising for San Francisco's defense when the Bengals got penalized twice and Fred Dean sacked Anderson. But, on a 3rd-and-22 from their own 37, the Bengals hit on a bomb to Collinsworth who made a beautiful over the shoulder catch at the 49ers 14.

It looked like the Niners were going to hold Cincinnati to a field goal on third and 11 after a Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds sack left the ball on the 49ers 15. But Anderson hit his tight end Dan Ross over the middle for 10 yards. On 4th-and-a-foot, the Bengals 250-pound Bengals fullback Pete Johnson smashed down to the three.

The Goal Line Stand

On first down, the Bengals gave it to big Johnson and he rumbled down to the one. On second down, it was again Johnson with the football, but this time Reynolds came flying up the gap and knocked Johnson backwards, losing half a yard. On 3rd-and-goal linebacker Dan Bunz came flying up out of nowhere to drop Bengals receiver Charles Alexander inches short of the goal line.

Bengals head coach Forrest Gregg, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman with the Packers under legendary coach Vince Lombardi, called a timeout. It was 4th-and-inches from the 49ers goal line. Johnson got the handoff and surged forward. He was met at the goal line by a big stonewall of Niners. Reynolds and Ronnie Lott hit the big fullback and stopped him short of the goal line. I have a lasting memory of nose tackle Archie Reese pumping his arms on top of the pile in celebration. It was still 49ers 20 - Bengals 7 with only 1:17 left in the third.

As the fourth quarter started, the Bengals forced the 49ers into their third punt of the second half. More alarming was the fact that the Niners had not made a first down all second half. Cincinnati took over after the punt at their 47 with 14 minutes left in regulation.

The Bengals took only 3:52 to go the 53 yards in seven plays for their second touchdown. It was Niners 20 - Bengals 14 with 10 minutes to go when San Francisco's offense trotted on the field at their 27.

On 2nd-and-15 from the 49ers 22, Montana connected with wide receiver Mike Wilson on a deep comeback route, for 22 crucial yards. Wersching kicked a 40-yard field goal with 5:25 remaining. It was now a two possession game for Cincinnati.

49ers 23 - Bengals 14.

The next offensive play by the Bengals thrilled and then scared the daylights out of the Faithful. Anderson, who had been red hot in the second half, passed deep to Collinsworth down the left side at about the 50, but Wright broke on the ball and intercepted it at the Bengals 47. Wright returned it to the Cincinnati 23 and then tried to lateral the ball to linebacker Willie Harper and the football got loose. Fortunately, Harper recovered at the 22. After picking up a clock and Cincinnati timeout killing first down, Wersching rammed through a 22-yard field goal for his Super Bowl record-tying fourth field goal with under two minutes left in the contest.

49ers 26 - Bengals 14

Cincinnati got the football back on their 26 with 1:57 left. Anderson hit six-straight pinpoint passes to score the Bengals third touchdown. However, there were only 16 seconds left.

Niners 26 - Bengals 21.

People in my section were celebrating wildly, but I was not. It wasn't until Clark recovered the onside kick that I joined the celebration.

My trek back to my car was much more comfortable with my new ski cap pulled down over my ears. They unplugged the storm drains and the puddle was gone.

The victorious Niners returned to the hotel to the cheers of the Faithful, including myself. Lott and Hicks gave me a high five as they headed to the ballroom for the victory party.

Try as I might I couldn't crash the party, but the rest of that night was so sweet celebrating the Niners first Super Bowl victory with the Faithful.

So that's my wild experience at my first 49ers Super Bowl victory on this date 39 years ago. I'll be back with more Faithful Time Machine remembrances of glorious victories and milestones soon. Mavo out!