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Goal-Line Stand

During halftime on Sunday of the 49ers game against the Seahawks, the 49ers will honor the men who were responsible for four of the most famous downs in 49ers history. Check out this feature.

More than a quarter-century has passed since the 49ers made their famous goal-line stand in Super Bowl XVI.

Just two years removed from back-to-back 2-14 seasons, San Francisco surprised everyone in 1981 by going to its first Super Bowl. The 49ers posted a 13-3 regular season record to win the NFC West and then recorded arguably their most dramatic victory in franchise history with a 28-27 win over Dallas at Candlestick Park in the NFC Championship Game.

Dwight Clark, who made what will forever be known as "The Catch" in that game, would later characterize the 1981 season in "America's Game: The Super Bowl Champion 1981 San Francisco 49ers" as being "like a dream that actually happened."

But, the dream may not have had a happy ending without four incredible plays, forever known as the "goal-line stand."

San Francisco dominated play in the first 30 minutes and was up 20-0 at halftime. Joe Montana ran for a first quarter touchdown and found Earl Cooper open for an 11-yard score in the second period, while Ray Wersching kicked two short field goals just before halftime.

"What I remember is making the mistake of thinking at halftime this thing is kind of over, and we're going to smoke these guys," said Randy Cross, who won the first of his four Super Bowls with the 1981 team, during an interview session with NFL Films.

But a talented Cincinnati team that was also making its first Super Bowl appearance started to pick up momentum after the break.

After being shut out in the first half, the Bengals finally got on the scoreboard with an impressive nine-play, 83-yard drive to start the third quarter.

The 49ers offense sputtered without a first down on its next two drives, giving the Bengals excellent field position near midfield twice in a row.

The first time the 49ers forced Cincinnati into a three-and-out. But on the next Bengals possession quarterback Ken Anderson hooked up with Cris Collinsworth for 49 yards to put the ball on the San Francisco 14-yard line. The 49ers were able to force a fourth down at the their own five but Cincinnati fullback Pete Johnson barreled forward for two yards to give the Bengals first-and-goal at the three.

Keena Turner, now the 49ers vice president of football affairs, remembers the play very well.

"I thought we were in our short-yardage defense, but we were actually in the goal-line defense," said Turner, who was on the sidelines while his 10 teammates tried to stop Johnson.

"Technically, I'm the reason there was a goal-line stand."

Turner made his way onto the field for the final four plays although he admits his teammates still jokingly say he wasn't out there at all.

With the 49ers 20-7 lead seriously in danger of being sliced to six points and the momentum having already clearly shifted to the Bengals, that's when the four plays that defined the game happened.

Johnson gained two yards on a first down run up the middle to get the Bengals within a yard of the end zone but was stopped shy of the goal line at the 1-yard line.

On second down, Johnson ran off left guard but was knocked down for no gain.

The Bengals passed on third down and Anderson hit Charles Alexander in the right flat but linebacker Dan Bunz made a tackle that has been featured in NFL highlight films for years, hurling Alexander backward before he could break the plane of the goal line.

"I felt so aware at the time, so keyed up and alive," Bunz would later tell Time magazine. "… it was that perfect tackle I'd always heard about.

"It was surreal," Bunz added recently. "I just tried to make the perfect tackle and the rest is history. As a kid growing up you dream about someday making a tackle like that at the right time in the right game. It was a six-inch difference between goat and hero."

Bunz' dramatic tackle forced another fourth down and the Bengals went back to Johnson up the middle. But he was once again denied by the 49ers with the game's official play-by-play giving credit for the final tackle to "the entire middle of the line."

The credit on the final tackle was symbolic of the entire set of downs.

"When you look at the film, you realize that everybody did their job," Bunz said. "It wasn't just one guy. Everybody had a part in helping somebody else make a play."

"Obviously everyone on that defense believed we could stop them," Turner said. "That's the only way you do stop them – you believe it."

Head Coach Bill Walsh called the fourth down stop of Johnson "the play that won the game for us."

"Winning that Super Bowl was extremely important to our organization," Turner said. "That was really the beginning of us establishing an amazing run that the organization would have in winning five Super Bowls."

The city of San Francisco would also relish and find deep satisfaction in the first 49ers Super Bowl victory.

"Winning that game kind of united all of San Francisco," Bunz said. "It gave everyone something to cheer about, and it gave us an identity. The whole city came out to celebrate – everybody from all walks of life. It was a great celebration. We embraced them and they embraced us."

Ronnie Lott might have summed it up best years later during an interview for the NFL Films documentary: "I say this today because of that moment I will always believe that greatness comes from having people come together for a common cause."

The common cause of Super Bowl XVI will be remembered forever.


**Questions remain to this day about what players took part in the famous third quarter goal-line stand that defined San Francisco's 26-21 victory over Cincinnati in Super Bowl XVI.

Maybe it's best if some of that mystery remains, the legend grows and the credit for the goal-line stand appropriately goes to the entire team.

But knowing that all of the players on the 1981 Super Bowl champion 49ers will always be given their due credit, here's a crack at what some of our research has unearthed on who actually took part in those four famous plays.

76 – Dwaine Board (DE)
57 – Dan Bunz (LB)
60 – John Choma (Goal-Line Defense Specialist)
74 – Fred Dean (DE)
75 – John Harty (DT)
42 – Ronnie Lott (CB)
65 – Lawrence Pillers (DE)
54 – Craig Puki (LB)
78 – Archie Reese (DT)
64 – Jack Reynolds (LB)
58 – Keena Turner (LB)

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