January 24, 1982 – San Francisco 49ers 26 vs. Cincinnati Bengals 21 – Super Bowl XVI
Location: Pontiac Silverdome; Pontiac, Mich.
Favorites: 49ers -1.0
MVP: Joe Montana
A then-franchise record 13-3 season led to San Francisco’s first Lombardi Trophy.
Before discussing Super Bowl XVI, however, the iconic play you know as “The Catch” must be mentioned. Dwight Clark’s legendary 6-yard touchdown reception from Joe Montana came in the final minute of the NFC Championship Game. The touchdown beat the archenemy Dallas Cowboys and ended the 49ers Super Bowl drought.
On the play, Montana famously scrambled to the right under heavy duress, and at the last moment, the quarterback found Clark streaking across the back of the end zone. Montana let go of his pass, and Clark made the fingertip catch to send the 49ers to their first Super Bowl. The receiver finished the contest with 120 receiving yards and caught two of Montana’s three touchdown passes on the day.
Super Sunday featured the first of two eventual Super Bowl matchups between the 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals. San Francisco jumped out to a 20-0 halftime lead behind two Montana touchdowns and a pair of Ray Wersching field goals. Montana opened the scoring with a 1-yard touchdown run followed by an 11-yard TD pass to Earl Cooper in the second quarter.
Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson pulled Cincinnati back within one score after back-to-back touchdowns in the second half: a 5-yard run and a 4-yard pass to Dan Ross.
Sandwiched between those scores was San Francisco’s famous goal-line stand. Down 20-7, Cincinnati had 1st-and-goal from the 49ers 3-yard line. A first-down run for Pete Johnson got the Bengals down to the 1-yard line. Johnson’s second-down run was stuffed for no gain. Anderson completed a third-down pass to Charles Alexander, but Dan Bunz made the stop near the right pylon before the receiver could break the plane of the end zone. Cincinnati opted to go for it on fourth down, and San Francisco stopped Johnson once more to turn the ball over on downs.
The series is still considered one of the iconic moments in 49ers franchise history.
Ultimately, two more field goals from Wersching put the game out of reach. Anderson found Ross for a second touchdown at the end of the fourth quarter, but the Bengals were unable to recover the ensuing onside kick.
Joe Montana took one knee, the team carried head coach Bill Walsh off the field and so began San Francisco’s run as the NFL’s “Team of the 80’s.”
The quarterback’s workmanlike stat line of 14-of-22 passing for 157 yards, one touchdown and the rushing score earned him MVP honors.
OL Randy Cross on his feelings before “The Catch”:
“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that we were going to score on Dallas. They knew they couldn’t stop us. You only had to look across the line of scrimmage to know that.”
Cross on Clark’s reception to beat the Cowboys:
“I don’t think Dwight has ever jumped that high before, and I know he hasn’t jumped that high since.”
Cross on Montana’s performance in the NFC Championship Game:
“That was the beginning of being Joe Montana.”
Walsh’s postgame locker-room speech after NFC Championship Game:
“We talked about being champions on July 7th. We’re champions right now and we’ve got one more to go. Congratulations on a tremendous effort, tremendous.”
S Ronnie Lott on winning Super Bowl XVI:
“We’d done it. We were World Champions. I don’t know if there will ever be another team like that team. Why do I say that? Because Joe Montana wasn’t Joe Montana. I wasn’t Ronnie Lott. We didn’t have what the Cowboys had. We didn’t have any primetime players, but we had heart.”
Clark reflecting on “The Catch”:
“I’m honored. I’m humbled that people are still talking about it 25 years later. I’m honored to have been a part of a play that was kind of the culmination of this incredible, surprise season. It’s great to give 49ers fans that moment.”