Let’s dispense with this one quickly. Once the gun sounded this game jumped to the top of the lists of great Super Bowls for one reason: Joe Montana’s instantly legendary 92-yard come-from-behind touchdown drive to win the game. But while the finish may have been tremendous, the rest of the game was shockingly dull. Halftime score: 3-3. Actually the dullness wasn’t shocking. We expected horrible games back then. No, the shock was that the Niners needed a comeback at all. They were big favorites and the NFL was in the midst of a huge streak where year-after-year the NFC would punk the AFC in the Super Bowls. They should have called the games in the third quarter to show mercy to the hapless AFC team.
If you look at the stats it’s hard to believe San Francisco needed Montana to play the hero. They almost doubled Cincinnati in yards and first downs. San Fran’s averaged almost three yards per play more than Cincy! How was this game even close? Well, the Niners kept shooting themselves in the foot. The offense anyway. They fumbled four times, only losing one, but that helped stall out several drives. They drove down to the Bengals two-yard-line but, already leading 3-0, on fourth-and-one San Fran unaccountably settled for a chip-shot field goals, botched the snap and got nothing. It should have been 10-0 and the Super Bowl probably would have been over at that point. Instead it turned into a boring battle of field goals, and when Cincy returned a kickoff back for a TD the Niners suddenly found themselves in serious danger of losing a game they should have already put away.
But I never felt like they were in danger. If the Bengals had been playing the game of their lives I might have but they weren’t. We all just waited for Montana to finally get his act in gear and with his two fourth quarter TD drives he did (with 32 whole seconds to spare). Here’s an interesting fact about that final drive: San Francisco faced only one third down (and no fourth downs). And the one third down was a third-and-two. The Niners did so well on first downs that of all their second down plays, only one was more than a second-and-three, that second-and-twenty at the Bengals’ 45 following a penalty. But a 27-yard strike to Rice immediately eliminated the drama potential. To me the winning TD was practically a fait accompli. The Niners were already in FG position anyway. Even Sam Wyche knew before his team kicked off that final time that his team left Montana too much time on the clock.
I have to say that sometimes it almost seemed like Montana was bored for three quarters and didn't wake up until his team was in a hole practically requiring a great comeback. Anyway, back then any close Super Bowl was a novelty and a last-minute TD drive had no Super Bowl precedent. But after so many great Super Bowls in the last decade Super Bowl XXIII no longer contends for the title of best ever. Great final drive yes. Great game no.
The Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part I
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part II
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part III
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part IV
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part V
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VI
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VII
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VIII
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part IX
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part X
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Conclusion