Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Team of the Decade

Twenty–five years ago today, Joe Montana became the second quarterback to win four Super Bowls.

Terry Bradshaw is the only other quarterback to record that achievement — if Tom Brady beats the Seahawks this Sunday, he will become the third man to do it. And one suspects that Brady will have few, if any, additional chances. This will be his sixth Super Bowl; he will be 38 years old before next season begins.

The quarterbacks who faced each other in Super Bowl XXIV in New Orleans 25 years ago had been to five Super Bowls between them. Montana was 3–0; Denver's John Elway was 0–2.

The 49ers came into the game 12–point favorites. I guess the oddsmakers knew what they were doing because Super Bowl XXIV remains, 25 years later, the most lopsided Super Bowl ever played.

The 49ers never trailed. On their first possession, San Francisco marched 66 yards in 10 plays and scored their first touchdown on a familiar combo — Montana to Jerry Rice. San Francisco led, 7–0.

The Broncos kicked a field goal when they got the ball back, but San Francisco retaliated with another touchdown — and what was probably the 49ers' only mistake all evening, a botched point–after attempt.

After one quarter, San Francisco led, 13–3. Montana had already thrown two touchdown passes.

The 49ers scored two more touchdowns in the second quarter and took a 27–3 lead to the locker room.

At this point, I ought to mention that I was in graduate school, and I was working at the local newspaper on the sports side. We had an outdoor writer who was, essentially, a freelancer. He brought his copy in to the office on Fridays, and we published it on Sunday.

Anyway, this writer and I were chatting about the game, and he asked me if I would be willing to bet with him. He wanted to take the Broncos. I agreed to bet with him, and I'm sure he thought I was being generous when I told him he could have however many points were being offered; the truth is that I just believed the 49ers could win by a couple of touchdowns. In more than half of their wins all year (and the 49ers were 14–2 during the regular season), the 49ers could have covered a 12–point spread, and they won both of their previous playoff games by more — far more — than 12 points.

So he started with a 12–0 advantage. Obviously, though, that lead evaporated rather quickly. He was just narrowly holding on to the lead at the end of the first quarter, but he couldn't have been encouraged. The Broncos only had five first downs at halftime. By that time, of course, they trailed by 24 points.

The Broncos finally got a touchdown in the third quarter — but it was after the 49ers had added two more touchdowns to their total. It was 41–10 at the end of the third quarter, 55–10 when the final gun sounded.

The 49ers were sharp, precise, not to be denied. Punter Barry Helton only had to kick the ball away four times all day. That is how efficient the 49ers were, scoring on two–thirds of their possessions.

If you looked at the time of possession, though, and did not know the final score, you'd be convinced that Denver won the game. The Broncos held the ball twice as long as the 49ers — but the 49ers scored on long plays, four of their touchdowns coming on gains of 20 yards or more. When you can pick up big chunks of yards like that, time of possession becomes irrelevant. After all, the Broncos only had three gains of 20 yards or more all day, and none resulted in a touchdown.

Elway was the only Bronco who was really in the 49ers' league. The rest of the team simply didn't have what it took to compete with the 49ers.

San Francisco was the team of the decade. Of that, they left no doubt 25 years ago today.

On that day, it was probably hard to find someone who could conceive of a time when Elway would return to the Super Bowl — and not only play in it but actually win it. In fact, he did return to the Super Bowl eight years later, and he won, beating the Green Bay Packers.

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