Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Montana's Second Super Bowl Victory

I remember this day in 1985. I was working on the sports desk of the Arkansas Gazette on what is always the biggest day in sports every year — Super Bowl Sunday.

Everything else that would ordinarily demand our attention always took the night off on Super Bowl Sunday. They used to play the Super Bowl in the afternoon — until they discovered they could get a bigger TV audience by playing the game at night. So they moved it to nighttime, and since that time there have been some basketball games played in the afternoons of Super Bowl Sunday. Never very many, just a few, usually featuring big–name programs. Occasionally, sports fans have had the option of watching a hockey game or perhaps Olympic qualifying competition for skiers or skaters.

All that other stuff was usually over by the kickoff of the Super Bowl, though. We didn't have a TV in the newsroom in those days, but someone usually brought a portable TV to the office so we could watch the game. And it promised to be a good one.

It seems to me that maybe the worst thing that can happen to a professional athlete is to achieve great success very early in his career.

Because that tends to make the athlete believe that climbing that mountain is much easier than advertised, and the athlete expects to return to the championship level every year. Few athletes have made it to that level multiple times in their careers, let alone every year.

In truth, that is probably easier for athletes who participate in individual sports to accomplish than it is for those who compete in team sports.

That may have been what happened to Dan Marino, who came into the NFL as a first–round draft choice after the 1982 season. The Dolphins made it to the Super Bowl in 1982 and went 12–4 in Marino's rookie season but lost to Seattle in the divisional round of the playoffs.

In 1983, the Dolphins were 14–2 and crushed their opponents in the AFC playoffs. Waiting for them in Super Bowl XIX at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California, 30 years ago today were the Joe Montana–led San Francisco 49ers.

It is important to remember that Montana was not a sure bet to be in the Hall of Fame yet. The 49ers had won the Super Bowl three years earlier, but that had been their only appearance. They were not the juggernaut that they would become, and their performance 30 years ago had a lot to do with that transformation.

Going into the game that was played three decades ago today, the 49ers were favored — but only by 3½ points.

It was billed as a showdown between Marino and Montana. Marino was everyone's MVP, having completed more than 64% of his passes (he averaged almost three dozen attempts per game) for more than 5,000 yards and four dozen touchdowns.

Marino may have thought it was all incredibly easy when the gun sounded ending the first quarter. Miami led, 10–7, thanks to Uwe von Schamann's 37–yard field goal and Marino's two–yard touchdown pass to tight end Dan Johnson. But Marino, who averaged three touchdown passes per game during the regular season, would have no more touchdown passes on this day.

Montana and the 49ers seized the lead in the second quarter. Montana threw a touchdown pass to running back Roger Craig, then Montana ran in from six yards out, then Craig scored again.

Von Schamann kicked two field goals to cut the deficit to 28–16 at the intermission, but the Dolphins were done scoring for the day.

The 49ers got a field goal from Ray Wersching and Montana threw another touchdown pass to Craig, and it was over. The 49ers had won in convincing fashion, 38–16.

And Montana, who had not been named the MVP of the season, was named the MVP of the Super Bowl. As a two–time Super Bowl–winning quarterback, he joined an exclusive club. In a few years, he would win back–to–back Super Bowls and join an extremely exclusive club of four–time winners. So far, the only other member is Terry Bradshaw, who won his fourth Super Bowl 35 years ago today. New England's Tom Brady will be seeking to join that club a week from Sunday.

No doubt, many people believed on this day 30 years ago that Marino would soon win a Super Bowl. He might even win multiple Super Bowls in his career. He was, after all, only 23 years old, and, if he stayed healthy, he clearly had the skill.

But he never made it back to the Super Bowl. The closest he got was conference championship games following the 1985 and 1992 seasons. The Dolphins lost both.

For the second time, the 49ers gave coach Bill Walsh a victory ride. He would get another four years later.

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