On January 24, 1982 the Cincinnati Bengals made their first Super Bowl appearance against the San Francisco Forty-niners at the Pontiac Superdome in Detroit.
The Bengal’s won the AFC championship game 27-7 over the San Diego Chargers in Cincinnati in one of the most famous games ever played. The temperature plummeted to -9 degrees with wind chill estimated at -50 degrees in a game termed the “Freezer Bowl.” The weather was probably a big factor in the Bengals’ win as the warm weather Chargers were not used to that kind of weather.
The 49ers also participated in one of the most famous games in NFL history in the NFC championship game against Dallas. In a back and forth affair the Cowboys led late in the fourth quarter with Joe Montana marching San Francisco down the field. With less than a minute left in the game Montana scrambled right and with Dallas defenders descending on him got away a pass to the end zone which was high but Dwight Clark went up and got it and came down inbounds (known as the “Catch” in football history) and after Ray Wersching kicked the extra point the 49ers won 28-27.
Cincinnati was coached by Forrest Gregg a Hall of Fame offensive tackle who had played in the first two Super Bowls for Green Bay under Vince Lombardi. The general manager and majority owner was Paul Brown.
The quarterback was Kenny Anderson who led the league in passing with receiver’s rookie Chris Collingsworth, Isaac Curtis and Dan Ross, Pete Johnson, former Ohio State star at fullback, and future Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz and Max Montoya on the offensive line.
The 49ers were directed by coach Bill Walsh who had been an assistant at Cincinnati under Paul Brown. San Francisco featured a litany of players including quarterback Joe Montana, receivers Freddie Solomon and Dwight Clark and safety Ronnie Lott that would help the forty-niners to five Super Bowls in the 1980’s and 1990 ‘s and many of those players would end up in the pro football Hall of Fame. This was their first Super Bowl.
Walsh was an early proponent of the “West Coast” offense which utilized receivers and running backs coming out of the backfield, emphasizing passing over running. His quarterbacks’ coach was Sam Wyche who would later coach the Bengals against the 49ers in Super Bowl XXII.
The first half of the game belonged to the 49ers as Montana ran for a one yard touchdown and passed to Earl Cooper for another together with two Ray Wersching field goals made it 20-0 at halftime.
The Bengals had an opportunity to score after the 49er’s fumbled on the opening kickoff and Cincinnati drove to the San Francisco five yard line but Anderson was intercepted in the end zone to stop the rally.
They had another chance in the second quarter as they were in San Francisco territory at the 30 yard line when Chris Collingsworth caught and then fumbled the ball at the five yard line which was recovered by the 49ers Eric Wright.
They also lost an onside kick just before halftime which resulted in the second Ray Wersching field goal in the first half.
Forrest Gregg was not happy with his team’s play and let it be known during the halftime intermission and in the second half the Bengals were a different team.
The energized Bengals took the opening kickoff and marched down the field with Anderson taking it in for a five yard touchdown run. On their second possession the Bengals again went down the field with a 49 yard reception by Chris Collingsworth being the big play in the drive, but with the Bengals on the one yard line of San Francisco, in a key defensive stand by the 49ers Cincinnati fullback Pete Johnson could not get into the end zone as he was stopped by Ronnie Lott and Gene Reynolds. That was a key series of the game.
On the first drive of the fourth quarter the Bengals went downfield and scored on a four yard pass from Anderson to Dan Ross and the score was 20-14.
The 49ers responded with two field goals by Ray Wersching of 40 and 23 yards. The Bengals added another touchdown from Anderson to Ross for three yards late in the quarter but it was not enough as the Niners won 26-21.
Joe Montana got his first of three Super Bowl MVP awards and the Forty-niners would be back in 1985 against Miami and the Bengals would return in 1989 again against the Forty-niners.