In a rematch of Super Bowl XVI the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Buffalo Bills 21-10 to face the San Francisco Forty-niners who had defeated the Chicago Bears 28-3 to advance to their third Super Bowl in seven years on January 22, 1989 at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami.
Sam Wyche was the coach and Boomer Esiason was the quarterback with rookie Ickey Woods at running back and Chris Collingsworth as a wide receiver with Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz and Max Montoya anchoring the offensive line.
The Forty-niners were again led by Joe Montana but had added future Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice and running back Roger Craig. Ronnie Lott was still on defense and this was a star studded, experienced and talented team that faced the Bengals.
The two teams had several connections as Niners coach Bill Walsh had been an assistant under Paul Brown in Cincinnati and Wyche had been an assistant under Walsh.
Wyche was an innovator and introduced the no huddle offense, where the team runs several plays without going into a huddle, as the main offense in Cincinnati, the first coach to do so. Quarterback Boomer Esiason was perfect for the hurry up style and became a master of the play action fake, where a quarterback disguises the hand off to the running back to the extent the defenders do not know if the quarterback or running back has the ball.
Esiason had the best passer rating in the league with a 97.4 mark and had running backs, Ickey Woods who gained 1066 yards and scored 15 touchdowns and James Brooks who added 931 rushing yards in the backfield with him.
Boomer’s main receiver was Eddie Brown with 1273 yards as well as Rodney Holman, Tim McGee and Collingsworth.
The defense featured David Fulcher with five interceptions, Luis Billups with four and Eric Thomas with seven. The team also had brothers Archie and Ray Griffin.
Being a proponent of the West Coast offense, Walsh used running back Roger Craig with a team high 76 receptions and 1502 yards rushing and fullback Tom Rathman with 42 receptions coming out of the backfield as well as Jerry Rice with 1306 yards on 64 catches, Mike Wilson and punt returner John Taylor as receivers.
Montana had an 87.9 passer rating with Steve Young as his backup. Lott, Eric Wright and Chuck Haley bolstered the defense.
This Super Bowl featured two very good teams and would go down as one of the most exciting in Super Bowl history.
Although the teams were evenly matched the 49ers were favored because of Montana’s success in two previous Super Bowls. But it would prove to be their closest Super Bowl yet.
In the first quarter the 49ers got on the board first with a Mike Cofer 41 yard field goal to which Jim Breech answered with a 34 yarder for the Bengals and in a tight defensive battle the score was tied 3-3 at halftime.
The Bengals got a favorable turn in the second quarter as Montana had advanced the Niners to the Bengals’ ten yard line. On third down David Fulcher stopped fullback Tom Rathman at the two yard line and San Francisco had to go for field goal which they missed because of a mix-up on the snap.
In the third quarter Cofer kicked a 43 yard field goal and Breech one for 32 yards and the score was 6-6 when in a key play of the game the Bengals’ Stanford Jennings returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown as the game turned the Bengals’ way with a 13-6 lead.
But in the fourth quarter Montana and Rice combined on a 14 yard touchdown play to tie the score 13-13. However again things looked favorable for the Bengals as with 3:20 left in the game Breech kicked his third field goal of the game, this time from 40 yards out for a 16-13 Cincinnati lead.
All they had to do was hold San Francisco and a Super Bowl victory was theirs. With every Bengal fan on the edge of their seats, Montana got the ball at his own eight yard line with 3:10 left on the clock. Bengal coach Sam Wyche went into a prevent defense in which the safeties and cornerbacks moved down the field to prevent the long pass play but left open the middle of the field which Montana quickly took advantage of and advanced the 49ers down the field with a series of quick short passes to the Bengal’ 14 yard line with 34 seconds on the clock.
Montana coolly found kick returner/receiver John Taylor in the end zone for a game winning touchdown thwarting the Bengals’ chance for a Super Bowl victory. This was closest they would come to that goal and is considered their best team.
Jerry Rice got the MVP and the 49ers returned the next year against the Denver Broncos. Cincinnati had not been back. Fullback Ickey Woods who with the “Ickey Shuffle,” symbolized that team would be hampered by injuries and play only three more NFL seasons.
But there is hope in Cincinnati with the addition of their probable number one draft pick Joe Burrows, Bengal fans including Esiason are optimistic about the future.