The San Francisco 49ers have served notice to any unbelievers who might conceivably remain. Give Joe Montana time to throw, and his performance will approach perfection.
One half was all the Niners needed to dispose of the Minnesota Vikings last Saturday and qualify for the NFC championship. The final score read 41-13, but the game was over by half-time. At that point, San Francisco led 27-3 and had treated the 64,585 fans at sold-out Candlestick Park to a remarkable show of offensive football.
There had never been anything like it at this level of competition and against this caliber of opponent—the No. 1-rated defensive team in football. The 49ers had six possessions in the first half, not counting a one-play kneel by Montana at the end, and they scored four touchdowns. The other two times, they drove to the nine and fumbled, and to the 14 and missed a field goal.
The halftime statistics looked like final stats. Montana completed 13 of 16 passes for 210 yards and four touchdowns, and the three incompletes came on two drops and a throwaway. Roger Craig rushed 95 yards on 11 carries. Jerry Rice made five catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns. The offense gained 10 yards a play and piled up 320 yards. The Vikings had held 13 regular-season opponents to less than that for an entire game. "Awesome, just awesome," said Minnesota defensive coordinator Floyd Peters. "We were in shock."
"What was your game plan?" he was asked.
"Sure didn't look like there was one, did it?" he said.
The odd thing was that, early on, the game had the look of an upset. After a 58-yard return on the opening kickoff from Terrence Flagler, San Francisco ran a four-play minidrive then coughed up that fumble on the nine. The Vikes responded by launching a seven-minute, painstaking field goal drive to go ahead 3-0. Then the fun started.
Second series: Montana to Rice, 72 yards for a score on a play that started as a five-yard hook pass. "The defense went into shock after that," said Peters. "Nobody stepped forward to make a big play. It was a total collapse."
Third series: 29-yard run by Craig down to the Minnesota 33, after Montana had connected with Rice on a 12-yard slant-in that was so perfectly timed, so quick and decisive, that the pass looked like a telephone wire stretched between quarterback and receiver. "One second, one and a half at most," Terry Bradshaw, who was doing the game for CBS-TV, said later. "No way in the world you can stop that pass when the timing is so perfect."
San Francisco's second scoring series ended with a touchdown pass to tight end Brent Jones in the same corner of the end zone where Dwight Clark had made his famous catch against the Dallas Cowboys in the '82 NFC Championship Game. The play was a near replica of Clark's game-winner: cut left, break right, Montana delivering the ball just as the receiver is being chased out of the end zone.