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The Niners Were Never Finer
Paul Zimmerman
January 28, 1985
In San Francisco's 38-16 Super Bowl rout of Miami, it's hard to say which was better, the offense or defense
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January 28, 1985

The Niners Were Never Finer

In San Francisco's 38-16 Super Bowl rout of Miami, it's hard to say which was better, the offense or defense

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In the mass interviews that go with the turmoil and hype of something like Super Bowl XIX, a superathlete like the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Joe Montana, might appear bland, even a bit dull. But this isn't the superathlete's arena. It's an artificial situation, and a blue-chip competitor like Montana will coast through it as well as he can.

And then something happens, and the sleepy-eyed guy who seemed harmless with that thicket of microphones in front of him, changes. He's transformed into a relentless predator. The blue eyes flash, and he lifts the event and the people around him into a different dimension. Last Sunday, in front of 84,059 fans in Stanford Stadium, Montana transcended the pregame hype that had relegated him to something less than a spear carrier to Miami's dazzling young Dan Marino and cut loose with his alltime game. As a result, a Super Bowl between the two quality teams of 1984, one that figured to go down to the final heartbeat, turned into a blowout, 38-16 San Francisco.

Montana's sweep was so clean that after he was through, Dolphin coach Don Shula sadly admitted, "It's going to be tough to live with this one. I'm so disappointed. Montana kept us off balance the entire game. He's a great, great athlete."

Briefly this is what Montana did to Miami last Sunday: He completed 24 of 35 passes for 331 yards, a Super Bowl record, and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. He scrambled for 59 yards and one TD on five carries, and he blew the game apart in its middle stages as he led the 49ers to scores on five straight series. During that stretch, San Francisco turned a three-point deficit to a commanding 22-point lead. Montana dodged the occasional rusher who had a shot at him, threw on the run, found the holes in the Dolphin defense—there were plenty of those—always seeming to find the right receiver. And when he ran out of passing options he tucked the ball away and galloped.

Montana put together a complete game, in contrast to that of Marino, which was all arm and no leg, to win the MVP award and the battle between the two best quarterbacks in the NFL. And when it was all over, when the crowd had thinned and only Joe and his father, Joe Sr., were left to pack up the last remnants of gear in the 49er locker room, the younger Montana tried to put the day in perspective. "Personally I wasn't worried about having that much to prove," he said. "I knew Marino was better, coming in, based on what he'd done this season. From a team standpoint the hype bothered me a little. Deep down we all felt it. All we heard was 'Miami, Miami, how are you going to stop Miami?' Yeah, yeah, we were overlooked a little.

"As far as my own game, well, I'd have to admit it was pretty close to the best I've ever played. I didn't throw anything I didn't have confidence in. We got in sort of a groove. Once you get going like that you gain confidence, and it carries over to the defense, and then back to the offense. It's a snowball kind of thing."

Snowball it did. As a team, the 49ers broke new ground. Their 537 yards gained in total offense, 326 passing (331 minus five on one sack) and 211 rushing, set a Super Bowl record. It was the most yards they'd gained in a game since '61. To put it in still tighter perspective, in their '82 Super Bowl victory over Cincinnati the Niners had 275 yards.

Marino, not Montana, found himself trying to keep pace with an offensive adding machine. His statistics look impressive, thanks to a flurry of gimme completions at the end—all told he was 29 for 50 (both records) for 318 yards—but his interceptions outnumbered his touchdowns, two to one, and he was sacked four times. And that was the difference. Montana could scramble away from the rush, Marino couldn't. When he wasn't dropped, he was flushed into bad throws. Even when he had time, his passes did strange things. He had wide-out Nat Moore open for decent gains on a pair of post patterns in the second quarter, and each time the ball did a nosedive on him. "Yeah, that surprised me, too," said 49er free safety Dwight Hicks, who was covering Moore both times. "One time his pass hit me in the foot."

Maybe in a few days, or a few weeks, a story will come out of Miami that Marino wasn't right for the Super Bowl, that he was packing too much weight or he had arm trouble or he was still suffering the effects of a dizzy spell he'd had in Thursday's practice, which was blamed at the time on some medication he'd taken for swelling in his left knee. But maybe it was just that he didn't have the luxury of working against the Dolphin defense, as Montana did. What he faced was a 49er defense that was the toughest in the NFL and that allowed only one touchdown in the playoffs—by the Dolphins on Sunday.

The game started on a high note for Miami. The Dolphins drove for a field goal on their first possession and zipped down the field for 70 yards in six plays for that touchdown on their next one. Miami led 10-7.

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