It will be part of San Francisco's history; it will become a legend of this city, right up there with the Great Earthquake of 1906. The Drive. Eighty-nine yards to the Super Bowl, 89 yards at the end of a day that seemed hopeless. The Drive. In 10 years at least half a million people will claim to have been in Candlestick Park the day the 49ers drove the length of the field in 13 plays to beat Dallas 28-27 and win a trip to Supe XVI. In 20 years the number of people who were there will be more than a million.
"Were you in Candlestick that day, Grandpa?"
"Damn right I was."
"Tell me about it?"
"Well, you see, there were less than five minutes left and it looked bad for us, boy, real bad...."
Eddie DeBartolo, the team's owner, didn't see The Drive. He had threaded his way through the crowd to get down near the 49er locker room so he could tell his players how proud he was of them in defeat. "Before that, I'd been out on the deck outside our box leading cheers," he said, "but now it looked hopeless. Just hopeless. I wanted to get in the locker room to commiserate with them."
It hadn't been the 49ers' day. They had turned the ball over only 25 times in 16 regular season games, but they had coughed it up six times against the Cowboys, two of the turnovers leading to touchdowns. Two interference penalties against their brilliant rookie cornerback, Ronnie Lott (one of them on a very questionable call by Side Judge Dean Look), had led to 10 more points. A tough game. The lead had already changed hands five times, with neither team ever leading by more than a touchdown. The 49ers had moved smartly up and down the field and outgained the Cowboys, but Dallas had an historical hook into them in playoff action—the Cowboys had knocked them out of their last three playoffs—and as the 49ers took the ball on their own 11-yard line, down 27-21 with 4:54 left, a deep gloom settled over the Candlestick fans.
"I didn't feel gloomy. I felt like we were going to win," said John Brodie, who'd been the 49ers' playoff quarterback in the 1970s. "I knew we were the better team. I'm so sick of Dallas saying, 'Well, those weren't the real Cowboys out there.' They said it when we beat 'em this year and when the Giants beat 'em. How many guys do they carry on their roster anyway?"
"I looked down the field and I saw that patch of grass between our huddle and their goal posts," San Francisco Center Fred Quillan said, "and I thought, 'That's it. That one patch of grass between us and the Super Bowl.' "
Bill Walsh, the 49er coach, gave Quarterback Joe Montana the first two plays to call, sent him out and adjusted his head set. He checked his phone hookup with Line Coach Bobb McKittrick, 10 yards upfield, and Quarterback Coach Sam Wyche, in the press box. He looked up at the clock.