Wyche was a 49er assistant, sending down plays from the press box, on that January afternoon seven years ago. Now he was on the opposite sideline, agonizing. He should have remembered. After the first few plays, Cincy went with six defensive backs. The 49ers, for the most part, stayed in their base offense. At first their yardage came in small chunks: 8 yards to Craig, 7 to Frank, 7 to Rice. Then came bigger chunks: 17 to Rice, 13 to Craig. It was inside stuff mostly, plays they wouldn't figure to call with time running out.
"When they started the last drive, do you know what I was thinking?" said Montana's mother, Theresa. "The 1979 Cotton Bowl, when he brought Notre Dame from behind in the fourth quarter. That was the best—until now."
"We had them on their eight with three minutes to go," said Collinsworth. "and somebody came up to me and said, 'We got 'em now.' I said, 'Have you taken a look at who's quarter-backing the San Francisco 49ers?' That's what it comes down to. Joe Montana is not human. I don't want to call him a god, but he's definitely somewhere in between. I'm sure he did it in peewee football, in high school, college and now in professional football. Every time he's had the chips down and people counting him out, he's come back."
Cross was the last player out of the San Francisco locker room. As he was leaving, someone asked him about Montana and Rice. He stopped and gave the question some thought. "We have more superhumans on this team—Montana. Jerry Rice," he said. "Talk to the trainers about these guys. Knees, ankles—other guys say, 'Fine, I'll see you in two weeks." They line up. As far as Joe Montana's concerned, I hope people will finally stop saying they rate him with the best. He is the best. There's never been a better big-game quarterback.
"God, what else does this guy have to do? You name it and he's done it in a 10-year career. And he's not finished."
That gives us something to look forward to, because as Montana demonstrated again on Sunday, there may never have been a better finisher.