So with the Niners' rushing attack stuffed, as it has been all season, and the Falcons' run defenders swarming and slapping high fives, and the third straight sellout crowd in Atlanta yelling like crazy (last year the Falcons couldn't attract flies), Joe Montana and Jerry Rice decided to have career days.
And it was over just like that, two plays into the fourth quarter, when Montana threw touchdown pass No. 6, TD pass No. 5 for Rice, to bring the Niners to 45 points in what would be a 45-35 victory. What you had was a perfect capsule of the game in the '90s: the sky filled with footballs, the ground swarming with struggling runners fighting for an extra yard.
The numbers were shocking, even for a team that can run it up like the Niners. Montana completed 32 of 49 passes for 476 yards and the six scores, with two interceptions. Sorry, no NFL records, but no 49er has ever thrown for more yards or TDs in a game. Rice wound up with a club-record 13 catches for 225 yards, and the five touchdowns tied the league mark for TD receptions in a game, set by a pair of tight ends, Bob Shaw of the old Chicago Cards in 1950 and Kellen Winslow of the San Diego Chargers in 1981.
The Niners were scary. If they hadn't pulled in their horns and played ball control after putting 45 points on the board, who knows what kind of numbers Montana could have had. Five hundred yards? Six hundred? Seven or eight TDs? All possible on that sunny day in Atlanta, where Montana had a perfect read on everything the Falcons threw at him—zone, man-to-man, blitz, blintz, made no difference—and rockets came from his arm.
"It was like practice," said Millen. "There was a point in the game when I said, 'Didn't we see this in practice Thursday in our seven-on-seven drill?' When we were walking into the locker room after the game, I told Jerry Rice, 'Better watch out. There are cops in there waiting to arrest you for child abuse.' "
In this case the child was Atlanta's left cornerback, Charles Dimry, 24, a third-year pro drafted in the fifth round out of Nevada-Las Vegas. Decent fella, kinda quiet. "Seemed like a nice guy," said Rice. "Didn't do a whole lot of talking and that kind of stuff."
Don't believe offensive coaches on teams like San Francisco when they tell you, "Oh, we'll just take what they give us." That inevitably means that they have found a pigeon they think they can work on. This time, like a dentist's drill finding the one sore tooth, they found Dimry, a logical target because Prime Time Deion Sanders works on the other side.
Real quick, here are Rice's five TD passes-each of which found him in perfect stride. First quarter, 24 yards down the seam in the slot on the left side. Same quarter, 25 yards on a post pattern, right, Montana releasing the ball just as he was nailed by blitzing free safety Scott Case. Second quarter, 19 yards, crossing pattern, right to left. No one could have stopped it. Montana had enough time to check out the first three rows of the stands. Third period, 13 yards, again on a right-to-left crossing route. Dimry received help from Case. Finally, fourth period, 15 yards on an in-and-out, post-corner route, right side. Dimry committed early and slipped to his knees.
"You get frustrated, you don't know what to do," Dimry said. "You try to jump on him quickly. Maybe I overcommitted. All I know is I'm never going to have another day like this one."
At times, Atlanta coach Jerry Glanville threw his famous eight-man Gritz Blitz at Montana, and that's how the Falcons got four sacks. But Case's blitz also cost Atlanta that 25-yard touchdown. "Joe just held it so long," said Case. "He let it go at exactly the last second. I knew something had to happen downfield."