January 22, 1989: Super Bowl XXIII was one of the most dramatic championship games the NFL has seen. In the end it would produce one of the most memorable plays in league history and cement the legend and legacy that is Joe Montana.
The San Francisco 49ers (10-6) were coming off three disappointing playoff seasons since winning a Super Bowl, while the Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) were reloaded and explosive with league MVP in QB Boomer Esiason.
In a defensive struggle, the game was tied 3-3 at halftime and 6-6 in the third quarter. With less than a minute before the fourth quarter, Bengals kick returner Stanford Jennings busted through the coverage for a 93-yard TD. Montana would answer, finding Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice for a 14-yard TD to tie the game.
The Bengals would kick a field goal to take a 16-13 lead with just 3:20 seconds to play. After a penalty on the kickofff, the 49ers were backed up to their own 8-yard line with 3:10 left to play. That's just the situation Montana thrived in.
To calm his teammates before the final drive, Montana was in the huddle and said "Hey, isn't that John Candy?" looking toward the stands. After that Montana lead the team down the field on an 11-play drive. It was a surgical drive, helped a lot by big catches by Rice. With just 39 seconds left, Montana had the team at the Bengals' 10-yard line. The next pass he threw would be the last play head coach Bill Walsh would call in his brilliant career with the 49ers and it gave the 49ers the lead for good. Montana hit receiver John Taylor on the slant play the 49ers and Walsh made famous, giving the team the 20-16 lead with 34 seconds left.
Rice, not Montana, was named the game's MVP. Rice had 11 catches for a Super Bowl record 215 yards and one touchdown. Montana put up MVP numbers, too, completing 23 of 36 passes for a Super Bowl record 357 yards and 2 touchdowns. Esiason, however, did not have a good game as he was limited to just 11 out of 25 completions for 144 yards and no touchdowns, with 1 interception.
The Bengals had missed opportunities they will never forget, including a dropped interception right before Rice's game-tying score:
In the end it was Montana and the 49ers' third Super Bowl title, and second over the Bengals. Here's to you, Montana, Taylor and Rice and the rest of the 1988 San Francisco 49ers.