When the fat lady sings
SO CLOSE, AND YET SO FAR
Since the first Super Bowl was played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in January of 1967, no pro football team has ever won three straight. The Green Bay Packers won the first two, which added to their 1965 NFL title still stands as the last of the “three-peat” pro football champions.
The 1971-73 Miami Dolphins played in three straight Super Bowls, but lost the first one. Their bid for a third straight ended in the “Sea of Hands” loss to Oakland in the 1974 play-offs. Denver won two straight in recent years, but with John Elway’s retirement they did not have what it took to maintain dominance.
In baseball, three-peats are relatively common. The A’s did it from 1972-74, the Yankees from 1998-2000; just to name two modern champions. The Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers have done it with relative ease in the NBA. Since the creation of the Associated Press poll in 1936, it has never happened in college football. The California Golden Bears (1920-22) and Minnesota Golden Gophers (1934-36) managed to win various forms of the national championship, but the 2005 Southern California Trojans missed their aptly named three-Pete by virtue of a nine-yard Vince Young touchdown run with 19 seconds left in the Rose Bowl.
In 1990, the San Francisco 49ers entered the season heavily favored to capture that elusive third consecutive Super Bowl. Coach George Seifert was no longer a question mark, having directed his charges to the most impressive Super Bowl victory ever the previous season. At his disposal was less a football team and more of a display at the Hall of Fame museum in Canton, Ohio.
These were not “over the hill” Hall of Famers. These guys were carving their statistics and accomplishments into their plaques week-by-week. Joe Montana was the league MVP, passing John Brodie’s team record to reach 34,998 career passing yards. His 3,944 yards were a club single-season record. Jerry Rice was at the height of his considerable powers. Ronnie Lott did not miss a beat. Pro Bowl linebacker-defensive end Charles Haley had 58 tackles and an NFC-high 16 sacks. Linebacker Bill Romanowski had 79 tackles, while cornerback Darryl Pollard recorded 74 (72 solo). Running back Roger Craig set the team career receptions record, breaking Dwight Clark’s old mark of 506. Guard Guy McIntyre was a pro Bowler.
San Francisco started 10-0 and won all eight of their road games. They finished 14-2, the best record in the NFL for the second straight year. They captured their fifth straight Western Division title. The Rams were not even a rival anymore. It was their eighth division championship since Montana & Co. led the 1981 team to the Promised Land, and the 11th since the 1966 merger. In that period, the Rams had won eight, Miami 13.
Before the season, there were some disruptions – holdouts, injuries, retirements and of course the inevitable talk of “three-peat,” a term that could not be marketed because Lakers basketball coach Pat Riley had patented the term, literally.
“There are always going to be disruptions,” Seifert said. “Through the course of camp, and during the course of the season, we have to work with the players <who> are on hand and stay involved with our football. That’s what we’re here for . . . These are all veteran players who have been a part of our program for some time. We look forward to them coming back and being part of this club again . . . Just because they are involved in contract negotiations, and in some cases will miss some time in camp, I don’t believe <that> will distract us from our ultimate goal . . . We all have great expectations.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren had his offense in place by 1990. The season opener was at New Orleans, and it looked like a Saints upset until San Francisco pulled it out with a late field goal, 13-12 before a stunned Superdome crowd of 68,629. A series of convincing and close wins followed, but throughout San Francisco always looked to be in control.
In November, the Rams managed to win at Candlestick, 25-17. A week later on Monday Night Football, a preview of things to come was held when Bill Parcells and his great defensive juggernaut, the Giants, came to town. San Francisco’s 7-3 win made for a lot of nervousness. Here was one of if not the finest offensive machine ever: Montana, Rice, Craig, Holmgren, 55-10 over Denver, and in front of their fans they were held to a mere touchdown!
A chance to match the 1984 record of 15-1 was lost in game 15 when the Saints came marching in to San Francisco and took a 13-10 win. The 14-2 Niners dismissed Washington, 28-10 in the first play-off game. As the team trotted off the field, the full house home crowd chanted, ‘THREE-PEAT! THREE-PEAT!”
For the second time in less than two years, events beyond the world of sports interfered with a San Francisco sports team. In October 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake had shook up a Candlestick Park crowd, then broken up a World Series won by the Oakland A’s over the San Francisco Giants.
The week of the January 1991 NFC championship game, the United States began an air war in Iraq. But despite concerns over the war, the game had to be played. Again, it was the New York Giants. In 1986, their defense dominated while quarterback Phil Simms led them to a Super Bowl victory. This time, Simms was out with an injury, replaced by the serviceable Jeff Hostetler. The face of their team was linebacker Lawrence Taylor, a larger-than-life pro football star whose appetites off the field were matched only by his ability to dominate on the field.
It was a “War of the Worlds,” as Dennis Pottenger called it in Great Expectations. A battle between the East Coast and the West Coast, between the philosophies of Parcells and – with all due respect to Seifert – Walsh, whose imprint was still all over the 1990 Niners.
It marked another New York-San Francisco grudge match, and would offer all the thrills of the classic 1962 World Series, won in seven games by the Yankees over the Giants.
There was another element of past-meeting-the-present, in that the Raiders lost to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC title game, played before the NFC match. In 1971, the Raiders lost to Baltimore in the AFC championship game the same day the 49ers lost to Dallas. In 1984 the 49ers lost to Washington in the morning, but the Raiders earned a Super Bowl berth in the afternoon. The 1991 Raiders loss to Buffalo eliminated the intrigue of an L.A.-San Francisco Super Bowl. A Giants victory meant an all-New York state game.
San Francisco started the title bout with a drive resulting in a Mike Cofer field goal. New York lost their shot at a touchdown through self-inflicted wounds, settling for a field goal to end the first quarter at 3-3.
In the second quarter, Hostetler hit tight end Mark Bavaro on key strikes and Matt Bahr’s field gave the Giants a 6-3 lead. Montana then led the 49ers on a late drive to send the teams into halftime tied, 6-6.
In the third quarter, Montana hit John Taylor for a long catch-and-run touchdown over Everson Walls, the same defender who failed to stop Dwight Clark from making The Catch in 1982.
A Giants field goal made it 13-9.
In the fourth quarter, holding a lead with the ball, Montana fumbled amid a furious rush from Taylor and Leonard Marshall. Montana was forced out of the game with an injury. Hostetler, who earlier looked to have been forced out by injury, returned looking chipper. Then Bill Romanowski came up limping, out of the game.
The Giants managed another field goal to narrow the score to 13-12. With 5:47 left, Steve Young was in. Roger Craig fumbled and Taylor recovered it at the New York 43 with 2:26 left to play. The Giants drove into field goal range and broke 49er hearts with a Matt Bahr kick to end the dreams of a third straight title, 15-13. They went on to beat Buffalo on a wide Bills field goal try to take their second Super Bowl in five years.
Top 10 Greatest NFL Teams Not to Win A Super Bowl
1. 1990 San Francisco 49ers
2. 1975 Los Angeles Rams
3. 1974 Oakland Raiders
4. 2001 St. Louis Rams
5. 1968 Baltimore Colts
6. 1984 Miami Dolphins
7. 1983 Washington Redskins
8. 1967 Oakland Raiders
9. 1969 Minnesota Vikings
10. 1996 Green Bay Packers
Roger Craig was a 6-foot, 222-pound running back who came to the 49ers in the second round of the 1983 NFL Draft from Nebraska. He and Jerry Rice had great work ethics. Craig’s chiseled body was almost a work of art, and at one time graced many a bus stop and billboard when he did underwear advertisements in The City. He was All-Pro in 1985 and 1988. His last year was 1990.
Numbers Don’t Lie
14 – 49er players selected All-Pro in 1990.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism