NEW ORLEANS — For once, everyone had the Super Bowl pegged. Everyone. Oddsmakers, car makers, novices, experts, cabdrivers, smokers, hairdressers. The San Francisco 49ers too. Maybe the Denver Broncos didn't want to listen. They're all ears now. Burnt orange becomes them.
Terry Bradshaw was kidding when he predicted a 55-3 final earlier in the week. Wasn't he? Sure someone didn't spot him the "5" and the "3"? He missed the final by seven points. Didn't see that Bill Romanowski pass-interference penalty in the end zone coming, which set up Denver's lone touchdown to pare a third-quarter 49er lead to 31.
As it was, San Francisco marched on Denver, then on into football lore. The 49ers' 55-10 victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV before a crowd of 72,919 at the Superdome wasn't just the most blindsided playoff performance since the Washington Redskins spotted Chicago a 73-point lead in the NFL title game of 1940. It also sent the 49ers and Broncos screaming toward opposite corners of Super Bowl history.
The 49ers' won their second consecutive Super Bowl championship, the first team to do so since the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1979-80, and their fourth as a franchise, tying the Steelers for most titles. The Steelers won their titles in fewer seasons, six, but no team has dismantled a league's playoff schedule quite like this year's 49ers, who outscored three playoff opponents--Vikings, Rams, Broncos--126 to 26. In the interim, the 49ers reduced one of the game's great athletes, John Elway, to a wide-eyed sandlot slinger. Two weeks ago, they did the same to Ram quarterback Jim Everett, who just signed for $2 million-plus a season.
Two close defeats kept the 49ers from perfection in 1989, but it wasn't enough to calm a storm around the winners that was hailing this 49er team as the greatest of all time.
Denver Coach Dan Reeves didn't like the view Sunday, but you couldn't argue with his vantage point.
"I think they're playing as well as anybody ever has," Reeves said. "They are playing at a level that is incredible."
The greatest football show on Earth, and beyond.
"If a team from Mars came down to play us, we'd be ready to take them on," 49er tailback Roger Craig said.
For a complete update on quarterback Joe Montana's exploits, please consult next year's World Almanac. In brief, he continues to amaze in pressure performances, even though he admits to suffering tension headaches. Sunday, he threw a migraine at the Broncos that included 22 completions in 29 attempts for 297 yards and five touchdowns. He walked away with his third most valuable player award in four tries, having thoroughly botched last year's MVP opportunity with a record 357 passing yards and last-minute drive for the ages. Instead, the media tossed Jerry Rice an MVP bone (he caught it).
In four Super Bowl victories now, Montana has thrown for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Montana keeps pulling new tricks out of an old hat. Sunday, he threw complete passes to seven different 49ers (nine caught passes in all) and 11 different Bronco defenders had no clue how to stop him.
Denver's defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, thought he had shored up the Bronco defense, only to watch a season's worth of hard work explode in his face. The 49ers squeezed 461 total yards out the Broncos.
The outcome was in doubt for what seemed like minutes. The 49ers drove 66 yards in 10 plays on their first drive and took a 7-0 lead on Montana's 20-yard scoring pass to Rice, who would finish with three touchdowns in all.
The catch set an ominous tone for Broncomaniacs. All week, Denver promised its sledgehammer safety team of Dennis Smith and Steve Atwater would punish all 49ers who roamed their zones. So what did Rice do? He caught the ball at the six, bounced off Atwater and darted into the end zone.
"It was a great play by him," Atwater said later. "I should have wrapped up on him."
Atwater should have wrapped Rice up before the game and shipped him back to San Francisco.
The Broncos had one chance to stay in the game early and blew it. After a 42-yard field goal by David Treadwell cut the lead to 7-3, Denver's defense held the 49ers and the Broncos got the ball back at the Denver 49. But on first down, tailback Bobby Humphrey fumbled, Chet Brooks recovered at the San Francisco 46 and Montana moved in for the kill, driving 54 yards in 10 plays for the touchdown, the score coming on a seven-yard toss to tight end Brent Jones with three seconds left in the first quarter.
The hits kept coming. Tom Rathman scored on a one-yard run to make it 20-3 with 7:15 left in the half. The 49ers got the ball back on their 41 with 1:38 left, drove to the Denver 38 where, with 34 seconds remaining, Montana found Rice open on a crossing pattern in the end zone. It was 27-3 at the half; an advertiser's worst nightmare.
"I felt in the second quarter that the game was done," 49er linebacker Matt Millen said. "It was just a question of us not screwing it up."