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49ers' Joe Cool comes through

Joe Montana launches 92-yard drive that gives San Francisco its third title of the 1980s.

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 25, 1999


Three minutes, 20 seconds remained when the San Francisco 49ers got the ball on their 8-yard line.

"One of our guys came up to me and said, "Three minutes. We got 'em!' " Cincinnati wide receiver Cris Collinsworth said. "I told him, "Turn around and see if No. 16 is in the huddle.' He said, "He is.' I said, "Well, we ain't got 'em yet.' "

Not even close.

Give Joe Montana any time at all and the 49ers would know, just know, they were going to win.

On Jan. 22, 1989, in Super Bowl XXIII at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami, Montana needed only 166 of those 200 seconds to puncture the Bengals' dreams with a 92-yard drive. It gave San Francisco a 20-16 victory, its third Super Bowl of the 1980s, and Montana the third of his four.

He completed 8 of 9 passes in the 11-play drive -- and it became The Drive, as legendary as anything John Elway or Johnny Unitas ever engineered.

"Right before we went onto the field for that last drive," center Randy Cross said, "I walked up and down the sidelines telling -- screaming at -- anybody I could find. I kept telling everyone, "You gotta believe.' "

That's when Montana displayed one of those moments that earned him the nickname Joe Cool. As he gathered his team, Montana turned to tackle Harris Barton in the huddle. "Hey, Harris," he said. "Check it out. There's John Candy."

In the midst of a Super Bowl pressure cooker, the 49ers quarterback could be so casual as to pick the actor out of 75,000 spectators.

"At first, the mood in the huddle wasn't desperate; it was more workmanlike," Cross said. "But when we crossed the 50, we got more confident. You could sense it. Joe didn't say much, but we all knew he was going to make something happen."

The drive began with a couple of short passes and good runs and suddenly San Francisco was at the Bengals 35-yard line. "Once we got that far in their territory," Montana said, "we knew we were going for the end zone."

Cross was penalized for being downfield on a pass. Now it was second and 20 on the Cincinnati 45.

At that moment, Montana, well, lost his cool. He began to hyperventilate.

"The crowd was so loud that I had to scream every word," he said. "And the excitement was just overwhelming. I couldn't catch my breath. I was dizzy. I should have called timeout, but it kind of faded away. All I could do was throw the ball out of bounds."

Montana caught his breath, then Jerry Rice caught his 27-yard pass and Roger Craig his 8-yarder and the 49ers were 10 yards from the end zone.

"When we got to the 10, we were going to score a touchdown," Cross said, "even if we had to throw Joe through the air 10 yards to do it."

No need to. With the defense concentrating on Rice, Montana hit John Taylor in the back of the end zone. "I knew he was open when I threw it," Montana said, "but I got hit when the ball was halfway there and couldn't see what happened."

When the crowd roared, Montana knew he'd completed The Drive.

"Joe Montana is not human, I'm telling you," Collinsworth said in the gloom of the Bengals locker room. "He's not God, but he's definitely not human. He's somewhere in between. Hall of Fame? Montana will have his own Hall of Fame, his own shrine."

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