January 29, 2010

1995: 49ers Return to Top, Defeat Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX

After winning four Super Bowls in the 1980s, stretching from the 1981 to ’89 seasons, the San Francisco 49ers had come up short in the years from 1990 to ’93. They had not won fewer than 10 games, but had lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship games following the 1992 and ’93 seasons.

By 1994, the 49ers had retooled significantly since first rising to prominence in 1981. Head Coach Bill Walsh, builder of the dynasty, was gone, as was QB Joe Montana. So were others who had starred along the way, such as RB Roger Craig, WR Dwight Clark, and safety Ronnie Lott.

The ’94 49ers were still under Walsh’s successor, Head Coach George Seifert, who had led the team to its last championship in 1989, his first year at the helm. QB Steve Young (pictured above) had emerged from Montana’s shadow to lead the NFL in passing for the fourth consecutive season (with a then-record 112.8 rating) as well as touchdown passes (35), touchdown percentage (7.6), completion percentage (70.3), and yards per attempt (8.6); his 3969 yards ranked fourth. As he had been for Montana, WR Jerry Rice was Young’s favorite target, leading the league with 1499 yards on his 112 catches with 13 TDs. RB Ricky Watters had emerged to gain 1596 yards from scrimmage (877 rushing, 719 receiving). The defense featured DT Dana Stubblefield, flashy CB Deion Sanders, and safeties Merton Hanks and Tim McDonald.

San Francisco compiled a 13-3 record in winning the NFC West, easily defeated the Bears in the Divisional playoff round, and finally got past the Cowboys in the NFC Championship game by a 38-28 margin.

Opposing the 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX were the San Diego Chargers, who had stunned the favored Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC title game. The Chargers, under Head Coach Bobby Ross, had gone 11-5 in winning the AFC West. Stan Humphries , while hardly an elite quarterback, played through injuries, had a strong arm, and provided good leadership. RB Natrone Means contributed 1350 yards rushing. LB Junior Seau and DE Leslie O’Neal anchored a defense that was especially effective against the run.

The 49ers were favored as the teams met for the championship on January 29, 1995 before 74,107 fans at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami. They wasted no time getting on the scoreboard as Young threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Rice just three plays into the game. On their next possession, they scored again, this time taking only four plays when Young passed to Watters for a 51-yard TD.

The Chargers showed poise, however, as they controlled the ball for over seven minutes and went 78 yards in 13 plays to score on a one-yard run by Means. Still, the San Diego defense couldn’t stop San Francisco’s offense, as the Niners went up by 21-7 on yet another touchdown pass by Young, this time of five yards to FB William Floyd.

Just under five minutes before halftime, Young threw his fourth TD pass of the game, connecting with Watters for a second time from eight yards out. John Carney kicked a 31-yard field goal for the Chargers and the score stood at 28-10 at the half.

The Niners pulled away in the third quarter, with Watters scoring his third touchdown on a nine-yard run and Young connecting with Rice for a 15-yard score. San Diego WR Andre Coleman returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and the Chargers successfully converted a two-point PAT on a Humphreys pass to WR Mark Seay. But at 42-18, there was little doubt as to the outcome.

Young set a Super Bowl record with his sixth touchdown pass, hitting Rice for the third time from seven yards out. San Diego scored one last time, on a 30-yard pass play from Humphries to WR Tony Martin, and after another successful two-point conversion, the final score was 49-26.

The 49ers outgained the Chargers by 455 yards to 354. Steve Young was the game’s MVP as he completed 24 of 36 passes for 325 yards with the six TDs and no interceptions. Jerry Rice (pictured at bottom) led the receivers with 10 catches for 149 yards and three touchdowns. Young was actually the leading rusher as well, with 49 yards on five carries, but Ricky Watters (pictured) gained 47 yards with his 15 attempts, including a TD, and also had another 61 yards and two scores on three pass receptions.

As for San Diego, Stan Humphries went to the air 49 times, completed 24 for 275 yards and had a TD, but also threw two interceptions. Natrone Means was held to 33 yards on 13 attempts. Ronnie Harmon, used primarily as a pass receiver out of the backfield, had 8 receptions for 68 yards while Mark Seay accumulated 75 yards on 7 catches.

It was a great performance by San Francisco in becoming the first team to win five Super Bowls (joined the next year by Dallas, but since passed by Pittsburgh with a fifth and sixth). Steve Young proved himself as a championship-caliber quarterback, on his way to joining Joe Montana in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The 49ers were in the playoffs for the next four seasons, although they didn’t reach the Super Bowl in any of them. San Diego dropped to 9-7 in 1995, still making the postseason as a wild card team and losing in the first round; the Chargers then fell into a long, eight-year playoff dry spell.