November 21, 2010

1982: Joe Montana Passes Mistake-Prone 49ers Past Cardinals

It had been over two months since NFL teams had last taken the field as the St. Louis Cardinals hosted the San Francisco 49ers at Busch Stadium on November 21, 1982. The players had gone on strike – the first to occur during the season – following the second week of action. The work-stoppage was over, 57 days later, and now Week 3 was occurring late in November.

Head Coach Bill Walsh’s 49ers were coming off a championship season in 1981, but had lost their first two games in ’82 prior to the strike. The Cardinals were 1-1 under Head Coach Jim Hanifan and coming off of a 7-9 year in ’81. The teams had just four days of practice prior to the contest.

There were 38,064 fans in attendance – and, as was the case in many NFL venues on this day, many no-shows (13,328). The 49ers took the early lead as Ray Wersching booted a 36-yard field goal in the first quarter and RB Jeff Moore scored on a one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter for a 10-0 lead.

With 30 seconds remaining in the first half, the Cardinals got on the board as WR Roy Green made a diving catch of a 17-yard pass from QB Neil Lomax for a touchdown. The 49ers got the ball back but fumbled, and LB Charlie Baker recovered for St. Louis. But an opportunity to tie the score at the half was lost when Neil O’Donoghue missed a 44-yard field goal attempt on the last play (he also missed from 47 yards in the first quarter). San Francisco remained in the lead at 10-7.

The Cardinals took advantage of two turnovers in the third quarter to go in front. First, DE Curtis Greer recovered a fumble that set up O’Donoghue’s tying field goal from 30 yards out. Then CB Jeff Griffin intercepted a Joe Montana pass and O’Donoghue kicked a 32-yard field goal to make the score 13-10 in favor of St. Louis. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the failure to get a touchdown on one or both possessions allowed the 49ers ample room to recover.

The turning point in the game came when San Francisco got the ball back, still in the third quarter. Facing a third-and-18 situation in his own territory, Montana connected with WR Renaldo Nehemiah on a 55-yard pass play. Two plays later, Montana threw a six-yard TD pass to TE Russ Francis that put the Niners back in the lead at 17-13.

The Cardinals had a chance to make a big play of their own, but Lomax overthrew Green on what could have been a 45-yard TD pass. Now in the fourth quarter, the 49ers regained possession and went 91 yards in 10 plays with Montana hitting WR Dwight Clark for a 33-yard touchdown.

San Francisco had another big play that set up a third passing touchdown. Montana passed to rookie RB Vince Williams, who proceeded to gain 55 yards to set up a 17-yard TD pass to RB Earl Cooper. In a stretch of 13 minutes, the Niners had scored three touchdowns to take control, at 31-13, of what had been a close game.

38-year-old veteran QB Jim Hart replaced the second-year Lomax with nine minutes remaining and led the Cardinals to a score on a three-yard carry by RB Ottis Anderson. But it was too-little, too-late as the 49ers won by a final score of 31-20.

San Francisco outgained the Cardinals by 448 yards to 254 and had 22 first downs to 15 for St. Louis. The 49ers were damaged by their three turnovers, as opposed to none by the Cardinals, but the failure of the home team to better capitalize on their opportunities set the stage for the Niners to take control.

Joe Montana completed 26 of 39 passes for a then-team record 408 yards with three touchdowns against one interception. The fourth-year veteran out of Notre Dame spread the ball around well as eight different receivers caught at least two passes apiece. In the second half alone, he completed 15 of 20 for 238 yards and all of the TDs.

Dwight Clark (pictured at left) led the club with 6 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown while Renaldo Nehemiah gained 93 yards on three receptions and Jeff Moore contributed four catches for 87 yards to go along with his 9 rushing attempts for 19 yards. Indeed, the 49ers gained just 77 yards on 26 running plays, and Earl Cooper led the way with 30 yards on 7 carries.

For the Cardinals, Neil Lomax was successful on just 9 of 23 passes for 82 yards and a TD. Jim Hart was more proficient, completing 8 of 11 throws for 72 yards. Ottis Anderson led the club with 65 yards on 15 rushes, including a TD, and also caught 6 passes for 51 yards. WR Pat Tilley slightly led in pass receiving yards with 53 on four receptions.

“It's a good way to come back,” Montana said afterward. “My timing wasn't there early and I made a lot of mistakes. But I thought we played well. I wasn't surprised; we looked like we were in good shape in practice.”

There was concern that the players might go back on strike if they voted to reject the preliminary settlement that had allowed play to resume. The Cardinals’ player representative, guard Terry Stieve, said, “Here in St. Louis, we'll ratify it and I have a gut feeling it will be ratified by the players throughout the league. The fans are the forgotten group in this thing, so it's time both sides realize the importance of the fans. I don't blame them for feeling cheated in this deal.”

The games did continue through what became a nine-game regular season. Division play was done away with and the top eight teams in each conference qualified for a playoff tournament. The 49ers didn’t make it that far - plagued by injuries and (according to Coach Walsh) diminished intensity, they ended up with a 3-6 record and a woeful eleventh place in the 14-team NFC. St. Louis made out better, going 5-4 and making it to the postseason as the sixth seeded team in the conference. They were handily beaten by Green Bay in the first round.

Joe Montana topped NFL quarterbacks with 346 attempts and 17 touchdown passes (tied with Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw and Dan Fouts of the Chargers) and ranked second in completions (213) and yards (2613). While he was at it, he set a record by stringing together five straight 300-yard passing performances (since exceeded).

Dwight Clark led the league with 60 pass receptions and was second with 913 receiving yards. He was a consensus first-team All-Pro and was named to the Pro Bowl.

The losing record by the 49ers would be their last until 1999 – a string of 16 consecutive seasons in which they would never finish with fewer than 10 wins. The club won four NFL championships during that run.