January 20, 2011
The playoffs have often yielded surprises when it comes to Super Bowl participants, but such was not the case in Super Bowl XIX on January 20, 1985. Both the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins were widely perceived to be the best that their respective conferences had to offer.
The 49ers had roared to the top of the NFC West with a 15-1 record in 1984 and easily dispatched the Giants and Bears in the postseason. Under the innovative guidance of Head Coach Bill Walsh, the club was best known for its offense but was solid on defense as well. QB Joe Montana (pictured above) skillfully directed the attack, RB Wendell Tyler ran for 1262 yards, and there were three Pro Bowlers on the offensive line in C Fred Quillan, G Randy Cross, and OT Keith Fahnhorst. The defense had to make due without star pass rushing DE Fred Dean for much of the season due to a contract dispute, but still had solid performers in DE Dwaine Board and OLB Keena Turner. All four members of the backfield were selected for the Pro Bowl (cornerbacks Ronnie Lott and Eric Wright, FS Dwight Hicks, and SS Carlton Williamson).
Miami, under Head Coach Don Shula, went 14-2 in winning the AFC East and defeated the Seahawks and Steelers in the playoffs on the way to the Super Bowl. The passing game was nothing short of spectacular as second-year QB Dan Marino re-wrote the record book in setting new season records for passing yards (5084) and touchdown passes (48, exceeding the previous mark by 12). WR Mark Clayton set a new standard for TD catches in a season (18) and he and WR Mark Duper each caught over 70 passes and exceeded 1300 yards. The defense included the “Killer Bees”, ends Doug Betters and Kim Bokamper, NT Bob Baumhower, and LB Bob Brudzinski, plus Pro Bowl ILB A.J. Duhe.
There were 84,059 fans in attendance at Stanford Stadium along with the usual mammoth television audience. Following a punt by the 49ers, the Dolphins drove 45 yards on six plays, featuring a 25-yard pass from Marino to RB Tony Nathan, and scored the first points of the game on a 37-yard field goal by Uwe van Schamann. San Francisco wasted no time in responding, however, as short passes by Montana and runs by Tyler got the Niners to the Miami 48 yard line. Facing a third-and-seven situation, Montana took off on a 15-yard run for a first down, and on the next play he threw to RB Carl Monroe for a 33-yard touchdown.
Miami went into a no-huddle offense the next time it had the ball and Marino completed five straight passes, including the last for a two-yard TD to TE Dan Johnson (pictured below). The Dolphins held a 10-7 lead after one quarter.
The 49ers punted following their next possession, but a defensive adjustment caused Miami to go three-and-out the next three times it was on offense. Coach Walsh had gone to an “elephant” defense, a 4-2-5 alignment with safety Tom Holmoe as a nickel back and another safety, Jeff Fuller, lined up at linebacker along with Turner, and it proved to be effective. Marino, who had completed nine of his first ten passes, didn’t complete another until near the end of the half.
Meanwhile, San Francisco took control of the game. Following a poor 37-yard punt by Reggie Roby from his own end zone, the 49ers had good field position at the Miami 47. Montana again showed off his mobility by running for a 19-yard gain on the first play, and then passed to WR Dwight Clark for another 16 yards. Two plays later, he tossed an eight-yard scoring pass to RB Roger Craig and the 49ers retook the lead at 14-10.
With the 49ers getting the ball in good field position at their own 45 to start their next possession, Tyler and Craig ran the ball for a total of 15 yards and then Montana threw back-to-back completions to TE Russ Francis for another 29. Following a five-yard carry by Craig, Montana ran six yards for a touchdown on a quarterback keeper and the lead was strechted to 21-10.
San Francisco scored once more in the second quarter, on a nine-yard drive that covered 52 yards and culminated in a two-yard run by Craig for a touchdown. Coming down to the last two minutes of the half, Marino began completing passes again, going 7 for 11 as the Dolphins drove to the 49ers’ 13 yard line and van Schamann kicked a 31-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining.
It wasn’t over, however, as G Guy McIntyre fumbled the squibbed Miami kickoff and WR Jim Jensen recovered for the Dolphins at the San Francisco 12. Another van Schamann field goal, this time from 30 yards, made the score 28-16 at halftime.
Miami received the second half kickoff but wasn’t able to maintain the momentum generated at the end of the second quarter. Nathan was thrown for a one-yard loss, Marino threw an incompletion, and then the quarterback was sacked for a nine-yard loss by Board. Following Roby’s punt, the 49ers took nine plays to drive 43 yards and Ray Wersching kicked a 27-yard field goal.
Once again the Dolphins had difficulty moving the ball as Marino (pictured at left) faced tremendous pressure from the San Francisco defense. The Niners’ offense continued to move effectively – on their next possession following the field goal, Montana hit on five passes, including 40 yards to Tyler and 14 to Francis, and completed a 16-yard TD pass to Craig for the second-year running back’s third score of the day.
Miami, desperate to get back in the game, moved to the San Francisco 27 on its next possession, but Marino threw a long pass intended for Clayton that Wright intercepted at the one yard line. The third quarter ended with the 49ers ahead by 22 points.
The Dolphins had to punt at the end of their next possession but got a break when CB Dana McLemore fumbled the kick and WR Vince Heflin recovered for Miami at the San Francisco 21. But on the first play, Marino threw into the end zone and was intercepted by Carlton Williamson. For all intents and purposes, the game was over.
Each team got the ball once more, but there was no more scoring and the 49ers came away the winner, 38-16.
San Francisco ran up 537 yards to Miami’s 314 and also had a significant edge in first downs (31 to 19). The 49ers ran a well-balanced attack, gaining 211 yards on the ground and 331 through the air. Meanwhile, the Dolphins, with a suspect running game to begin with, were held to just 25 yards rushing. Marino was sacked four times, especially notable since the quarterback had suffered only 13 sacks during the entire regular season.
Joe Montana, the game’s MVP, completed 24 of 35 passes for 331 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and also ran five times for 59 yards and a TD. Wendell Tyler led the rushers with 65 yards on 13 carries, catching four passes for 70 yards as well, while Roger Craig (pictured at right) gained 58 yards on 15 attempts and in addition had 7 pass receptions for another 77 yards, both team-leading figures to go with his three TDs. Dwight Clark also gained 77 yards on his 6 catches.
For Miami, Dan Marino threw 50 passes and completed 29 of them for 318 yards with a TD and two interceptions. Tony Nathan caught 10 passes, for 83 yards, to lead the club both in receptions and rushing - albeit with just 18 yards on five attempts. Mark Clayton gained 92 yards on 6 catches, and TE Joe Rose contributed 6 receptions for 73 yards. Mark Duper was held to just one catch for 11 yards.
“Montana is the guy who made it go for them,” said Don Shula afterward. “He beat everything we put against him. Whenever they needed him to, he wiggled loose and kept them going.”
Montana spoke in terms of the whole team’s effort. “All week, all we heard was ‘Miami, Miami, Miami’,” he said. “That motivated us. We felt we had more tools than Miami – passing, running, a great defense – and we wanted to prove it.”
Bill Walsh summed up by saying, “This is the best game we have played since I joined the 49ers. It was a great performance by a truly great team. This is one of the best teams of all time.”
For Walsh, Montana, and the 49ers, it was the second championship in four years, and they would win twice more before the conclusion of the decade (although Walsh had stepped aside as coach by the last one).
Dan Marino went on to play 17 seasons in the NFL, all with the Dolphins. Altogether, he passed for 61,361 yards and 420 touchdowns over the course of his Hall of Fame career. But he never again played in the Super Bowl.