The Cincinnati Bengals are in the Super Bowl for the third time, and they will play someone other than the San Francisco 49ers for the first time in the big game.
Cincinnati came up short in both attempts to claim the NFL title, and both games were close enough to leave Bengals fans lamenting what might have been.
SUPER BOWL XVI
On the 134th anniversary of gold being discovered at Sutter’s Mill and kicking off the California Gold Rush (Jan. 24, 1982), the Bengals looked ready to strike it rich right away when they recovered a 49ers fumble on the opening kickoff at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich.
That turnover turned out to be fools’ gold, though, as Ken Anderson was intercepted at the 5-yard line to end the scoring threat.
The rest of the first half was all San Francisco as coach Bill Walsh’s team took advantage of two more Cincinnati turnovers to build a 20-0 lead.
Anderson ran for a touchdown in the third quarter and threw two TDs to Dan Ross, but the 49ers tacked on two field goals and got out of frigid Detroit with a 26-21 victory.
It was sweet for Walsh, who spent eight seasons as a Bengals assistant but was passed over for the head coaching position with team founder Paul Brown retired.
Joe Montana threw for only 157 yards, but that was plenty as the 49ers stymied the Bengals running game and notched a memorable goal line stand in the second half to stall Cincinnati’s comeback.
“He’ll be the great quarterback of the future,” Walsh said of Montana, the third-year player out of Notre Dame.
The Bengals, who entered the season as 70-1 shots to make the Super Bowl, became the first team to outgain their opponent in the Super Bowl (356-275) and lose.
Anderson threw for 300 yards and Ross and Cris Collinsworth went over the century mark in receiving, but Cincinnati could not overcome its mistakes or the early deficit.
“It was fun,” Bengals fan Sam Cooke of Miamisburg told the Dayton Daily News after watching the game at the Urban Suburban Tavern in Kettering. “I just with we could have won. We’ll get ‘em next year.”
SUPER BOWL XXIII
Looking to complete a fairy-tale season one year after winning only four games, the Bengals were unable to stop Jerry Rice and undone by more Montana magic at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami on Jan. 22, 1989.
Rice caught 11 passes for a Super Bowl record 215 yards, but John Taylor played hero when he caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Montana over the middle with 34 seconds left.
That put the 49ers on top 20-16, and the Bengals’ top-ranked offense gained only a yard on the ensuing possession.
Much of the day was a like that for Boomer Esiason and Co. The Cincinnati quarterback completed only 11 of 24 passes for 144 yards while Montana was 23 for 36 for 357 yards.
The Bengals’ high-powered running game never got untracked, either, as Icky Woods 79 yards on 20 carries and James Brooks added 24 yards on six carries.
Still the Bengals led three different times, twice on field goals by Jim Breech and also after Stanford Jennings’ electrifying 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
“We won more games than any team in the NFL this year, but we didn’t win the world championship,” Cincinnati coach Sam Wyche said. “It hurts. It really hurts. It hurts more because we came so far from where we were a year ago. We were so close, but we came up 34 seconds short.”
The Bengals defense, which lost nose tackle Tim Krumrie to a gruesome broken leg in the first half, cousin’t stop the 49ers, who also got 71 yards rushing and 101 yards receiving from Roger Craig.
After Breech hit a 40-yard field goal with 3:44 left to give the Bengals a 16-13 lead, they allowed the 49ers to drive 92 yards for the winning score.
Montana threaded a pass between Cincinnati safeties Ray Horton and David Fulcher to cap a legendary drive and win the third of his four Super Bowls.
“He’s not God, but he’s definitely not human,” Collinsworth said of Montana. “He’s somewhere in between.”
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