From humble beginnings to five Super Bowl victories, the 49ers stormed into NFL relevance in the 1981 season.
From that season through 1994, the 49ers towered over the NFL. In those 14 years, the 49ers went 178-63-1, including the postseason. They made it to the playoffs 12 times, won 11 NFC West championships, five NFC championships and five Super Bowl titles in as many attempts.
Here's a closer look at those five victories:
SUPER BOWL XVI
49ERS 26, BENGALS 21
Date: Jan. 24, 1982
Site: Silverdome, Pontiac, Mich.
Line: 49ers by 1
MVP: Joe Montana
Average ticket price: $40
30-second TV ad rate: $324,000
Backdrop: Outside the comfy confines of the Silverdome, the snow drifts were chest high in some areas with a wind chill of minus-27 degrees. A Midwest blizzard made for the coldest Super Bowl environment before or since. The chill prompted Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated to reflect later, "This is why God invented Puerto Rico."
Recap: Coach Bill Walsh eased the nerves of his young team by dressing as a bellhop upon the team's arrival. Montana outplayed veteran Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson in passing for 157 yards and a touchdown and staking his team to a 20-0 halftime lead. Ray Wersching, a 49er since the bleak days of 1977, kicked four field goals. The 49ers were outgained 356-275 but not outplayed.
Turning point: A goal-line stand with a 13-point second-half lead kept the Bengals at bay and off the scoreboard. The highlight was Roseville native Dan Bunz making a textbook tackle to flatten Charles Alexander on a third-down swing pass at the goal line.
Quotable: "We've come a long way in a short time," said Walsh, whose first 49ers team in 1979 went 2-14.
Aftermath: The 49ers basked in a San Francisco parade that drew more than 500,000, and then crashed back to reality, going 3-6 in the strike-shortened 1982 season.
49ers 7 13 0 6 26
Cincinnati 0 0 7 14 21
49ers: Montana 1 run (Wersching kick)
49ers: Cooper 11 pass from Montana (Wersching kick)
49ers: FG Wersching 22
49ers: FG Wersching 26
Bengals: Anderson 5 run (Breech kick)
Bengals: Ross 4 pass from Anderson (Breech kick)
49ers: FG Wersching 40
49ers: FG Wersching 23
Bengals: Ross 3 pass from Anderson (Breech kick)
SUPER BOWL XIX
49ERS 38, DOLPHINS 16
Date: Jan. 20, 1985
Site: Stanford Stadium
Line: 49ers by 3 1/2
Average ticket: $60
30-second TV ad rate: $525,000
Backdrop: Palo Alto wasn't to be confused with Miami this time of year with coolish, dank conditions, but it didn't rain, and the 49ers were able to sleep in their own beds with the shortest travel of any Super Bowl team. President Ronald Reagan flipped the coin via satellite from the White House, where the next morning he was privately sworn in for a second term in office.
Recap: Montana turned any projected duel with record-breaking Dan Marino into a 49ers romp, earning his second MVP honor in passing for 331 yards and three touchdowns and running for a another. The 49ers amassed a Super Bowl record 537 yards (the most yards for the club since 1961) to finish the season with an NFL-record best 18-1 mark. Marino passed for 318 yards but was intercepted twice and sacked four times.
Turning point: With a 21-10 lead in the second quarter, 49ers receiver Freddie Solomon had a reception knocked free by safety Lyle Blackwood, who scooped it up and was headed for a touchdown when the play was ruled incomplete. The 49ers scored moments later for a 28-10 lead.
Quotable: "Genius, God I'm sick of that word," Walsh snarled to reporters.
Aftermath: Injuries to Montana he missed all or parts of four games and a revamped defense with four new starters stalled any momentum during a 10-6 regular season. The 49ers lost 17-3 to the Giants in a playoff opener.
Miami 10 6 0 0 16
49ers 7 21 10 0 38
Dolphins: FG Von Schamann 37
49ers: Monroe 33 pass from Montana (Wersching kick)
Dolphins: D. Johnson 2 pass from Marino (Von Schamann kick)
49ers: Craig 8 pass from Montana (Wersching kick)
49ers: Montana 6 run (Wersching kick)
49ers: Craig 2 run (Wersching kick)
Dolphins: FG Von Schamann 31
Dolphins: FG Von Schamann 30
49ers: FG Wersching 27
49ers: Craig 16 pass from Montana (Wersching kick)
SUPER BOWL XXIII
49ERS 20, BENGALS 16
Date: Jan. 22, 1989
Site: Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami
Line: 49ers by 7
Average ticket: $100
30-second TV ad rate: $675,000
MVP: Jerry Rice
Backdrop: When a police officer shot and killed an African American motorcyclist, it triggered 48 hours of arson, looting and rioting during Super Bowl week. Cincinnati safety Solomon Wilcots said he had watched the movie "Mississippi Burning" that week and returned to his hotel room to watch Miami burning.
Recap: Three field goals by Jim Breech helped give the upstart Bengals a 16-13 lead, but that wasn't enough to rattle Montana. Before embarking on an 11-play, 92-yard game-winning drive, Joe Cool broke the tension in the huddle, pointing to a rotund comedian in the stands: "Look. Isn't that John Candy?" Montana passed to John Taylor for a 10-yard touchdown with 34 seconds to play. Rice had 215 receiving yards but was a decoy on the winner to Taylor in Walsh's last game as head coach. In the jubilant locker room, tight end John Frank hoisted champagne-soaked owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. and accidentally smacked his head into a locker, drawing more guffaws than concern.
Quotable: "All my life, I fantasized about a drive like that in a big game, the biggest game," Montana said after the win.
Turning point: After Stanford Jennings electrified the Bengals with a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 13-6 lead, Montana responded with an 85-yard drive, capped by a 14-yard scoring strike to Rice.
Aftermath: The 49ers went 17-2 in 1989 and repeated as champs.
Cincinnati 0 3 10 3 16
49ers 3 0 3 14 20
49ers: FG Cofer 41
Bengals: FG Breech 34
Bengals: FG Breech 43
49ers: FG Cofer 32
Bengals: Jennings 93 kickoff return (Breech kick)
49ers: Rice 14 pass from Montana
Bengals: FG Breech 40
49ers: Taylor 10 pass from Montana (Cofer kick)
SUPER BOWL XXIV
49ERS 55, BRONCOS 10
Date: Jan. 28, 1990
Site: Superdome, New Orleans
Line: 49ers by 12
Average ticket: $125
30-second TV ad rate: $700,000
Backdrop: The allure of Bourbon Street in a city the 49ers knew well from so many NFC West games against the Saints didn't faze the team. Sometimes the nightlife can devour a young team or a paranoid coach, but the 49ers had neither, not with Montana and first-year coach George Seifert, the calm, longtime defensive coordinator under Walsh.
Recap: In the most lopsided Super Bowl, Montana was never better, completing 22 of 29 passes for 297 yards, with three of his five touchdown passes going to Rice. 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren noticed in breaking down film leading up to the game that Denver didn't change defenses on a lot of passing schemes. He smelled blood. So did the retired Walsh, who wrote a guest column for the San Francisco Chronicle predicting the 49ers would roll in piling up 460 yards (they had 461).
Turning point: If the opening kickoff wasn't the turning point for the overwhelmed Broncos, then the 49ers' 14-play, seven-minute drive for a 20-3 second-quarter lead surely was.
Quotable: "I don't want to be judged until I retire," Montana said after the win.
Aftermath: The 49ers' hopes for an unprecedented three-peat got off to an encouraging start in 1990 with a 14-2 regular season, but the end was painful a 15-13 loss to the Giants in the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park.
49ers 13 14 14 14 55
Denver 3 0 7 0 10
49ers: Rice 20 pass from Montana (Cofer kick)
Broncos: FG Treadwell 42
49ers: Jones 7 pass from Montana (kick failed)
49ers: Rathman 1 run (Cofer kick)
49ers: Rice 38 pass from Montana (Cofer kick)
49ers: Rice 28 pass from Montana (Cofer kick)
49ers: Taylor 35 pass from Montana (Cofer kick)
Broncos: Elway 3 run (Treadwell kick)
49ers: Rathman 3 run (Cofer kick)
49ers: Craig 1 run (Cofer kick)
SUPER BOWL XXIX
49ERS 49, CHARGERS 26
Date: Jan. 29, 1995
Site: Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami
Line: 49ers by 19
Average ticket: $200
30-second TV ad rate: $1.15 million
MVP: Steve Young
Backdrop: Unlike the 49ers' other trip to Miami for Super Bowl XXIII, Miami wasn't in flames or rubble from rioting and looting. Aside from the pregame chaos, all was calm.
Recap: After backing up Montana for so many seasons and then beating the Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game, Young had his greatest game. He completed 24 of 36 passes for 325 yards and a Super Bowl-record six touchdown passes, three to Rice. Young also was the game's leading rusher with 49 yards. Young, not Seifert, gave a rousing postgame speech, barking, "There were times when this was hard. But this is the greatest feeling."
Turning point: On the game's third offensive play, Young faked a handoff, freezing the pass rush, then connected with Rice for a 44-yard touchdown.
Quotable: "The weight of the entire world was on his shoulders; everyone was waiting for Steve Young to fall apart," 49ers tackle Harris Barton said.
Aftermath: The 49ers went 11-5 in 1995 but fell at home to Green Bay 27-17 in an NFC divisional playoff.
San Diego 7 3 8 8 26
49ers 14 14 14 7 49
49ers: Rice 44 pass from Young
49ers: Watters 51 pass from Young
Chargers: Means 1 run (Carney kick)
49ers: Floyd 5 pass from Young (Brien kick)
49ers: Watters 8 pass from Young
Chargers: FG Carney 31
49ers: Watters 9 run (Brien kick)
49ers: Rice 15 pass from Young
Chargers: Coleman 98 kickoff return (Seay pass from Humphries)
49ers: Rice 7 pass from Young
Chargers: Martin 30 pass from Humphries (Pupunu pass from Humphries)