Super Bowl XXIV was 30 years ago and it gave us the most points ever scored by one team and biggest margin of victory in the big game ever seen.
As the NFL is celebrating a 100 seasons I was tempted to do a century long retrospective. However for a lot of modern NFL fans, it feels like the game’s history starts with the, (retrospectively named), first Super Bowl. Not many will mention the undefeated APFA 1920 winners the Akron Pros.
The run up to the game
The 1989 season saw the NFL celebrate its’ 70th anniversary. This was the season that saw the departure of Pete Rozelle as commissioner. There is a strong case to be made that Rozelle made the NFL into the dominant force it became. So fans were looking on with interest to see how his replacement, Paul Tagliabue, would fare.
This was the first year to officially recognize the “hurry up offense” as a legitimate weapon too. Previously teams had been hindered by defensive players faking injuries to control the tempo. Now that would incur a delay of game penalty. As ever, the league had an eye to box office, up tempo attacking and drawing in the casual fans with exciting, big play action.
The 49ers had been a dominant force throughout the 1980’s, having already won 3 Super Bowls during the decade. This was their 8th playoff appearance in 9 season and their 7th successive postseason appearance in all. They had gone 98-37-1 over that span.
The Broncos had been morphing into a leading team throughout the decade. They were a dominant force in the AFC from the mid decade onward. They had already appeared in 2 Super Bowl games but unfortunately lost both convincingly.
Now they had taken their 4th AFC West Divisional title in 6 years and were appearing in their third title match in 5 years. Since 1984 they had been a force to be reckoned with compiling a 64-30-1 record.
San Francisco were the defending NFL champions and had taken their 4th consecutive NFC West crown into the playoffs this time around. They were a league best 14-2 during the season and carried that form into the playoffs.
The Broncos had fallen from 10-2 to 11-5 over the last month of the regular season. Once in the playoffs they edged by the 9-7 Pittsburgh Steelers by a score of 24-23. This after trailing 10-0, 17-7, and 23-17 at different stages of the game.
Denver went on to defeat the 9-6-1 Cleveland Browns 37-21 in the AFC Championship game. Even that had not been straightforward as the Broncos had led 24-7 only for the Browns to pull it back to 24-21 going into the final quarter.
Reason for optimism for Broncos fans came in the form of the league’s top ranked defense.
For the ‘Niners, George Seifert was in his first season at the helm. He had been the teams’ Defensive coordinator since 1983 and a big part of the three Super Bowl wins they already had.
He had the chance to be the first rookie Head Coach to win a Super Bowl since 1971. However, a lot of observers felt he was really acting as a caretaker coach to the team Bill Walsh had built. He wouldn’t really shake that until Super Bowl XXIX, when he won with what was seen as ‘his’ squad.
Seifert coached the 49ers for 8 seasons going 98-30. He led them to the playoffs 7 times over that period and won 2 Super Bowls. After the 1996 season he was not offered a contract extension and left. He coached the Carolina Panthers from 1999-2001 going 16-32. His last season was a disastrous 1-15 & he has not been a Head Coach since.
Dan Reeves had been the coach of the Broncos since 1981. He had led them to three AFC titles and was the 1984 & 1989 Coach of the Year.
Reeves coached the Broncos for 12 years in total going 110-73-1 over that period. He just never got them over the line. He would go on to coach the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons went 14-2 under his guidance in 1998 and ironically would lose to Denver in the Super Bowl.
A career record as an NFL coach of 190-165-2 reflected impressive longevity on the league’s sidelines.
The Game Itself: Super Bowl XXIV
The 49ers went into this as heavy favourites. Nothing during the game proved that to be wrong as they took apart the Broncos by a record setting score of 55-10.
The Broncos may have had the number 1 ranked D, but if you dug deeper you would see that they hadn’t faced too many offensive powerhouses. The ‘Niners meanwhile were the offensive powerhouse at this time.
The combination of San Francisco’s league best O and 5th ranked D was too much for Denver and they were swamped almost from start to finish.
The glimmer of hope
In the first quarter things were going to script for San Francisco. They had held Denver to a 3 and out then responded with a 10 play 66 yard drive ending with a 20 yard TD from Montana to Rice. (How often did we hear that in the 80’s?).
Then the Broncos got a foothold. First they drove 49 yards for a Field Goal and brought it back to 7-3. Then they forced a three and out from the Niners!
Denver fans were up an cheering again as the ensuing kick was run back to midfield. Then it all fell apart. Running Back Bobby Humphrey fumbled the football.
San Francisco takes Over
That was really the key moment for the game. From that point onward the Niners took over amassing 34 unanswered points as they put up 5 touchdowns before Denver responded. To emphasize the domination that included touchdown passes covering 7, 28, 38 & 35 yards.
Following the fumble recovery San Francisco drove 54 yards in 10 plays to score and lead 13-3 after one. They dominated the second quarter going in 27-3 up at the half.
Any thought of Broncos comeback was soon quashed as Broncos QB John Elway was intercepted and Montana hit Rice for another TD on the very next play.
Another scoring pass made it 41-3 before the Broncos were able to respond with a score of their own to make it 41-10 going into the final quarter.
The Niners never slowed up and scored twice more in the final period to round out an emphatic 55-10 win.
San Francisco held the ball for 39:31 of the game, had 461 net yards and forced 4 turnovers. Montana finished 22 of 29 for 297 yards with 5 touchdowns. Not surprisingly he was named MVP for the performance, the third time he received this accolade.
Hall of Fame Players
Super Bowl XXIV had less Hall of Fame players than you might expect.
The only Broncos player in the Hall from this game is John Elway.
That is not to say that others, like Steve Atwater of the Broncos for example, might not join them one day.
What Came Next
No team has won three consecutive championships during the Super Bowl era. If anybody had a chance it was this Forty Niners team. The following season they again finished with a league leading 14-2 record.
This time however they were edged 15-13 in a classic NFC title match-up against the Giants. The New York team would progress without scoring a TD and kicking the winning points as time expired.
The 49ers continued to be a dominant force in the 90’s going 109-35 from 1990 to 1998. That included picking up another Super Bowl win in 1994.
The Broncos responded to another heavy Super Bowl defeat by going 5-11 the next year. They would then have some up and down seasons before finding redemption in 1997 & 1998 as they carried home the Vince Lombardi trophy.
For long-time Denver fans the move from 4 time losers to repeating champions and storybook ending for Elway was all the sweeter.
The Broncos made it to the Super Bowl twice in 3 seasons between 2013 & 2015, taking home their third Super Bowl victory in Super Bowl 50. Since then they have gone 27-37 and their fans are hoping for a return to prominence.
The 49ers went 23-8-1 over the 2012 & 2013 seasons going on to lose in the Super Bowl & the NFC Championship game. From 2014-2018 they limped to a 25-55 record.
However this year they went 13-3 and will face Kansas City in the Super Bowl.
Banner Image: The ‘Niners dominated the Broncos in the Super Bowl. Image from SI.com