Hello, I'm David Funk. Welcome to another edition of Sports History Flashback. On January 10, 1982, two NFL Playoff Games took place which resulted in the winners playing in the highest rated Super Bowl ever. It was on this day that the AFC Championship Game took place with the Cincinnati Bengals hosting the San Diego Chargers. And the Dallas Cowboys traveled to San Francisco to take on the 49ers for the NFC Championship.
Freezer Bowl: San Diego Chargers(11-6) at Cincinnati Bengals(13-4)
Riverfront Stadium was the host for this game, and it was to date the coldest game in terms of wind chill in NFL history. The air temperature for the game was -9°F, but the wind chill made it feel like -59°F for the game. My good blogger friend Frank attended this game in the frigid conditions.
The Chargers were just one week removed from playing in "The Epic in Miami" where it was the exact opposite in temperature. The heat in Florida took its toll on the Chargers and Dolphins, but San Diego won the game 41-38 in overtime to advance to play the Bengals. Hall of Famers included quarterback Dan Fouts, tight end Kellen Winslow, and receiver Charlie Joiner as well as running backs Chuck Muncie and James Brooks.
Cincinnati didn't exactly have a convincing win to advance to this game either. Receiver Cris Collinsworth caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from NFL MVP quarterback Ken Anderson before forcing a turnover on downs against the Buffalo Bills to make it to the AFC Championship. Hall of Fame lineman Anthony Munoz was also in this game for the Bengals.
The Bengals jumped out to 3-0 lead on a Jim Breech 31-yard field goal. James Brooks then fumbled kickoff that was recovered by Cincinnati as the Bengals took advantage of the mistake with an 8-yard touchdown reception to M.L. Harris from Anderson. Defensive back Louis Breeden then intercepted Fouts which led to a Pete Johnson 1-yard touchdown run to give them a 17-0 lead.
The Chargers finally got on the board with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Fouts to Winslow as San Diego cut the lead to 17-7. But the bitter cold conditions bothered Fouts who had a tough time throwing accurately in the game. The Bengals never were threatened as San Diego failed to score again in the game.
Cincinnati iced(no pun intended) the game in the 4th quarter as Don Bass caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Anderson to give the Bengals a 27-7 lead. The Bengals advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time in NFL history.
The temperature and wind chill was noticeable to viewers as Fouts had icicles forming on his beard early in the game. Players used the heated benches during this game, and Bengals offensive line played in bare arms.
Fouts threw for 185 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Anderson completed 14 of 22 passes for 161 passing yards and two touchdowns. Muncie had 94 rushing yards for the Chargers while Pete Johnson had 80 rushing yards and a touchdown for the Bengals.
The very cold conditions became famous in NFL lore, but one such play in the NFC Championship upstaged this game.
The Catch: Dallas Cowboys(13-4) at San Francisco 49ers(14-3)
The 49ers made their first appearance in the NFC Championship Game playing against the most successful team in the conference the previous decade at Candlestick Park.
The Cowboys had made five Super Bowl appearances in the previous decade winning two of them. They had an easy time of it in the Divisional round shutting out Tampa Bay 38-0 in Dallas. Quarterback Danny White along with Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett led a strong Cowboys offense that was 5th overall on the season.
San Francisco had a little tougher game against the New York Giants in their Divisional round, but put the game away for good in the 4th quarter to win 38-24. Hall of Fame legendary quarterback Joe Montana led the 49ers offense while the defense ranked second in the NFL with secondary players Ronnie Lott and Dwight Hicks combining for 16 interceptions on the season.
The 49ers caught a break early in the game when Dorsett didn't play much of the 1st quarter, but would return later. San Francisco jumped out to an early as Freddie Solomon caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Montana.
But Dallas took the lead later in the 1st quarter after a Rafael Septien 44-yard field goal and a 26-yard touchdown pass from White to Tony Hill. The Cowboys led 10-7, and it was the 49ers making mistakes on offense that gave Dallas chances to take over this game.
The 49ers grabbed the lead back when Montana avoided a sack to find a wide open Dwight Clark in the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown pass before Dallas jumped back in front on a Dorsett 5-yard touchdown run to lead 17-14 at halftime. It was Clark who would later catch one of the most memorable passes in NFL history later on.
Johnny Davis scored on 2-yard rushing touchdown as San Francisco took a 21-17 lead going into the 4th quarter.
Dallas cut the lead to 21-20 on a Septien 22-yard field goal. White then found Doug Cosbie for 21-yard touchdown pass as the Cowboys took a 27-21 lead.
All afternoon, the 49ers moved the ball well on offense, but six turnovers including three fumbles and three Montana interceptions gave Dallas every chance to win it. It seemed they were going back to the Super Bowl until Montana began a historic drive that would be the beginning of his greatness in the National Football League.
Starting from their own 11-yard line, Montana marched the 49ers down to the Cowboys 6-yard line with under two minutes to play in the game. On a 2nd down and three, Montana missed on a pass to Solomon which forced a third down try for San Francisco. It was this third down play that this game would forever be remembered by.
With 58 seconds left to play, the 49ers called "Red Right Tight - Sprint Right Option" where Montana would roll out to his right while finding Solomon cutting across the end zone. Clark would be the second option if Solomon wasn't opened.
Facing immense pressure from the Dallas defensive line, Montana had three defenders including Ed "Too Tall" Jones coming after him. Montana faked to get Jones to jump before throwing the ball high towards the back of the end zone. Montana later said he could not see in the end zone, but knew Clark would be right where he threw it. Clark leaped high in the air to snag down a pass to give San Francisco the lead after the extra point. But the Cowboys weren't done yet as 51 seconds remained in the game.
Eric Wright prevented the Cowboys from winning the game on a touchdown saving tackle of Drew Pearson after he caught a pass from White. Wright used a horse collar tackle that was legal at the time to prevent the touchdown. On the next play, defensive tackle Jim Stuckey recovered a White fumble after being sacked by Lawrence Pillers to seal the first Super Bowl appearance for the 49ers.
Montana was 22-for-35 with 286 passing yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions. Clark, who Dallas could not contain, caught eight passes for 120 yards and touchdowns. White did complete 16 of 24 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns while Dorsett finished with 91 rushing yards and a touchdown in the loss.
Overall, the 49ers had the six turnovers while Dallas had three. Here's another link from a 49ers fan who posted about this game last month: 49ers 28 - Cowboys 27 Super Bowl XVI here we come!
The Super Bowl match-up in Pontiac, Michigan between the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals produced the highest television ratings for a sporting event in history to date. It drew a 49.1 rating as the 49ers began their rise to the top of the NFL world much like the Pittsburgh Steelers had done in the 1970s. The 49ers won their first of four Super Bowls in the 1980s with a 26-21 win over the Bengals. Montana won his first of three Super Bowl MVPs in that game.
The 1981 Playoffs produced three significant games in NFL lore that fans will remember. From "The Epic in Miami" to "The Freezer Bowl", NFL Hall of Famers made names for themselves during that season. But no one moment defined the NFL decade more than "The Catch" which began the rise of the next dynasty in the league known as the San Francisco 49ers.
Thanks for viewing, and I hope you enjoyed this sports history flashback!