51 for LI: Start of a Dynasty In Super Bowl XVI
[lead align=”default”]There are only 16 days left until Super Bowl LI. In Super Bowl XVI, we got to see an era begin in the National Football League.[/lead]
The birth of a star is a rare celestial event; rare in that no man has ever seen it, though it’s happened many times. As for the birth of a football dynasty, that’s even more rare, and we witnessed it in the 1981 NFL season.
This was the first time of two in the 1980s that the Cincinnati Bengals would face the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, Cincy didn’t win either one. Sorry if we spoiled that for you; the game was 35 years ago. This season is also in some respects more famous for the games that led to the Super Bowl, rather than the big game itself.
What made things worse is that in their only two Super Bowl appearances, they played against Joe Montana. No wonder they didn’t win either.
Super Bowl XVI: 1981 San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers put together a 13-3 regular season in 1981, in the season they drafted Ronnie Lott out of USC. San Francisco began the year 1-2 with losses to Detroit and Atlanta, but they then cracked open a seven-game win streak. Following just one more loss, they won five more. This earned them the NFC West title by a six-game gap, as well as the NFC’s one seed.
With the Divisional and Championship Round going through Candlestick, the Niners made the most of it. In the Divisional, they beat the Giants by two touchdowns. Yet, it is the NFC Championship against Dallas is that is most widely remembered. Down six with just minutes left in the game, Joe Montana led the 49ers down the field to the six-yard line. With 58 seconds left, Montana threw for Dwight Clark, who caught the game-winning touchdown. “The Catch” signalled a changing of the guard in the NFC from Dallas to San Francisco, who would dominate the next decade or more.
Super Bowl XVI: 1981 Cincinnati Bengals
In the AFC, there were the 12-4 Cincinnati Bengals, champions of the AFC Central. Before the days of Boomer Esiason, there was Ken Anderson, who won the 1981 MVP. His 29 touchdown passes broke a Bengals record at the time.
The Bengals’ notable pre-Super Bowl moment was the “Freezer Bowl,” on the same day as “The Catch.” Cincinnati played San Diego in the AFC Championship in, well, freezing conditions. The wind chill, under today’s scale, was -37F. As for the air temperature, it was a balmy -9F. Those there probably wished they lived in Florida.
In a 27-7 rout, the Bengals beat Dan Fouts and the Chargers to make the Super Bowl for the first time.
Super Bowl XVI: The Game
This didn’t turn into a game until late, when the Bengals turned on the jets in the second half. Unfortunately, by then, it was already too late. San Francisco built a 20-0 lead at halftime, and Joe Montana only threw one touchdown pass.
In the second half, the Bengals outscored the Niners, 21-6, starting with two touchdowns to cut the deficit to 20-14. San Francisco would add two field goals in the fourth quarter to stretch the lead to 26-14. The Bengals’ last touchdown to make it a 26-21 game came with just 16 seconds to go. With the onside kick coming, it didn’t work, and the Niners won their first Super Bowl.