Looking Back At The Original G.O.A.T: Joe Montana

Tom Brady announced his retirement on Tuesday, February 1, 2022, and leaves the game as the greatest of all-time, but it’s another quarterback that he looked up to while growing up in San Mateo, California that was the original G.O.A.T., San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Joe Montana. 

A perfect 4-0 in Super Bowls in his career, the 49ers great was the epitome of coolness under pressure.  Let’s look back on “Joe Cool’s” road to four Super Bowl championships. 

Super Bowl XVI

In 1981, the San Francisco 49ers won the NFC West with a 13-3 record, averaging 22.3 points per game, seventh in the NFL.  On the season, Joe Montana threw for 3,565, 19 touchdowns, 12 interceptions with a 63.7% completion percentage.  To start the NFC playoffs, as a six-point favorite, the 49ers beat the New York Giants 38-24 in the divisional round.  Montana threw for 304 yards and two touchdowns in the victory. 

In the NFC Championship game, the 49ers faced their longtime nemesis the Dallas Cowboys as a three-point underdog with an opportunity to go to their first Super Bowl in franchise history.   Dallas eliminated the 49ers in three straight seasons in the early 70’s, including twice in the NFC Championship game in 1970 and 1971.  This is the game that really announced to the NFL world that Joe Montana and the 49ers were a team to be reckoned with.  Late in the fourth quarter down 27-21, Montana led the team down the field covering 89 yards in 13 plays that culminated in a six-yard touchdown pass to Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone, in a play that is known in NFL lore as “The Catch.”  On that play, Montana had to scramble out of the pocket and waited until the last second to throw the ball; this exemplified his ability to stay cool under pressure.  San Francisco finally had beat Dallas and were headed to their first Super Bowl, where they would face the AFC Champion, Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI.

In their first appearance in the NFL’s marquee game, the San Francisco 49ers, a one-point favorite, won their first Super Bowl behind their third-year signal caller.  In the first half San Francisco built up a 20-0 lead, that Cincinnati could not overcome.  Joe Montana earned his first Super Bowl MVP as he was 14-22 for 157 yards and a touchdown.  The former Notre Dame quarterback also ran for 18 yards and a touchdown as the 49ers beat the Bengals 26-21 in Super Bowl XVI.  Per NFL.com, San Francisco became the first team to lose the touchdown and total yards battle in the Super Bowl and still come up victorious.  While Montana’s stats were not earth shattering, it showed he could manage a game when he wasn’t at his best and deliver the win. 

Super Bowl XIX

At 15-1 in the regular season, the 1984 San Francisco 49ers are regarded as one of the greatest teams in NFL history.  The club was dominant on both sides of the ball.  The offense averaged 29.7 points per game which was second in the NFL while the defense allowed 14.2 points per game, which placed them number one in the league.  Offensively they had two players gain over 1,300 yards from scrimmage (Wendell Tyler and Roger Craig).  Joe Montana threw for 3,630 yards, 28 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and completed 64.6% of his passes for a 102.9 passer rating.

Once again as they had in 1981 playoffs, the 49ers opened the 1984 playoffs by playing the New York Giants.  San Francisco was a 12-point favorite against New York and ended up winning the game 21-10.  Joe Montana threw two touchdown passes in the first quarter, including a 21-yard touchdown toss to Dwight Clark to get the scoring started.  In the second quarter with San Francisco leading 14-10, the 49ers number 16 threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Freddie Solomon to give San Francisco a 21-10 lead which they would not relinquish. 

In the NFC Championship game, the 49ers, a 10-point home favorite hosted the Chicago Bears.  The 49ers dominated the Bears, winning the game 23-0 while limiting Chicago to less than 240 yards of total offense.  Joe Montana was average in the game, but did enough to pilot the team to victory, throwing for 233 yards and a touchdown.  The victory set up a matchup in Super Bowl XIX with the Miami Dolphins and their high-powered offense led by record setting quarterback, Dan Marino. 

The highly anticipated meeting between two of the best signal callers in the NFL was expected to be an absolute shootout.  I remember being a kid and thinking this game was going to be so cool, as I was fascinated by both quarterbacks.  San Francisco was a three-point favorite entering Super Bowl XIX.  Many pundits thought Marino would be the quarterback to walk away with a championship, but it was the 49ers, Joe Montana who turned out to be the dominant passer of the day.  Miami could not stop “Joe Cool,” as he completed 24 passes, throwing for 331 yards and three touchdowns.  Additionally, he ran for 59 yards and a touchdown in San Francisco’s 38-16 victory in Super Bowl XIX, securing the franchise’s second title.  Joe Montana was named the game’s MVP, becoming the third player (joining Bart Starr and Terry Bradshaw) to win multiple Super Bowl MVP awards at that time.

Super Bowl XXIII

The San Francisco 49ers were 10-6 in 1988 and winners of the NFC West.  They averaged 23.1 points per game and allowed 18.4 points per game.  Roger Craig was a dominant force on offense that season as he rushed for 1,502 yards and had 534 yards of receiving, totaling 2,036 yards of total offense from scrimmage.  Joe Montana started 13 games in 1988 and was 8-5 in those starts.  On the season he threw for 2,981 yards, 18 touchdowns while completing 59.9% of his passes.

In the divisional round, San Francisco a 3.5-point favorite defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 34-9.  In the victory, Joe Montana threw three first half touchdown passes to Jerry Rice and gave San Francisco control of the game by halftime.  In the NFC Championship game, the 49ers defeated the Bears 28-3, to secure their third Super Bowl berth in 1980’s.  Joe Montana threw a 61-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to Jerry Rice and threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Rice in the second quarter, to give San Francisco a 14-0 lead which they wouldn’t relinquish.  For the game, Montana threw for 288 yards, three touchdowns with a 136-passer rating.

In Super Bowl XXIII the San Francisco 49ers, listed as a six-point favorite, faced the team they beat to win their first Super Bowl, the Cincinnati Bengals who were led by 1988 NFL MVP Boomer Esiason.  The 49ers entered the fourth quarter down, 13-6, but tied it up at 13 on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Joe Montana to Jerry Rice.  The Bengals took a late 16-13 lead on a Jim Beech field goal, setting up Montana for his first fourth quarter Super Bowl winning drive.  Just to show how cool and collective he was, Montana said to his teammates in the huddle prior to the game winning drive, “hey, isn’t that John Candy?” as he saw the famous comedian in the stands.  I must imagine this loosened up his teammates and the rest is NFL history.  Montana led the 49ers down the field and delivered a 10-yard strike to John Taylor for the game winning touchdown.  Despite not being named the game’s MVP, Montana threw for 357 yards, two touchdowns with a 115.2 passer rating.  A three-time Super Bowl winner, Montana was at the top of his game and hungry to continue San Francisco’s dominance of the NFL.

Super Bowl XXIV

In 1989, the San Francisco 49ers were 14-2 and NFC West champions under new head coach George Seifert who took over for Bill Walsh after the team won Super Bowl XXIII.  This was one of Joe Montana’s best seasons and it led to him winning his first of two league MVP awards.  On the season he threw for 3,521 yards and tossed 26 touchdowns against only eight interceptions.  In his 11th season, he led the NFL in completion percentage (70.2), passing yards per game (270.8) and passer rating (112.4). 

The San Francisco 49ers, a 7.5-point favorite, blew out the Minnesota Vikings, 41-13 in the divisional round.  Joe Montana threw for 241 yards and fired four touchdown passes in the first half, including a 72-yard touchdown toss to Jerry Rice as this game was over by halftime.  In the NFC Championship game, the 49ers were matched up with their rivals from Southern California the Los Angeles Rams.  San Francisco steamrolled Los Angeles, 30-3 clinching their second straight Super Bowl appearance.  Montana threw for 262 yards; two touchdown passes and had a 125.3 passer rating.

Super Bowl XXIV pitted the San Francisco 49ers against the AFC Champion Denver Broncos led by John Elway.  This arguably might have been Joe Montana’s greatest Super Bowl performance as the 49ers demolished the Broncos, 55-10 in the largest margin of victory ever in a Super Bowl (45 points).  In the first half, the San Francisco quarterback tossed three touchdowns giving San Francisco a 27-3 insurmountable halftime lead.  For the game, Montana completed 22 out of 29 passes for 297 yards and a Super Bowl-record five touchdown passes as he was named Super Bowl MVP for the third time; the first player to win more than two Super Bowl MVP awards.  Joe Montana joined at the time Terry Bradshaw of the Steelers as the only quarterbacks to win four Super Bowls.

In four Super Bowls with the 49ers, Montana won all of them; throwing for 1,142 yards, 11 touchdowns with a 127.8 passer rating and most importantly did not throw an interception. 

Scott has been a sports fan since he received a New York Mets jacket as a toddler. He’s been playing fantasy baseball and football for over 20 years, dating back to Frank Thomas being one of his first fantasy baseball picks. As a professional, he has covered the NFL, MLB, NCAAF, and NCAAB and is looked to as the go-to guy for fantasy sports amongst family, friends, and co-workers.

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