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Here at JMRA, we strive to serve as an educator for all things related to the National Football League. That’s why we unveiled the JMRA World Heavyweight Title, issued to the best quarterback in the NFL.
Now, like any title there is a lineage. It will be traced back to 1985 since my earliest football memories go back to that point.
Perhaps at some point, we’ll get frisky and go back prior to this era but for now 1985 will do.
Instead of arbitrarily picking out years, we’re going real specific…as in actual dates.
Reign: January 20, 1985 – January 11, 1987
The Setup: Montana led the 49ers to a Super Bowl XVI victory during the ’81 postseason. The road back to ring two was not easy for Bill Walsh’s crew. They were a disappointing 3-6 during the strike-shortened ’82 season and failed to appear in the “Super Bowl Tournament”, the league’s expanded playoff field due to the work stoppage.
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San Fran found their way back to the playoffs the following season but fell short to the Redskins in the ’83 NFC title game, which featured a pair of highly questionable defensive penalties.
Ultimately, the Niners were a little short in the talent department to get over the top while facing the highest scoring team in league history (at the time).
Disappointed by their postseason failure, the ’84 49ers went 15-1 en route to Super Bowl XIX, where they would encounter a pair of future Hall of Famers.
The Title Win: Prior to Montana reigning as the league’s preeminent passer, all eyes were cast upon young fireballer Dan Marino, who led his Dolphins to a 14-2 record along with an appearance in Super Bowl XIX.
The apple of the media’s eye, Marino re-wrote the record books in ’84 and set a single-season mark for most touchdown passes in a year with 48
Unfortunately for Marino, the Killer B’s, and head coach Don Shula, they got steamrolled by Montana’s 49ers, 38-16 and the more experienced Joe badly outplayed his younger counterpart.
Montana set a then-Super Bowl record for most rushing yards in a game by a quarterback (59), threw for 331 yards and accounted for four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) in their conquest of Miami.
Yep, sounds like the world champion of QBs to me.
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Reign: January 11, 1987 – January 22, 1989
The Setup: Montana’s first reign was cut short by a career-threatening back injury sandwiched between two brutal playoff losses to the Giants. After suffering a crushing blow at the hands of Giants defensive tackle Jim Burt during the team’s 49-3 divisional playoff round loss, it appeared Montana’s time at the top was all but over. One week later, a new legend emerged.
The Title Win: During the AFC Championship game in Cleveland, Denver trailed 20-13 and started a drive from their two yard line with about five minutes remaining. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen thought the game was over as he made his way down to field level from the press box.
Well, Elway had different ideas. “The Drive” and an overtime field goal later, the Broncos advanced to Super Bowl XXI.
In retrospect, that drive probably isn’t appreciated enough. A quarterback on the road took his team 98 yards to tie a conference title game on the road…and then won it in overtime! Incredible.
Elway’s Broncos downed Cleveland again after “The Fumble” in the ’87 AFC title game to advance to its second consecutive Super Bowl.
The talent-strapped Broncos did not get over the hump in the Super Bowl despite Elway’s supersonic talents. The Broncos dropped Super Bowls XXI and XXII by the combined score of 81-30.
While he was missing the ultimate sign of success for a quarterback, Elway served notice around the league.
He possessed something most quarterbacks could not offer in that era; a quarterback who had the league’s strongest arm and was also a dangerous threat with his legs.
Reign: January 22, 1989 – September 1, 1991
The Setup: When we last saw Joe Montana during the ’86 playoffs, he was seen being carried out of the Meadowlands after getting knocked out by Jim Burt. After watching their fearless leader take a beating during ’86, the Niners got some insurance at quarterback, in the form of future Hall of Famer Steve Young.
As the NFC’s number one seed with a 13-2 record, San Francisco laid an egg during the ’87 playoffs versus the 8-7 Vikings and some of the blame fell on Montana’s shoulders.
During the ’88 season, Montana and Young played musical quarterbacks. In the America’s Game documentary for the ’88 Niners, Walsh stated he was concerned for Joe’s health, thus putting Young in and spelling Montana at times.
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Things seemed to be swinging against Montana as Walsh claimed he was not 100 percent throughout the season.
Thus, for a time it appeared that Young would supplant Montana as the starter but when given the opportunity, the student failed to unseat the teacher.
Montana eventually seized control by season’s end and despite San Fran’s unremarkable 10-6 record; they ambushed Minnesota in the divisional round 34-9, and then slammed Chicago by 25 on the road in the NFC title game.
The Title Win: Despite being yanked in and out of the lineup by Walsh during the year, when it mattered most, Montana came through in the clutch and needed a 92-yard drive to overtake the Bengals late in Super Bowl XXIII. While Jerry Rice earned the game’s MVP honors, it was Montana who provided the game’s definitive moment.
He capped the 92-yard march with a 10-yard scoring strike to John Taylor. San Francisco won Super Bowl XXIII 20-16 and denied Boomer Esiason an opportunity to climb the NFL’s hierarchy in Bill Walsh’s final game as 49ers head coach.
By the way, the most underrated part of Montana’s drive? Listen to Dick Enberg’s call. He said Taylor sold cars in the offseason for Reggie Jackson, which illustrates fundamental differences between players now and then. Can you imagine Terrell Owens or Randy Moss selling cars for Barry Bonds?
By winning the team’s third Super Bowl of the decade, Montana regained the throne as the league’s top quarterback. Joe Cool wasn’t done there.
Montana posted one of the all-time great seasons in 1989. The league’s MVP racked up a then-NFL record 112.4 passer rating for the season.
He helped lead the Niners to a 14-2 record and one of the most dominating playoff runs in NFL history including a 55-10 annihilation of Elway’s Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV. Over the span of three playoff games during the ’89 postseason, San Francisco outscored the opposition 126-26.
However, just like his first title reign…the Giants would end it again.
Stay tuned for Part II…1991-1995.
Categories: The JMRA World Title