Monday, January 25, 1982
BY BUD SHAW
The Philadelphia Daily News
PONTIAC, Mich. - It will be a freeze frame in a Super Bowl
flashback someday, 22 bodies posing for Leroy Neiman's easel in a scene that
will be remembered as The Goal-Line Stand.
It is fourth and a foot, Cincinnati trailing, 20-7, late in the third
quarter. All the Bengals need is 12 inches, dammit, and logic says Pete
Johnson could get that much in a three-legged race.
There's a collision of helmets and shoulder pads. Johnson throws his body
into the right side of the line. The 49ers' Jack Reynolds, Ronnie Lott and Dan
Bunz sacrifice their own, which means the matchup is dead even.
When the whistle blows, nose tackle Archie Reese is laying on top of the
pile, his arms pumping toward the Silverdome ceiling in celebration. Pete
Johnson's gain is measured in fractions. And, somewhere, John Facenda is
practicing his next voice-over.
"If I would've been betting on Pete Johnson making a foot," 49ers
defensive coordinator Chuck Studley says later, "I would've bet everything I
own that he'd make it."
The Goal-Line Stand was just one more improbability in a giddy season for
the 49ers, a team that didn't seem fit for drama such as this seven months ago
but was ready to be fitted for Super Bowl rings last evening.
THE TEAM WITH THE adolescent secondary and the no-name running backs had
beaten the Bengals, 26-21, in Super Bowl XVI. And Bill Walsh, the coach of a
6-10 team last year, was being pulled away from a press conference to answer
a telephone call from President Reagan.
"You might tell Joe ( Montana ) and the rest of the fellas they really did
win one for the Gipper," Reagan said.
"I think Joe was thinking about the Gipper when he won that one," said
Walsh. "Thank you very, very much."
Nobody knows if Reagan had an alternate message ready for Forrest Gregg (or
would Ernest Borgnine have called instead?), but if he did, he probably was
practicing it with three minutes left in the third quarter.
The Bengals had pulled themselves out of a 20-0 hole - the largest halftime
deficit in Super Bowl history - on a five-yard TD scramble by Ken Anderson in
the first series of the third quarter.
Two 49er possessions had gained a grand total of minus-three yards and here
the Bengals were moving again. It was a fourth- and-one at the San Francisco
5, and the 49ers looked up just in time to realize they had only 10 men on
LINEBACKER KEENA TURNER was on the sidelines when Pete Johnson took the
handoff and busted up the gut for two yards and a first down at the 3.
"I didn't know I was supposed to be in there," said Turner, who swears he
missed only one play even though his coaches say it was two. "Then, a couple
coaches started hollering at me. Then, a couple players hollered. I think
even the fans were hollering."
Turner returned in time to see Johnson run behind left tackle Anthony Munoz
for two more yards to the one on first down. Here they were with three plays
and less than a yard to go for a touchdown that figured to tighten the 49ers'
windpipes even more.
On second down, Johnson ran left again, but was stuffed by John Harty and
Jack Reynolds. On third down, Anderson threw a soft pass to running back
Charles Alexander at the goal line, but back-up linebacker Dan Bunz dropped
him 12 inches short.
"I thought about going for the ball," said Bunz, who once had a bit part
in " North Dallas 40," but now is a candidate for a remake of " The Longest
Yard." "I figured it might be better to just stop the man instead of going
for the ball."
THE FOURTH-DOWN PLAY was as basic as you can get. Pete Johnson weighs 250
and runs 350. The only surprise is that the Bengals didn't choose to run it
behind Anthony Munoz.
"There wasn't much doubt about who was going to get the ball," said Jack
Reynolds. "They had to give it to Pete. The guy is a Sherman tank. He's as
big as a defensive lineman."
"I think that play depressed them," said Bunz. "I mean, how would you
feel if you had Pete Johnson and you couldn't gain a foot?"
The Bengals had started the game in a similar depression and the Goal-Line
Stand just brought back some not-so-distant memories.
There was Kenny Anderson getting intercepted by safety Dwight Hicks at the
Niners' 5-yard line just a heartbeat into the game, a play that followed 49ers
return man " Famous" Amos Lawrence's fumble of the opening kickoff.
There was All-Pro wide receiver Cris Collinsworth fumbling at the Niners' 6-
yard line in the second quarter when it still was a 7-0 game. Shortly after
that, Joe Montana, who had scored on a one-yard dive in the first quarter,
threw a 11-yard TD pass to running back Earl Cooper.
This whole thing was beginning to look like the Eagles in Super Bowl XV.
Montana, the game MVP, moved the 49ers into field-goal range minutes later and
Ray Wersching hit his first of a Super Bowl record-tying four field goals - a
26-yarder that made it 17-0 with 0:15 left in the half.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT IS the stuff of Football Follies. Wersching squibbed the
kickoff ("That was an accident," he said) and Archie Griffin bobbled it just
inside the 20. Then, Bengals defensive back Ray Griffin tried to pick it up
at the 10. By the time the whistle blew, the only Griffin who didn't have his
hands on the ball was Merv.
Wersching trotted downfield and kicked a 22-yard field goal with 0:02 left
to make it 20-0. The last time the city of Cincinnati felt this numbed, it was
59 below zero outside.
"Basically," said Bill Walsh, "our offense just swept them off their feet
in the first half. I would say the turning point was that last field goal. I
know we certainly appreciated the points."
It was a little like saying Richard Nixon appreciated his Presidential
pardon. If the Bengals were torched by the 49ers' beautifully designed passing
offense in the first half, then they died a slow death at the brass-knuckled
hands of the 49ers' defense in the second.
The Bengals did manage to score on a four-yard pass from Anderson to tight
end Dan Ross to make it 20-14 in the fourth quarter, but it came nine valuable
minutes after The Goal-Line Stand started.
AND THEN WHEN THE 49ers were forced to put it up or get shut down, they
moved downfield for another Wersching field goal, this one a 40-yarder that
made it 23-14 with 5:25 left in the game.
Montana (14 of 22 for 157 yards) had been finding Dwight Clark and Freddie
Solomon open all day, but the play that hurt the Bengals the most on that
drive was a 22-yard, third-down pass to rookie wide receiver Mike Wilson.
Wilson was such an improbable hero that he made Dan Bunz look like Ted
The game was over when 49ers corner Eric Wright - another one of the
Adolescent All-Stars - intercepted an Anderson pass at the Bengals' 47 and
returned it far enough for Wersching to kick a 23-yard field goal with 1:57
The Bengals would score again on a three-yard pass to Ross, who set a Super
Bowl record with 11 catches, but it came too late to matter to anyone except
the bettors and Ross' agent.
When it was over, the 49ers were the first team ever to win a Super Bowl
without gaining more total yards than the loser. They already were the first
team ever to get this far with so many question marks at the beginning of the
YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED to win a Super Bowl with three rookies in your
secondary, and there were times yesterday when the 49ers had four. You're not
supposed to win when you do something like fumble the opening kickoff or when
you find yourself playing a man short inside your own 10.
And you're not supposed to be able to stop Pete Johnson from gaining a foot
with the Super Bowl possibly on the line.
"I feel like a kid waiting on his first bike at Christmas time," said
Archie Reese. "He looks under the tree and there it is."
"There were a lot of hard times this season," said Ronnie Lott. "Like
back in training camp when people were calling us clowns.
"But I figure we're kinda like a newborn baby. You just cuddle it, tease
it, mold it until it grows up to what you want it to be. That's what this
organization did with this team.
"We're kinda emotional. But I'll tell you, in that goal-line stand we were
pretty much business-like. Nobody made any speeches. We just concentrated on
doing our jobs.
"It'll be one of those Super Bowl memories, the kind we've been watching
all week in our hotel rooms. I got somebody back home taping the game on a
Betamax. And you know what? I'm gonna replay that Goal-Line Stand as soon as
I get home. I'm gonna watch it the whole off-season."