Iconic Miami Herald sports columnist Edwin Pope, who died January 19, covered the first 47 Super Bowls. This column from Super Bowl XXIII, in which Joe Montana rallied the 49ers to a win over Cincinnati at the first Super Bowl played at ‘Joe Robbie Stadium,’ originally ran on Jan. 23, 1989.
Three awful things happened around South Florida's first Super Bowl in 10 years:
Driving to it.
Parking for it.
And the fate of Cincinnati's noble Bengals in it.
But then, in the loveliest and most poetic justice after the most brutal sort of beginning of Super Bowl week, we finally got some great news.
The San Francisco 49ers won the best Super Bowl of all 23.
Hey, more than the best. By far the best.
Florida and San Francisco can thank Montana and Rice for the clanging 20-16 climax.
Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.
Jumping like a grasshopper, firing grenades like a movie- war hero, Montana moved his team 92 yards to glory.
Three passes went to most valuable player Rice. The last telling 10-yarder fell into the tingling palms of John Taylor with 34 seconds left.
It was a simple play. It not only won. It erased what could have been the lasting notoriety of a 49er coaching decision in the second quarter.
That came when San Francisco passed up a chance for a touchdown that could have knocked Cincinnati flat -- and wound up missing a gimme field goal.
That wasn't simple.
Nothing else was, either, starting four hours before kickoff.
Regional traffic officials and the National Football League had two years to plot clear paths for cars, buses, taxis and limousines into Joe Robbie Stadium.
What we got was an abomination of transportation.
I'm just glad these "planners" weren't handling the Normandy landings in 1944.
Radiators steamed. Cars stalled and blocked already jammed lanes in every direction. Drivers cursed.
From Key Biscayne to Northwest 199th Street turning into Joe Robbie Stadium, I never saw a semblance of traffic direction.
What happened, I think, was that both the traffic folk and the NFL seriously underestimated the number of passenger cars that would be involved.
All you heard every time you brought up a potential traffic jam all week was, "No problem, everybody is going on buses."
Bull and double bull. Cars from Ohio and dozens of Florida counties arrived in waves.
Some day, somewhere, someone will adequately plan for the American driving fetish.
Sunday would have been a terrific day to start.
Then, even after the maddened 75,179 spectators finally entered JRS' overcrowded and undermanned parking lots, it was pandemonium.
Drivers lurched in enraged fits and starts from one parking row to another. Hardly a soul was there to so much as give the merest of hand signals.
Parking has been a farce at JRS for two seasons. You might think someone would give it more than a passing thought for Super Bowl Sunday?
Uh-uh. This mess was as bad as the one at Pontiac, Mich., seven years ago. And Pontiac at least had icy roads and a George Bush motorcade for an excuse.
But the game . . . ah, the game!
It went thrust for thrust, field goal for field goal, goof for goof, touchdown for touchdown. Until the end.
Camelot in cleats.
And still the 49ers came unbelievably close to blowing it all on a too-safe decision in the second quarter.
With a break or two and the right call, they might have led by 14-3 rather than tied, 3-3, at the half.
Up, 3-0, poised at the Bengal two-yard line in the top of the second quarter, the 49ers had fourth and a long yard to go for a first down.
Conventional wisdom says kick the field goal; don't come away without something.
I figured -- and plenty will argue this figuration -- the 49ers should have taken just a little roll of the dice.
They should have shot for the chance to bury the Bengals once and for all.
Cincinnati had already lost nose tackle Tim Krumrie, its best defensive player, with a leg injury.
The 49ers' moving out to 10-0 could have let all the rest of the air out of Cincinnati's balloon.
It could have set off the sixth straight Super Bowl runaway.
Even a failed touchdown try would have left the Bengals in deep trouble a few yards from their own goal.
Instead, 49er Coach Bill Walsh opted for the field goal. It was a bad call that turned worse fast.
Randy Cross' snap came to holder Barry Helton low and inside. Helton's split-second delay in placing the ball knocked off Mike Cofer's timing just enough to divert his 19-yarder to the left.
Then, Jim Breech's 34-yard field goal just before the half made it all even at 3-3.
San Francisco had kicked Cincinnati all over JRS the whole half and had nothing better than a tie.
More amazingly yet in the final analysis, Cincy almost won even without a single touchdown from scrimmage.
Stanford Jennings' 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown put the 49ers up, 13-6.
That's when Montana came back firing at his laser-beam- like, 357-yard best. The touchdown for 13-all whizzed 14 yards to Rice.
Two series later, Breech's third field goal popped the Bengals into a 16-13 lead.
And here came Montana again, hitting Rice three times despite swarms of defenders.
Finally, more dramatically than the deepest-dyed pro football optimist dared hope, Montana pegged the 10-yarder to Taylor for the winner.
Splendid effort. And not just by the 49ers, although they will take the glory and Sam Wyche's Bengals will sink back, as inevitably as unfairly, back into the maligned ranks of Super Bowl losers.
The strangest thing of all is that the team of the 1980s almost wasn't even the team of Jan. 22, 1989.
That the 49ers eventually proved to be both, with only a terrifying 34 seconds left, made this the finest of Super Bowls.
Excluding, embarrassingly, all those poor people on wheels.