Iconic Miami Herald sports columnist Edwin Pope, who died January 19, covered the first 47 Super Bowls. This column from Super Bowl XIX, which pitted Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins against Joe Montana’s San Francisco 49ers, originally ran on Jan. 21, 1985.
PALO ALTO, Calif. – Fog rolled into Stanford Stadium Sunday night, a bleakly precise metaphor for the Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX.
Long before that, they were wrapped in their own fog in this 38-16 mugging by Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers.
The fog first enveloped the defense. Quite simply, it never made anything but 49er touchdowns happen the whole mean day.
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San Francisco's offense treated inside linebackers Jay Brophy and Mark Brown like . . . well, if not like members of the San Francisco Children's Choir that serenaded the nation beforehand, at least like exactly what Brophy and Brown are – a rookie and a second-year man.
It didn't treat other Dolphin defenders markedly better. Hardly a man on the D can be held blameless, for all the 49ers' brilliance.
The fog also spread like virus through the Dolphin coaching brain trust.
You couldn't blame the sideline direction for all of Montana's magnificence. Heaven knows, Miami's defense has been wasted by lesser talents.
But why did the Dolphins abandon the no-huddle system that worked so well on their only touchdown drive?
And it never made an adjustment while 49er Head Coach Bill Walsh was running in a radical six-back alignment, with only one linebacker, even on early Dolphin offensive downs.
“I made some bad throws,” said Dan Marino, who could squeeze only one touchdown out of his 318 yards, was intercepted twice and sacked four times. “And they dictated some things to us, playing five, six and seven defensive backs.”
Meanwhile, in such a defensive mess, why not at least try linebacker A.J. Duhe for more than a token few plays?
Why not take a bit more of a shot with raw but aggressive Mike Charles on the line?
Nothing else was working. Nothing else ever did.
Inevitably, then, the fog spread to Marino's hitherto wondrous offense. The man who blazed through the hottest NFL quarterbacking season ever was sent swirling about like a feather in a blizzard.
Never before has a team facing Marino, and seldom has any team in any Super Bowl, flown into a frenzy of joy with two minutes left in the game.
The 49ers did, unrestrainedly.
The last – and undeserved – bitter touch came when Montana was announced as Most Valuable Player while the Dolphins had the ball with a minute and 11 seconds to play.
That was a classless act by the National Football League. The way the Dolphins played, though, they were in no position to complain.
This fog had not come in, as Carl Sandburg wrote, "on little cat's feet," but on the 49ers' equivalent of hobnailed boots.
When Uwe von Schamann scores more than half of Miami's points on three first-half field goals – and what kind of odds could you have gotten on that? – the Dolphins are in trouble.
Trouble even with a capital T doesn't begin to tell the Dolphins' Super Bowl XIX story, more than beaten, absolutely stupefied by 537 yards of 49er offense against a pale 314 for what until Sunday looked very much like the best offensive team football ever had.
Montana's record 331 yards and three touchdowns passing and record 59 yards and one touchdown rushing were bad enough. You expected the 49ers to score and score and score. But time after time this season the Dolphins had come back from being raked by offensive fire.
This time they floundered like their namesakes on desert sand.
I don't know what it is with the Dolphins in Super Bowls. If you should figure it out, give them a buzz. The fact is, even winning at the ends of the 1972 and 1973 seasons, in five Super Bowls now they have gotten steadily worse in each quarter:
First quarter – Dolphins 38, opponents 10.
Second quarter – Dolphins 29, opponents 38.
Third quarter – Dolphins 7, opponents 20.
Fourth quarter – Dolphins 0, opponents 35.
All right, the Dolphins got a lousy break when officials failed to recognize a Freddie Solomon fumble recovered by Lyle Blackwood. That would have given Miami the ball deep in San Francisco territory when they were behind, 21-10, in the second quarter.
That may have made it closer. For a while. It wouldn't have helped for long. Not the way Miami's defense was being shredded by Montana for 21 unanswered points.
Raise huzzahs to Montana. He never let up, nickel-and- diming the Dolphins to distraction with short passes and then busting the outside perimeter that failed repeatedly although the Dolphins knew, above all, they would pay through the nose every time they gave this grasshopper room on the outside.
“Montana was scrambling around back there all day,” said Brown, the young linebacker who endured so much. “The longer the QB has the ball, scrambling around, the harder it is to stay with the receivers.”
No one will argue that point.
Montana opened the outside bombardment with a 15-yard run when pressuring Kim Bokamper slipped on a third and seven on the 49ers' first touchdown drive.
After that it was almost taunting: Threaten them with it and then sock 'em with it. Montana would sprint out and find Roger Craig (82 yards receiving) or Dwight Clark (72) or Wendell Tyler (70) or Russ Francis (60) with pitches that made the Dolphin secondary seem rooted in cement.
And then, as the ultimate incentive, the 49ers had something very personal to take out on the Marino Machine.
“Sure, we were motivated by all the attention everybody gave Marino and the Miami offense,” Montana said. “That's all we heard all week long, Miami's offense and how were we going to stop them? We didn't say anything, but deep inside we were thinking we have an offense, too, and no one was thinking about having to stop us.”
Not true. The Dolphins thought plenty about it. They just couldn't do it.
Montana added pertinently, “They were covering back a lot.”
Meaning, the Dolphins were playing soft defense instead of the attacking variety – the same pattern that required Marino's fantastic 55-touchdown season to bring them here at all.
Dolphins' Coach Don Shula held up his head and faced the music.
“The 49ers are the best. When you get beat the way we got beat, you just take off your hat to the victor. Every time we seemed to have a lot of pressure, Montana scrambled and made plays on his own or hit receivers crossing.”
Shula wassn't giving his offense any more points than the 49ers did.
“Our offense's worst game,” he said. “Our punter [Reggie Roby] didn't do the job and our defense didn't do the job. I'd like to make all kinds of excuses, but we just didn't get the job done.”
Shula added, “You can't get dragged down, you've got to think about all the good things that happened this year.”
Sunday night, in the fog that started early and still will linger today, it was difficult.