This Week in Sports History: Super Bowl XXIX

Victory in sports is never guaranteed, much less in a high-risk, high-intensity game like American football. No sport is as war-like and, just as in a real battle, the outcome can never be predicted. In the same way, though, the superiority of one all but guarantees a defeat for the other. Super Bowl XXIX, on the back of San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Joe Montana, was one of those moments. Jan. 28, 1990 brought about the destruction of the Denver Broncos on a national stage to the tune of a 55-10 demolishing. 

The tone was set before the game began; Montana’s 49ers had just bagged their first set of Super Bowl rings a year ago and headed into this year’s as the clear alpha, as their 14-2 record on the year was the best in the league. Making matters worse for John Elway’s Broncos, none of the 49ers’ playoff opponents stood a chance — the Minnesota Vikings were torched 13-41, and the Los Angeles Rams couldn’t get a touchdown on the board, collapsing under a 27-point deficit and losing 3-30. The most crippling factor of all, though, was Denver’s inability to adapt to the game. Their 3-4 defense, which was on the fast track to becoming out-dated, was favored by the Broncos — so much so, in fact, that they’d been using the same defensive formation, without change, for ten games straight before the matchup. For Joe Montana and legendary coach, Bill Walsh, this factor would be child’s play to exploit. 

Exploit, they did; their first touchdown came after the Broncos’ three-and-out gave them a quick opportunity to score and, 66 yards later, Jerry rice took a 20-yard pass to the house. While the Broncos were able to get in field goal range and cut the difference to four points, this moment would be the last semblance of competition that Montana would face. Bobby Humphrey was unable to capitalize on good field position, fumbling the rock at the 46-yard mark and handing another possession to Niners. Another touchdown put them at 13-3, as placekicker Mike Cofer whiffed the attempt. The beginning of the second quarter mirrored the start of the first, as Elway was unable to secure a first down, once again, punting to the hungry Niners. Once again, Montana ripped their defense apart and, after a goal-line score by Tom Rathman, the Broncos fell another seven points behind.

Denver’s play at this point, especially Elway’s, was unremarkable. They were often times incapable of securing a new set of downs, and other times just too incompetent to not turn the ball over. While San Francisco would see continuous scores from the likes of Rice and Rathman, Elway’s most significant passes were those that were turned over. His first hit after the half, when 6’3″ linebacker Michael Walter picked Elway off on his very first pass of the third quarter — even if the 49ers didn’t score on a drive, they always seemed to make up for it. In typical Niners’ fashion, the interception’s momentum carried through to the offense, as Rice yet again took a 28-yard pass and put six on the board. Chet Brooks, the safety who recovered Humphrey’s fumble earlier, picked off Elway once more, putting the ball in a nuclear Montana’s hands. He didn’t disappoint, hitting receiver John Taylor for yet another score. While the Broncos were able to put up another seven off, an Elway QB draw and an extra point, the damage had already been done — heading into the fourth, the 49ers were smothering them 41-10. 

Being up by such a wide margin didn’t stop San Francisco from hanging more onto them. Between Rathman and RB Roger Craig, they put up 14 points in two minutes after dragging the clock out for seven minutes, recovering a fumble immediately after the Broncos regained possession. This is where the scoring came to a close, and the final score would end 55-10, a profoundly embarrassing loss for Denver. Not only was their defense porous and easy to read, but their offense was pitiful against San Francisco’s defense. While Montana set a new passing touchdown record with five, was never intercepted and only sacked once, Elway felt the full brunt of the Niners’ defensive squad. He was sacked six times, fumbled once and was intercepted twice at very crucial moments. The team, as a whole, fumbled three times, and every one of those miscues led to a Bronco’s score. While this would be Montana’s second straight Lombardi trophy, this would be Elway’s third straight Super Bowl loss. While Elway has his own place in the Hall of Fame, there’s no mistaking that Montana, with performances like these at the highest stage, was in a league of his own.