When the Cincinnati Bengals took a 16-13 lead over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII on a 40-yard field goal by Jim Breech with 3:20 remaining in the game, Bengals receiver Cris Collinsworth overheard a couple teammates talking as if the game were over, that the Bengals had won their first Super Bowl, that it was time to start thinking about an all-night party.
Collinsworth quickly turned to his teammates and yelled, "Are you guys nuts? You think this is over? Don't you see who's out there?"
He was referring, of course, to 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, one of the history's greatest comeback magicians. He had already won two Super Bowls -- in 1982 and 1984 -- and his name was already linked to the greatest quarterback winners in NFL history: John Unitas, Bart Starr and Terry Bradshaw.
The audacity of these Bengals to insinuate that the game was over, that they had beaten the unflappable Montana and indomitable 49ers. How foolish could they be?
January 22, 1989, Miami. Montana, cool as always, comes running off the sidelines and into the huddle with 3:10 left in the game, bursting with confidence. He already knows that the Bengals' defense is tiring, that it is not equipped to launch much of a pass rush.
Montana and coach Bill Walsh decide that the way to dissect Cincinnati and win the title is with short, precise, accurate passes out of a no-huddle offense. Montana walks to the line on the first play, staring 92 yards downfield at the other goal post, and begins the drive by hitting running back Roger Craig for eight yards, tight end John Frank for seven more and Jerry Rice for seven on a cleverly executed sideline play.
"When we looked in Joe's eyes, you could see his confidence," offensive tackle Bubba Paris would say after the game. "And it flowed right through the offense."
Calling two plays at a time, Montana hands off twice to Craig for a first down at the 49ers' 35. Montana then completes a 17-yard pass to Rice near the sidelines and a 13-yard dart to Craig, bringing the ball down to the Cincinnati 35.
After purposely throwing a pass out of bounds, Montana completes a 5-yard pass to Craig over the middle, but it is nullified as center Randy Cross is penalized for being illegally downfield. That makes it second-and-20 at the Cincinnati 45, the critical moment in the title showdown.
As Montana rattles off the call, Rice races out and slithers between the Bengals' Lewis Billups and Ray Horton. Montana then drills a 27-yard pass over the middle to Rice to the Bengals' 18.
Never had a quarterback driven his team the length of the field for the winning touchdown in the final minute of a Super Bowl. The only other Super Bowl decided in the final minute was Super Bowl V, when Baltimore's Jim O'Brien kicked a 32-yard field goal with five seconds left, giving the Colts a 16-13 victory over Dallas. That game-winner was set up by an intercepted pass.
During this drive, Montana is so excited that while screaming during the drive, he gets dizzy and almost hyperventilates. Yet he never loses his focus and poise. From the Cincinnati 18, Montana throws to Craig for eight yards to the 10, then calls time out with 39 seconds remaining.
On the sideline, Walsh and Montana discuss the final-play options. They agree on "20 Halfback Curl, X Up." Craig is the primary receiver on the pass play. From the 10, Montana takes the Niners to the line and surveys the situation in the Bengals' secondary. Rice lines up on side, John Taylor on the other. Taylor is catchless on this day. Rice has grabbed 11 passes for a record 215 yards.
The ball is snapped. Rice runs an out. Craig sneaks out of the backfield. Taylor races past the Bengals' linebackers, inside of the weak safety, and heads toward the back of the end zone. Montana spots Taylor and fires a bullet ... which Taylor snares for a title-winning touchdown. The clock shows 34 seconds left. The 49ers' celebration begins shortly thereafter, and a legend grows bigger in stature.
"There's only one thing to say about Joe Montana," Walsh would say later. "He's the best there is and the best there ever was. Period."