Golden Football Magazine
Football Profiles
Bill Walsh - VII

Lawrence Taylor harasses Joe Montana

John Ayers

Bill Walsh and Tom Landry

Bellhop Walsh takes Montana's bag.

Ronnie Lott

Ken Anderson, Super Bowl XVI

Dwight Hicks in Super Bowl XVI

49ers reverse in SB XVI

Mike Shumann

Ed DeBartolo and Bill Walsh in the 49ers victory parade.

In Bill Walsh's third season as head coach, the San Francisco 49ers made the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
  • As winners of the NFC West, the 49ers had a week off before playing the New York Giants, who upset the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Wild Card game the week before. Furthermore, SF would have home field advantage throughout the playoffs because of their 13-3 record, one game better than the Cowboys.
  • The Niners had beaten the Giants 17-10 during the regular season.
  • Walsh encountered an unexpected problem while preparing for the playoff game - rains inundated the team's practice fields, forcing them to move down the road to Stanford.
  • A gooey turf at Candlestick Park would favor the run-heavy Giants offense and make it easier for their ferocious D, led by LB Lawrence Taylor, to stifle SF's varied attack.
  • Getting Taylor blocked was the biggest challenge for the offensive staff, whose game plan prescribed passes on 17 of the first 22 plays. They decided to pull LG John Ayers on passing plays to protect QB Joe Montana's blind side.
  • Slowed by Ayers as well as the sloppy field, Taylor registered nary a sack as Montana completed 15 of 22 for almost 300y in the first half to take a 24-10 lead. The final tally was 38-24.
That cleared the decks for a clash with the 49ers' franchise nemesis.
  • The last three times the Niners made the playoffs, they were eliminated by the same team - the Dallas Cowboys. Furthermore, Dallas won each game with a fourth-quarter comeback.
  • So the game was more than the NFL Title Game. It was a grudge match.
  • The 49ers had played Dallas each of the last three years. The Cowboys won the first two, 21-13 and a humiliating 59-14. But SF had spanked the Cowboys 45-14 on October 11, 1981, in Candlestick.
  • A master of pyschology as well as offensive schemes, Walsh encouraged the "We hate the Cowboys" attitude of the fans and team. In speaking to his team, he referred to Tom Landry's squad as "this goddamn Dallas team" and complained that, They can't keep their mouths shut. ... They say, "This time the 49ers will be meeting the real Cowboys." Their press releases are all about how they're going to kick ass. They're so arrogant ... Nobody ever beats the "real" DallasCowboys. if they lose, there's always something missing, the airplane food isn't just right, or their accommodations are wrong. Well, I'm fed up with this bullshit. ... We're going to knock them all over the field.
  • With the Bay Area still rain-drenched, owner Eddie DeBartolo flew the team to Los Angeles, where they used the Rams' facility to prepare.
  • Walsh's game plan called for confusing the Doomsday Defense's front four with false reads and using two TEs and men in motion to force favorable matchups in the secondary.
  • Confident that his team was quicker at every position than the Cowboys, Walsh was amazingly calm as game time approached.
  • With the field in better shape than the week before, the game turned out to be a classic that was decided by Montana's off-balance pass to TE Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone in the last minute, a play immortalized as "The Catch."
  • 49ers 28 Cowboys 27

Bill Walsh had rewarded DeBartolo's faith in him by bringing the 49ers to the Super Bowl in his third year at the helm.

  • The opponent would be none other than the Cincinnati Bengals, also making their first appearance in the Big Game.
  • The same Bengals for whom Walsh worked as offensive assistance the first eight years of the franchise, 1968-75.
  • The same Bengals that had Paul Brown as their president, the man who passed over Walsh as his successor as head coach and worked to block Bill from obtaining an NFL head coach job until DeBartolo hired him.
  • The Niners had defeated the Bengals at Cincinnati 21-3 in Week 14. From that point on, Walsh anticipated facing his old club again in Super Bowl XVI.

Besieged by the usual army of reporters in the week before the game, Bill denied that the history between him and his mentor had any bearing on the upcoming game.

  • But he couldn't fool his players. Ronnie Lott recalled, Make no mistake. Walsh would have done anything to beat the Bengals. Although he didn't verbalize his feelings to us, it was obvious that Walsh was obsessed with showing up Brown.
  • Despite their loss at home to the Niners December 6, the oddsmakers made the Bengals the favorite, thus adding more fuel to Walsh's competitive fire - as if he needed any.
  • Figuring he had to come up with new wrinkles to defeat the Bengals a second time, Walsh crafted a game plan of 120 possible plays instead of the usual 80.
  • Yet, Bill did a good job of keeping the team loose. Lott: He used every opportunity to turn problems and distractions into jokes and jabs to keep us from worrying too much about the game.

Walsh pulled a neat trick to keep his squad loose when they arrived at their Detroit hotel for the game.

  • He traveled ahead of the team to receive the Coach of the Year award at the Washington D.C. Touchdown Club before an audience that included President Ronald Reagan and a host of other politicians.
  • Arriving in the Motor City a few hours before the team, Bill dressed as a bellhop and met the team's buses arriving from the airport. He carried in a few bags before someone recognized him, setting off laughter throughout the San Francisco contingent.

Bill stayed relaxed on game day despite the fact that the team's second bus, carrying the owner and head coach, got caught in a traffic jam a half mile from the stadium.

  • Walsh got on the bus's PA system and told the team they were missing the start of the game, but that the equipment manager was calling the plays, his assistant was at QB, and they'd just scored to take a 7-0 lead.
  • When he finally arrived at the Pontiac Dome, he waived his ban on playing music out loud in the locker room. Bill made Montana play a Kenny Loggins song over and over on his boom box at top volume: This is it! Make no mistake where you are. This is it! ...
  • Walsh didn't give a lengthy pregame speech. He simply reminded his team that they had beaten the Bengals before and predicted Cincy would be a bit gun shy.

The game started badly for the Niners but they kept their composure.

  • A fumble on the opening kickoff gave the Bengals the ball on SF's 26. They drove to the 5, where a sack forced QB Ken Anderson to go to the air. Dwight Hicks intercepted and returned to the 32.
    Anderson had started his career under Walsh when Bill was the offensive coordinator for the Bengals.
  • That set up a 68y TD drive in which the biggest game came on a trick play Walsh had installed for the occasion. Montana handed to HB Ricky Patterson who started on a sweep before handed the ball to Freddie Solomon on a reverse. Solomon in turn tossed the ball back to Montana who completed a 14y pass to Charle Young.
  • Bill was giving Paul Brown a taste of his own medicine, since the legendary coach always wanted a "special" play in the game plan that his team would run before the opponent ran his.
  • Another wrinkle Walsh added was an unbalanced line that helped confuse the Bengals as the 49ers built the biggest lead in Super Bowl history, 20-0.
  • Like a proud team, Cincinnati fought back in the second half, mounting a long drive for a TD to make it 20-7.
  • Cincy quickly got the ball back and soon were playing 1st-and-Goal from the 3. That set up what 49ers folklore calls "The Stand." Two plunges gained little, then a swing pass to the HB was stuffed to set up 4th down. Another FB plunge was met by a wall of white jerseys.

    49ers stuff Pete Johnson during goal line stand in Super Bowl XVI
But the game was far from over.
  • When the 49ers could not move out from their red zone, Cincinnati got good field position and this time put a TD on the board to make it 20-14 with 10:35 left in the game.
  • At that point, SF had yet to make a first down in the second half. Later, some of the 49ers attributed their inept offense to Bill's uncharacteristic loss of nerve. WR Mike Shumann: It was the first time I ever saw Bill trying not to lose rather than trying to win. His play calling had just tightened up, and he got really conservative for the first time since he came here. I think he just wanted to beat Cincinnati so bad. Whatever the reason, there was a little rumbling on the sidelines at that point. We were all saying that we had to get more aggressive.
  • On their next possession, the Niners ate up almost half the remaining time and added a FG to extend their lead to nine points.
  • An interception on the Bengals' first snap after the kickoff led to another FG to make it 26-14.
  • Still, the Bengals wouldn't quit. Anderson completed six straight passes, the last one for a TD with 0:20 on the clock.

The 49ers, just 2-14 two seasons earlier, were Super Bowl champions!

  • The victory parade a few days later brought San Francisans together like nothing since the 1906 earthquake.
  • Bill was deeply moved. I saw young people, tall people, short people, people of color, Asian people, much older people. I saw every cross section of people, all standing in unison, from the executives who came out of the office buildings to the people who clean the streets, right next to each other, screaming. It was just the most electrifying moment I’ve ever had.
  • The procession ended at City Hall where the mayor presented Bill the key to the city. One of the signs in the crowd proclaimed, WHAT HATH WALSH WROUGHT?
To be continued ...
Building a Champion: On Football and the Making of the 49ers, Bill Walsh with Glenn Dickey (1990)
The Genius
, David Harris (2016)
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