Cincinnati Bengals 21
After 15 years in warm weather venues, the Super Bowl moved to the Pontiac Silverdome in January of 1982. And on a day that saw the wind chill dip below zero, 81,270 football fans settled into the warmth of the spacious dome to enjoy Super Bowl XVI between the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Francisco 49ers.
The Bengals and Niners were unlikely participants considering the lack of fortune by both franchises leading up to the 1981 season. Both clubs were coming off lackluster 6-10 records, and neither was considered to be a serious contender. But both teams fooled the experts as San Francisco posted the best record in the NFL at 13-3, thanks to an influx of new talent, while the Bengals registered a convincing 12-4 record, good enough for best in the AFC.
The Bengals defeated Buffalo, 28-21, and San Diego, 27-7, in the AFC playoffs, while the 49ers were busy knocking off the New York Giants, 38-24, and the Dallas Cowboys, 28-27. A last-minute Joe Montana pass to Dwight Clark, now known simply as "The Catch", allowed San Francisco to squeak by the Cowboys in the NFC Championship game.
San Francisco began Super Bowl XVI in just about the worst way possible. Amos Lawrence fumbled the opening kickoff and the Bengals' John Simmons recovered it at the 26-yard line. But things quickly turned in the Niners favor when Dwight Hicks intercepted a Kenny Anderson pass at the five-yard line and returned the football 27 yards to the San Francisco 32.
Montana quickly led the 49ers 68 yards in 11 plays, with the first score of the game coming on a 1-yard quarterback sneak.
Early in the second quarter, the Bengals were at the San Francisco 27 and driving when Anderson completed a 19-yard pass to Cris Collinsworth. As he was tackled by Eric Wright, the ball came loose, and Lynn Thomas recovered on the 8-yard line. Once again, the opportunistic 49ers took advantage of the turnover, and twelve plays later, they capped off a Super Bowl record 92-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Earl Cooper.
The Bengals continued to shoot themselves in the foot, allowing the 49ers to close out the first half by scoring two field goals within 13 seconds. With 18 seconds remaining before halftime, Ray Wersching kicked a 22-yard field goal, increasing the Niners' lead to 17-0. On the ensuing kickoff, Archie Griffin had trouble corralling the ball at the 15, and Milt McColl of the 49ers covered it at the four. After an illegal procedure penalty, Wershing kicked a 26-yard field goal to boost San Francisco's halftime lead to 20-0.
With their backs to the wall, the Bengals came out with more determination in the second half. They took the kickoff down the field in ten plays, with Anderson running the ball in from the five-yard line. Two possessions later, they were on the move again. On a third-and-23 situation, Anderson connected with Collinsworth for 49 yards to the San Francisco 14. Five plays later the Bengals were looking at a first-and-goal at the three-yard line.
In what was probably the most dramatic and defining series of the game, the 49ers' defense came up big when they really needed to. After fullback Pete Johnson gained two yards on first down, the Bengals were held to no gain on the three plays that followed. Amazingly, San Francisco had just ten men on the field when they stuffed Johnson on fourth down.
Cincinnati cut the lead to six early in the fourth quarter when Anderson connected with tight end Dan Ross for a four yard touchdown pass, but San Francisco answered with a time-consuming drive that led to another field goal. Wersching added a record-setting fourth field goal a few minutes later, putting the game out of reach.
Cincinnati added another touchdown late in the game, but when their onside kick found the arms of Dwight Clark, any hope the Bengals had was gone. San Francisco held on to defeat Cincinnati, 26-21!