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Memories: 1995

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In XXIX, It Is the Young
And the Defenseless

By David Aldridge
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 30, 1995

MIAMI, JAN. 29 -- The first hug was from quarterbacks coach Gary Kubiak. Then came several players, including the veteran guard, Jesse Sapolu, a monster embrace from the owner, Eddie DeBartolo, and finally came wide receiver Jerry Rice, with a brotherly clinch. All for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young, finally master of his universe, the conqueror of the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX before 74,107 at Joe Robbie Stadium today, 49-26.

Young earned most valuable player honors with a game that was emblematic of the way he's played the past four seasons. He was 24 of 36 for 325 yards and six touchdowns -- the latter, fittingly, breaking Joe Montana's record of five touchdown passes in Super Bowl XXIV in the 49ers' 55-10 rout of the Denver Broncos five years ago.

In case anybody missed the point, Young also led everyone in rushing, with five carries for 49 yards.

With Young at the helm, the 49ers ripped through the postseason, totaling 131 points in three games. He finally can enjoy the silence of the naysayers who said he would never measure up to Montana. In the one game that counted, Young was as good as Montana ever was.

"The critics and the skeptics started to backpedal" this season, Young said. "But they still could back up to this game. . . . There were many days when I'd get to work and almost want to turn around because it was so difficult. But I look back at that now as one of the most precious times in my life, that I could fight through that."

Young was so good that Rice, who had 10 catches for 149 yards and three touchdown receptions, and running back Ricky Watters, who also had three scores, didn't get one MVP vote between them.

It was another blowout for the National Football Conference, which has won 11 straight Super Bowls over the American Football Conference. It was also a redemption of sorts for Coach George Seifert, who now has two Super Bowl championships in addition to being the coach with the highest winning percentage in league history after six seasons. But he wanted this triumph to be a bridge between generations of San Francisco champions.

"The way {Young} played, he's got to be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time," Seifert said. "To play a game as he did tonight and play the way he did this season. . . . {But} the other thing you have to say is that we're fortunate, I'm fortunate, that I've been a part of an organization that had two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

"Joe Montana was phenomenal and he set the standard. And Steve Young is talented enough and worked hard enough that he could maintain the standard. And we're indebted to Joe and all the other great 49ers that have been part of this organization, because they established this thing. And now we've got to pick up the gauntlet and take it from there."

And it was a triumph of the 49ers' philosophy on hiring players. They made moves despite the salary cap, bringing in talented free agents such as linebacker Rickey Jackson and cornerback Toi Cook and, yes, cornerback Deion Sanders. Those players deferred big paydays for the chance to win a championship. Today, fantasy became reality.

"They have a ring now, and I'm very emotional," said Rice, who, as ESPN reported late Saturday, was hooked up to intravenous fluids late in the week after coming down with a fever. "I haven't really controlled myself, because I wanted this one so bad. And as the final seconds ticked off, I found myself with so much emotion."

For San Diego, which finished 13-6, it was a disappointing end to a season that started great, slowed down and finished strong, with come-from-behind playoff wins over the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers. But the Chargers got into a contest with the wrong opponent today.

"This is not what I thought," Chargers defensive end Leslie O'Neal said. "I worked my whole life to get to this point, and I know you can say we went to Super Bowl XXIX. But it didn't look like there was two teams playing out there. It looked like it was just one team."

The Chargers' best hope was a ball-control game with big back Natrone Means running a lot. But he finished with 13 carries for 33 yards. That left it up to quarterback Stan Humphries, and he couldn't do it alone. He had a couple of passes dropped in the first half that might have changed things, and finished 24 of 49 for 275 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

"It was the first time for us here, and maybe it showed a little bit," Humphries said.

In becoming the first team in league history to win five Super Bowls, the 49ers were dominant. They gained 449 total yards and might have gotten to 600 if they hadn't let up the pressure in the fourth quarter. They had 28 first downs and scored on seven of 14 possessions. They shredded the Chargers' overmatched secondary in the first half, when they scored three touchdowns in their first three possessions. That gave them control of the day, and from then on they made San Diego suffer.

The game was competitive only as long as your nacho cheese dip was warm. The 49ers won the coin toss, and never looked back. It took them three plays to cover 59 yards for their first touchdown, with Young piercing San Diego's two-deep secondary with a 44-yard strike to Rice. By the time Rice caught the pass, he had three steps on both of the Chargers' safeties.

Young said the pass came against a different look from the San Diego defense, and scoring so easily against a new scheme was, as Young put it, "a dagger in the heart."

A few minutes later, it was 14-0. Young scrambled for 21 yards to his 49, and on the next play, sent Watters deep. The pass was supposed to be a corner pattern for the halfback, but Young changed it, telling Watters to go down the middle. Young's perfect play-fake to fullback William Floyd froze San Diego's linebackers, and Watters was in the clear when he caught the ball at the Chargers 30.

He shook off nuisance tackle attempts from safeties Darren Carrington and Stanley Richard, and walked in for the score.

"The wide receivers went out and I just broke out of the backfield," Watters said. "Normally when I run that route the linebackers try to jam me, but Steve's fake was so good the linebackers were in the backfield trying to stop William."

To their credit, the Chargers came right back with a touchdown drive, using running backs Ronnie Harmon and Means on the ground and out of the backfield. They went 78 yards in 13 plays, with a pass interference penalty on Sanders giving them first and goal at the 1. Means dove in on the next play, and John Carney's extra point gave San Diego short-lived hope, bringing the Chargers to 14-7 with 2:44 left in the first quarter.

But San Francisco marched right back down the field. Rice got 19 yards on a reception and 10 yards on a reverse, though he sprained his left shoulder at the end of the run and left the field for a few plays. It didn't matter. Young just went to John Taylor for 12 yards and scrambled for 15 down to the San Diego 15. An offside penalty on the Chargers helped the 49ers get a first and goal at the 5, and Young fired a bullet to Floyd for another score with 13:02 to go in the half. That made it 21-7.

Young put seven more on the board before halftime, driving the 49ers 49 yards in nine plays. He completed 4 of 5 passes, the last moving San Francisco to the San Diego 23. Three plays later, he led Watters perfectly on a swing pass out of the backfield for an eight-yard score, making it 28-7. The Chargers got a 31-yard field goal before the half, but the game may as well have been over.

"I don't know if we were awestruck or what," Chargers Coach Bobby Ross said. "Right from the opening kickoff . . . they put us in poor field position. Maybe some of it was youthfulness; overeagerness, maybe we were a little surprised by the quickness of the 49ers. We should not have been; we played them twice," once in preseason and once at the end of the regular season.

The only drama in the second half was whether Young would break Montana's record. Watters finished his MVP bid with a nine-yard touchdown run early in the third for 35-10. Young tied Montana's mark with a 15-yard crossing pattern to Rice with 3:18 left in the third, and after the Chargers' Andre Coleman took a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, Young drove San Francisco 32 yards for his history-setting throw. Fittingly, it was a slant. To Rice, with 13:49 left to play. After that, only the bettors who took San Diego and the 18 1/2 points were paying attention. Young left to a hero's welcome with 5:45 left to play.

The 49ers had delivered. They had spent the millions on players such as linebacker Ken Norton Jr., who won his third straight championship after coming over from the Dallas Cowboys in free agency. Mission accomplished. San Francisco let the world know that this way will be the 49ers' way for years to come.

Norton's "coming in and getting that third ring is the kind of message that we want to deliver the rest of the league as far as free agency," team president Carmen Policy said. "I don't think what other owners think matters. Because you know what? We won the Super Bowl."


Fastest touchdown: San Francisco, 1 minute 24 seconds into game.
Touchdown passes: 6, Steve Young, San Francisco.
Most Super Bowls won: 5, San Francisco.
Most touchdowns, career: 7, Jerry Rice, San Francisco.
Most receptions, career: 28, Jerry Rice, San Francisco.
Most receiving yards, career: 512, Jerry Rice, San Francisco.
Most combined points, game: 75, San Francisco and San Diego.
Longest kickoff return: 98 yards, Andre Coleman, San Diego (ties Fulton Walker, Miami, 1983).

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© 1995 The Washington Post Company