Quarterback Joe Montana, the most valuable player in Super Bowl XVI, said he felt that the 49ers' 26-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals was vindication of a team that was underrated all year.

"People around the country still didn't believe in us," he said, "even after we beat Dallas, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and the others."

But Montana. who completed 14 of 22 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown, said he graded his own performance only B-minus or C because "there were times I should have gotten out of there."

The 49er quarterback said his team's poor field position through much of the second half dictated a more conservative play selection than San Francisco had used in building a 20-0 halftime lead.

"We did exactly what (Coach) Bill (Walsh) told us not to," he said. "At halftime, we said we can't get big penalties and let the momentum switch. But the first four plays, there were three penalties in the second half.

"After that, we had bad field position and that dictated what we could do."

Walsh called Montana "one of the coolest competitors and one of the great instinctive players the game has ever seen. And he's just starting out."

Offensive guard Randy Cross, one of the 49er veterans who suffered through successive 2-14 seasons before the team's rise to 6-10 in 1980 and 13-3 in 1981, noted that even when Cincinnati scored twice in the second half to cut the lead to 20-14, "Montana was totally calm.

"The only time he got a little concerned was at the beginning of the second half when they blitzed and blitzed and blitzed and we didn't pick up a lot of it."

Montana said the championship of the National Football League was not something the 49ers had thought about at the beginning of the year.

"It was tough to think Super Bowl," he said. "We wanted to improve our record, that's all. We had three rookies starting in the defensive backfield and me starting for the first time."

The 49ers posted the best regular-season record in the NFL, but Montana said they still had not convinced everybody.

"People didn't believe we were a playoff team, let alone where we are now," he said. "People still weren't convinced. It was disheartening but we stuck together as a unit."

Montana said that the emotion of the victory was beginning to sink in.

"I guess I'll feel it more when I leave here," he said.

And what can the third-year quarterback do for an encore?

"Hopefully," he said, "come back here a few more times."

While Montana was the offensive star, kicker Ray Wersching played a key role, tying a Super Bowl record with four field goals, from 22 and 26 yards in the second quarter and 40 and 23 yards in the fourth. In addition, his difficult-to-handle kickoffs put the Bengals in a hole in the first half.

"We had not been doing that all year, but we sure worked on it all week here," said Wersching, whose kickoff following his 22-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in the first half was fumbled by Archie Griffin. With the recovery by the 49ers, Wersching trotted out again and booted a 26-yarder for the quickest back-to-back scores in Super Bowl history.

"Did I expect it to happen? No way. I was just tickled to death to go out there and get the field goal," Wersching said. "Those second-half field goals were just a matter of lining it up like any other field goals and kicking it."

The 49ers are the first team to go from a losing record one season to a Super Bowl championship the next.

Wersching said his 40-yard kick, making the score 23-14, clinched the game. "I thought to myself, 'We need this,' and I thought it would clinch it," he said.

"It's unbelievable. It's hard to describe what we have done. Basically, it was a dream that actually came true."