Editor’s note: The 2013 season marks the 25th anniversary of the Cincinnati Bengals’ Super Bowl XXIII run, and each weekend Bengals reporter Jay Morrison has helped readers relive that season with a recap of the corresponding game from 1988.
There were 157 plays run in Super Bowl XXIII, but 25 years later only three come immediately to mind for most Cincinnati Bengals fans.
The first was the broken leg nose tackle Tim Krumrie suffered midway through the first quarter.
The second was Stanford Jennings’ 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that gave the Bengals a 13-6 lead with 34 seconds left in the quarter.
And the third, obviously, was San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana’s 10-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left, sending the Bengals to a 20-16 loss.
“I’m disappointed we lost, but I’m disappointed in the way we played,” Cincinnati coach Sam Wyche said afterward. “Offensively and defensively we played a whale of a game. I don’t ask anything more of them than the effort they gave today.
“Sometimes you win with that kind of effort,” Wyche added. “This one we didn’t. What hurts is we came so far this season. But losing is hard. We were 34 seconds away.”
The Bengals took a 16-13 lead on Jim Breech’s third field goal with 3:20 remaining.
But Montana drove San Francisco 92 yards in 11 plays, completing 8 of 9 passes for 97 yards. Three of those passes went to Jerry Rice for 51 yards, helping him finish with a Super Bowl record 215 yards and the MVP award.
And it was the added attention the Bengals gave Rice that allowed Taylor to sneak up the seam and into Super Bowl immortality with his only catch of the game.
“Our defense played real well, but on that last drive they just made some helluva catches,” said Bengals cornerback Lewis Billups, who many Cincinnati fans still regard as the goat of the game.
Not only was Billups the one assigned to Rice on his record-breaking day, but he dropped an interception in the end zone one play before Montana hit Rice with a game-tying TD pass early in the fourth quarter. And Billups also missed a tackle on Rice’s 27-yard catch that set up the game-winning TD pass to Taylor.
The heroes of the game for the Bengals were Krumrie, who refused to go to the hospital after breaking the tibia and fibula in his left leg so that he could talk to his teammates at halftime, and Jennings, whose kick return provided the team’s only touchdown.
“I think it gave us a little bit of a lift for a little while,” Jennings said of his big play. “It would have been great with a victory, but without that it’s hard to give it much.”
The Bengals came into the game with the No. 1-ranked offense in the league, but they managed 229 total yards. Offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet refused to shoulder any of the blame afterward.
“The play calling by me and Sam (Wyche) was excellent,” Coslet said. “They have to execute the plays.”
In addition to the anemic offense, the other big disappointment was the plight of running back Stanley Wilson, who suffered a cocaine relapse the night before the game and then disappeared from the team hotel. Well after the game, none of his teammates or coaches knew where he was.
“Stanley Wilson didn’t screw up,” Wyche said. “The cocaine overtook him. Our country is going to hell in a handbasket and we don’t know it. This is a symptom of it. I still love the man. I’m still pulling for his life.”
From the Wilson situation to Krumrie’s injury to an ineffective offense to a remarkable effort by Rice, everything seemed to work against the Bengals that day, and yet they still came within 34 seconds of pulling out the victory.
“All year long the ball has been bouncing our way, but tonight it didn’t,” safety David Fulcher said. “A few plays here and there and we might be the ones jumping up and down and saying we’re the Super Bowl champions.”
Super Bowl XXIII
Jan. 22, 1989
San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16
At Joe Robbie Stadium
Cincinnati Bengals 0 3 10 3 — 16
San Francisco 49ers 3 0 3 14 — 20
SF: Mike Cofer 41 field goal, 11:46
C: Jim Breech 34 field goal, 13:45
C: Breech 43 field goal, 9:21
SF: Cofer 32 field goal, 14:10
C: Stanford Jennings 93 kick return (Breech kick), 14:26
SF: Jerry Rice 14 pass from Joe Montana (Cofer kick), 0:57
C: Breech 40 field goal, 11:40
SF: John Taylor 10 pass from Montana (Cofer kick), 14:26
Cincinnati – Boomer Esiason 11-25-1-144; San Francisco – Joe Montana 23-36-357
Cincinnati – Ickey Woods 20-79, James Brooks 6-24, Stanford Jennings 1-3, Boomer Esiason 1-0; San Francisco – Roger Craig 17-74, Tom Rathman 5-23, Joe Montana 5-9, Jerry Rice 1-5
Cincinnati – Eddie Brown 4-44, Cris Collinsworth 3-40, Tim McGee 2-23, James Brooks 1-20, Ira Hillary 1-17; San Francisco – Jerry Rice 11-215, Roger Craig 8-101, Tom Rathman 1-16, John Frank 2-15, John Taylor 1-10