Happy birthday to Joe Montana, who is often regarded as one of the most clutch quarterbacks in NFL history. Joe Cool, if you will.
Joe’s legacy of big-time rallies started all the way back to his playing days at Notre Dame. In the last collegiate game of his career, Montana brought the Fighting Irish back from a huge deficit to beat Houston, 35-34, in the Cotton Bowl. The game was known as the “Chicken Soup Game” because Montana had fallen ill, which forced him to take fluids intravenously and dine on chicken soup to be able to play.
In honor of Montana’s birthday, it seems like a good time to count down his six greatest comebacks. Well, good time is not the word this former Los Angeles Rams fan would choose. And researching this was kind of a bummer, too. Thankfully I was too young to remember many of these painful games, but it didn’t make it any more enjoyable! In fact, only 49ers fans are going to enjoy this.
Actually Chiefs fans can enjoy it, too.
Dishonorable mention: Oct. 23, 1983 over the Los Angeles Rams
The Rams led 28-17 as they headed into the fourth quarter after Eric Dickerson caught a touchdown pass from Vince Ferragamo. And then Ferragamo threw another after Montana’s touchdown pass to Renaldo Nehemiah. But Montana hit Dwight Clark with a touchdown pass. Then the 49ers recovered the ball in the end zone after Dickerson fumbled and Montana led another scoring drive for a big win over the host Rams. This win was significant because the Rams would have swept the season series and played host in the playoffs.
And without further ado …
Oct. 17, 1994 vs. the Denver Broncos
There might have been bigger deficits, but this was one of the all-time classics in NFL history. Montana had been jettisoned by the 49ers and landed in Kansas City. And here on “Monday Night Football”, he was up against John Elway. Down 28-24, Montana showed he still had some of that magic left as he carved up the Broncos’ D and delivered a strike to Willie Davis for the winner.
Dec. 7, 1980 vs. the New Orleans Saints
Before he won the Super Bowl, Montana authored the greatest comeback in NFL history at that time. And it was also his first. The 49ers trailed the visiting Saints by 28 points at halftime. But Montana rallied the 49ers with a rushing touchdown, two touchdown passes and a scoring drive to send the game into overtime. The 49ers got field goal from Ray Wersching for the win. Why is this not higher on the list? Well, he beat a Manning, so it wasn’t anything special.
Sept. 25, 1989 vs. the Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia’s defense absolutely pounded Montana for most of the game and it looked like this one was going to be a laugher as the host Eagles took a 21-10 lead. And even after a huge touchdown strike by Montana to John Taylor, the Eagles went up 28-17. But Montana led the 49ers on three more touchdown drives in the fourth quarter (and 28 points in total) as San Francisco won by big margin, 38-28. Montana finished with five touchdown passes.
Dec. 11, 1989 vs. the Los Angeles Rams
The Rams held a commanding 27-10 lead in the fourth quarter after Mike Lansford’s field goal. But Montana led three scoring drives, which included a 96-yard touchdown pass to Taylor (his second 90-plus yard touchdown pass to Taylor on the night) to lead the 49ers to a 30-27 victory. This win is significant because the 49ers would beat the Rams in the 1989 NFC Championship Game. Imagine the Rams’ mindset if they went into the ‘Stick with two wins under their belt.
The throw that launched the 49ers’ dynasty. The Dallas Cowboys dominated the 49ers for most of the 1981 NFC Championship Game. Well dominated seems a little extreme. But the Cowboys were leading in the fourth quarter when Montana orchestrated this masterpiece. But if I might have a word … the Cowboys nearly won the game in the final minute when Danny White hit Drew Pearson in stride on a potential touchdown pass, but he was taken to the ground by Eric Wright. White then ultimately fumbled the game away. But still, Montana deserves credit here.
Super Bowl XXIII
A word to the wise, never bring up this game when you talk with Cris Collinsworth. Trust me. The Cincinnati Bengals led the 49ers 16-13 with just 3:20 left in the fourth quarter. Joe Cool rolled out on to the field, took a look in the crowd and said, “Hey look, it’s John Candy.” (Which might or might not be an urban legend, but it sounds cool.) Montana then completed eight of nine passes, good for 97 yards and hit Taylor with the winner with just 34 seconds remaining. Have you noticed Taylor makes the majority of the big catches in 49ers lore? He’s a little underrated, don’t you think?
But happy birthday, Joe. This was anything but a joy.