The 1989 NFL playoffs marked the definitive statement that the San Francisco 49ers were the team of the 1980s. The 49ers won their fourth Super Bowl and did it with the great playoff runs in the history of any sport. Here are the key highlights from that postseason.
*San Francisco demolished Minnesota, the Los Angeles Rams and Denver Broncos in succession. To put that in perspective, the Vikings were widely considered one of the most talented teams in the NFL in the late 1980s. The Rams were the one team that had shown the ability to match up with the 49ers head-to-head, winning one game in 1989 and losing another in the closing moments. And John Elway’s Broncos were merely the standard for the AFC, reaching their third Super Bowl in four years.
The results of those games—the combined final score was 126-26. The 49ers allowed just two touchdowns the entire postseason and both of those came late in blowout games. Joe Montana had the signature playoff run of his Hall of Fame career. In the three games combined, Montana completed 65-of-83 passes for 800 yards with a TD/INT ratio of 11-0. Not bad.
The ultimate winner of the 1989 NFL playoffs might have been a foregone conclusion, especially with San Francisco coming off a dominating 14-2 regular season where Montana won the MVP award, but there was plenty of excitement and storylines in other games, including the following…
*Sunday of the divisional round produced two outstanding games. The Rams went overtime to beat Bill Parcells’ New York Giants 19-13 in the early afternoon game. A key pass interference call on Sheldon White put the Rams in scoring position and then Jim Everett hit Flipper Anderson on a 30-yard touchdown pass over the middle to win it.
In the late game, Denver turned back an upset bid by a determined Pittsburgh Steelers, rallying from deficits of 10-0, 17-7 and finally 23-17 late, with a vintage Elway drive to score the game-winning TD with 2:27 left.
*Cleveland and Buffalo staged a great divisional game of their own in the early Saturday afternoon TV window. The field was ice, but Bernie Kosar and Jim Kelly each played well. Kelly threw for over 400 yards, but Kosar was more efficient—20/29 for 251 yards and no interceptions, while Kelly was picked off twice.
The Bills’ missed an extra point when Scott Norwood slipped on the ice and consequently trailed 34-30 when they reached the Browns 11-yard line in the closing seconds. Buffalo had to try for the end zone and the result was Clay Matthews Sr. intercepting Kelly to seal the win. The slip on the extra point not only cost the Bills a chance at overtime, but it shifted millions in Las Vegas—Cleveland was a (-3.5) favorite at the betting window.
*1989 was the last playoff year for legendary Steelers’ coach Chuck Noll. His team had slid under the radar just to grab the final playoff spot in the AFC. Then they upset the Houston Oilers in an overtime wild-card game and looked ready to do the same in Denver before Elway pulled another rabbit out of his hat.
*Speaking of the Oilers—that playoff loss was the last straw for ownership when it came to head coach Jerry Glanville. In spite of three straight trips to the postseason, Glanville had yet to reach an AFC Championship Game. Blowing a home finale to Cleveland had cost Houston the division title and then came the home wild-card loss to Pittsburgh. Glanville was fired.
The NFC wild-card game saw a similar dynamic—Buddy Ryan’s Eagles, with Super Bowl hopes, had suffered a late loss that cost them the NFC East title to New York. Then Philadelphia played poorly at home in a 21-7 loss to Los Angeles. Ryan kept his job, but this started the discontentment that got him fired after another early exit in the 1990 playoffs.
Those were the big moments of the 1989 NFL playoffs. The wild-card round had coaching consequences, the divisional round was dynamic and the 49ers were historic.