Super Bowl XIX (Dolphins vs. 49ers): An Ultimate Recount of the Game

Today we have Super Bowl XIX, which was held on January 20, 1985, Inauguration Day at Stanford Stadium in California, between the AFC champion Miami Dolphins and the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers. If you’re looking for the full story of this 1984 season, pick up my Great Eighties book and you’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know about that year and the rest of the eighties.

As always, we have a pop quiz, and then homework at the end of the episode. The pop quiz question for today is, how many teams have played a Super Bowl in their own home state? The answer will come at the end of the podcast.

Prelude to Super Bowl XIX

Super Bowl XIX featured the most regular-season wins by the two teams in Super Bowl history. The teams combined for a 29-3 regular-season record. The team with the “worse” record was the Miami Dolphins, who won only 14 out of their 16 games. The Dolphins started out the season 11-0 and looked on their way to joining their 1972 counterparts as an undefeated Super Bowl champion. But they lost two of three games to AFC West teams San Diego and Los Angeles, and they had to settle for a 14-2 season.

The Dolphins got revenge on the Seahawks for the playoff upset a year before, beating them 31-10. They then played a very surprising opponent in the AFC Championship Game, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh was just 9-7, yet they knocked off the 13-3 Broncos to reach the conference championship. The Dolphins had little trouble dispatching the Steelers, though, beating them 45-28 to advance to their fifth Super Bowl, most in NFL history at the time.

In 1984, Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino broke every record in sight. He threw for 5,084 yards, most in NFL history. He completed 362 of 564 passes, 48 of them going for touchdowns, another NFL record. In fact, those records for yards and completions lasted into the 2000s. They stood for years. His numbers were unheard of.

And that required a lot of good numbers from his receivers; the Marks Brothers, Mark Clayton, and Mark Duper, each went over 1,300 receiving yards. Clayton set the league record with 18 touchdown catches, while Duper had another eight. Running back Tony Nathan had over 500 rushing and receiving yards. Receiver Nat Moore caught six touchdown passes, and tight end Bruce Hardy had another five. The Dolphins were absolutely loaded on offense, and they still had a lot of the talent from their “Killer B’s” defense from two years ago.

As for the 49ers, they came very close to an unbeaten season. They won their first six games, then lost to the Steelers but only because of a controversial pass interference call that could have gone the other way. They finished the season with nine straight wins, ending up at 15-1 for the most wins in a regular season since the NFL expanded the regular season in 1978. In the playoffs, the 49ers struggled a bit with the New York Giants before coming away with a 21-10 victory. They then pounded the Chicago Bears 23-0 to reach their second Super Bowl.

Quarterback Joe Montana was the star of this 49ers team, throwing for 3,630 yards and 28 touchdowns and just ten interceptions. He completed 64.6% of his passes. He also ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns; he was dangerous scrambling out of the pocket. He was helped by running back Wendell Tyler, who rushed for 1,262 yards and seven touchdowns, as well as Roger Craig, who rushed for 649 yards, caught 71 balls for 675 yards and scored ten touchdowns.

Receiver Dwight Clark had the most receiving yards with 880, and Freddie Solomon was not far behind him with 737. Solomon also led the team in receiving touchdowns with ten. On defense, the 49ers had defensive end Dwaine Board who came up with ten sacks, as well as a secondary which sent all four members to the Pro Bowl – Dwight Hicks, Ronnie Lott, Carlton Williamson, and Eric Wright.

Super Bowl XIX: First Quarter

Super Bowl XIX happened to be held on Inauguration Day. Ronald Reagan had just won his second term in office, so he conducted the coin toss from the Oval Office. The Dolphins called heads, the President flipped tails, and the 49ers got the ball to start the game.

On the opening kickoff, 49ers running back Derrick Harmon flubbed the return by catching it on the sideline and immediately stepping out of bounds at his own 6. That put Montana in a bad position to start the game. He managed to pick up a couple of first downs to flip field position, though. He found Tyler for a first down to the 24 off play action, and Clark for another first down at the 36. But the 49ers soon had to punt, and Fulton Walker returned the kick to Miami’s 36.

Marino completed his first pass of the game to Nathan, gaining 25 yards after breaking tackles to the San Francisco 40. Running back Woody Bennett ran for another first down to the 27. Marino completed a couple of short passes, but the Dolphins could not make it beyond the 20. Head coach Don Shula sent on kicker Uwe von Schamann, who had been having a terrible season. Not tonight. He made the 37-yard attempt inside the right upright, and Miami led, 3-0.

Montana struck back, throwing to Craig for six yards on the first play of the next drive. Tyler got a pair of first downs to get to the 48. Soon afterward, facing third-and-long, Montana couldn’t find anyone open. He took off and ran with it down the left sideline for a first down at the 33. It was Montana’s legs that were making a big difference in this game. On the very next play, he fired for Carl Monroe, who hauled it in for a 33-yard touchdown, putting San Francisco on top 7-3.

Shula put in a wrinkle to the Miami offense: he had Marino run no-huddle. It worked like a charm. Nathan ran for five yards, then Marino hit Clayton for a first down at the San Francisco 48. His next three passes all went for first downs – to Duper to the 37, Clayton to the 23, and tight end Dan Johnson to the 2. He then found Johnson again for a two-yard touchdown, and Miami took a 10-7 lead at the end of one quarter.

Super Bowl XIX: Second Quarter

Montana threw to Craig for a first down to the 47, before the 49ers had to punt from midfield. Miami took over at their own 14, and when they came out onto the field, they noticed San Francisco was trying something different. 49ers head coach Bill Walsh put out a dime defense with six defensive backs. This way, if Marino tried running no-huddle again, Walsh wouldn’t have to worry about substituting to cover the pass.

The plan worked brilliantly. Marino looked lost out there for much of the remainder of the game. The Dolphins promptly went three-and-out and punted it back to San Francisco. Punter Reggie Roby’s kick wasn’t a good one, making it only 37 yards to the Miami 47.

Montana started the drive by scrambling for 17 yards, another case of his legs making the difference. He threw to Clark for 15 more, then Tyler ran for about four yards. Montana’s next pass went right over the middle to Craig, who scored from eight yards out. San Francisco was back in the lead, 14-10.

Miami was dazed and confused by the 49ers’ new defensive scheme. They went three-and-out again, and 49ers defensive back Dana McLemore returned the punt 28 yards to the 45. Tyler ran for about nine yards on first down, then Craig got the first down. Montana found tight end, Russ Francis, for a pair of first downs, getting down to the 10. After a four-yard run by Craig, Montana scrambled up the middle for a touchdown. It was the third time Montana had hurt the Dolphins with his legs. San Francisco now led 21-10.

The 49ers forced a third consecutive three-and-out from Marino and the Dolphins offense. Roby didn’t get off a good kick again, and McLemore returned it to the 48. Montana got sacked by defensive end Doug Betters, but he came right back by throwing underneath to Craig for 19 yards and a first down. Montana then pulled it down and took off again, picking up eight yards. Tyler got the next first down to the 21. Montana found Francis just short of another first down, and Harmon picked that one up. Two plays later, Craig ran up the middle for a two-yard touchdown. The 49ers were now up 28-10.

This was the last gasp for Marino and Miami, and fortunately, they caught some oxygen. Marino threw to Nathan to get to the 24, and he went back into the no-huddle which the Dolphins couldn’t use since they kept going three-and-out. He threw to tight end Joe Rose for a first down at the 32.

A screen to Nat Moore got the Dolphins to the 40, then Nathan hauled one in for a first down at the 42. Marino was under heavy pressure as he got away his next pass, complete to Clayton for 15 yards. Marino then hit Rose for 30 more yards. But Ronnie Lott knocked down Marino’s third-down pass, and the Dolphins had to settle for a field goal right before the half. Von Schamann made the 31-yard kick, and Miami seemingly was headed to the half down by 15.

But wait! On the squib kickoff, 49ers guard Guy McIntyre made the horrible decision to pick up the ball and try to run with it. He had the ball knocked out of his grasp by the Dolphins’ Joe Carter, and backup quarterback Jim Jensen recovered for Miami. The Dolphins had just enough time for one more field goal, and von Schamann made the 30-yarder to cut the 49ers’ lead to 28-16 at the break.

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    Super Bowl XIX: Third Quarter

    Board picked up a sack on Miami’s first possession of the second half, forcing a punt by Roby. McLemore returned this one to the San Francisco 47. Montana then threw to Tyler on second down for 14 yards. Tyler bounced off a tackle to get a first down to the 27.

    On the next second down, Montana scrambled yet again for 12 more yards and another first down. He set the record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a Super Bowl with that run. The 49ers couldn’t get beyond the 10, but kicker Ray Wersching made a 27-yard field goal to put San Francisco back up by 15.

    Marino was sacked twice on the next drive; once by defensive end Manu Tuiasosopo, and another time by Board. The Dolphins punted yet again. Montana started the new drive by throwing to Tyler, who got into the clear and went 40 yards to the Miami 30. Montana followed by hitting a wide-open Francis for a first down to the 17. A few plays later, Montana hit Craig underneath, and he went for his third touchdown of the game, a Super Bowl record that still stands today. San Francisco now led 38-16, and with the lack of two-point conversions in this era, that meant that the 49ers were up by four possessions.

    Miami really had one shot to get back into this game. Marino threw to Rose to get within a yard of a first down, then he found Clayton for a first down at the 49ers 43. Nathan broke through a big hole to get down to the 27 and another first down. But two plays later, Marino tried going for the end zone and he was picked off at the 1 by Eric Wright. That killed Miami’s spirit right there.

    The Dolphins may have still had a chance had they made a stop of the 49ers inside the 5, but they couldn’t. Montana hit Freddie Solomon on a third-down play-action pass for a first down, and Tyler took a toss for another first down to the 40. Harmon ran the ball into Miami territory for another first down. The 49ers eventually had to punt, but they had changed field position early in this fourth quarter.

    Super Bowl XIX: Fourth Quarter

    Marino found himself sacked by defensive tackle Gary Johnson on the next drive, and the Dolphins eventually had to punt. McLemore muffed the punt, though, and Vince Heflin recovered the loose ball for Miami. This gave Marino a shot at possibly making the score look a little better. It didn’t work. Marino threw into the end zone and was intercepted by Carlton Williamson. That ended the competitive portion of this game.

    The 49ers drove the ball downfield again, and they came very close to making this final score 45-16. They could have had the record for most points in a Super Bowl all by themselves, instead of tying with Los Angeles from a year before with 38. However, Craig got stopped on a fourth down at the Miami 2. San Francisco had to “settle” for a 38-16 victory. It was their second Super Bowl win in four seasons. The Dolphins, meanwhile, had their second Super Bowl loss in three seasons.

    Super Bowl XIX: Aftermath and Awards

    Joe Montana was named MVP of Super Bowl XIX, and it’s easy to see why. He threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns while running for 59 yards and a touchdown. He probably had the best game in Super Bowl history by a quarterback up to this point.

    While perhaps John Riggins and Marcus Allen from the previous two Super Bowls had better games overall, Montana displayed something at the quarterback position no one had seen before. In future years, he’d get surpassed, including by himself. But for now, he was Super Bowl MVP for a second time, joining Bart Starr of the Green Bay Packers and Terry Bradshaw of the Steelers in that regard.

    The next-best player in this game was Roger Craig. He scored three touchdowns in this Super Bowl, which remains the record to this day. He ran for 58 yards and a score while catching seven passes for 77 yards and two more scores. His performance was eye-opening. This was in an era before Jerry Rice – remember, the 49ers didn’t draft him until after this Super Bowl – so players like Craig and Clark were the stars of the offense beside Montana. And did he ever shine.

    The best player on the losing team was Dan Marino. He threw for 318 yards and a touchdown. You may say, “but he threw two interceptions and managed just one touchdown!” Yes, that’s true. But keep in mind that Marino had absolutely no running game to speak of. The Dolphins ran for 25 yards on just nine carries, one of them a zero-yards carry by Marino himself. Joe Montana had more than double Miami’s rushing yards, all by himself.

    I’m sorry, I don’t care who you are, you’re never going to win a game with that pathetic a performance by your running backs and (mostly) your offensive line. Marino was getting killed back there thanks to his O-Line just becoming turnstiles for the 49ers’ defense. The fact that Marino managed over 300 yards – while breaking the Super Bowl records for completions and attempts – is pretty amazing. It wasn’t his fault his team lost this badly.

    The Least Valuable Player of this game, who was it? How about Mark Duper, star receiver of this Dolphins team besides Mark Clayton. Duper managed just one catch for 11 yards.

    Receiver Jimmy Cefalo, who retired after this game, had only 18 receptions in 1984, yet even he managed to outdo Duper with 14 yards receiving on one catch. Duper completely failed to show up in this Super Bowl, and he’d never get back to another one. The closest he’d get was reaching the AFC Championship Game in 1992. The same went for Marino, even though Marino hung around all the way to the end of the 20th century. What an opportunity wasted.

    The best player no one remembers? Tough one, because everyone remembers all the 49ers. I’ll have to go with Carl Monroe, who caught the 33-yard touchdown pass early in the game. And speaking of which, how about the biggest play of this game? While that’s hard to figure out, because Montana and the 49ers sliced and diced the Dolphins with one short pass after another, I’ll have to go with the 33-yard touchdown from Montana to Monroe. That set the 49ers on the right track, and even though they ended up surrendering the lead, it was the most spectacular of all of San Francisco’s touchdowns.

    The biggest play no one remembers is McLemore’s 28-yard punt return midway through the second quarter. He got the 49ers into great field position, and shortly afterward Montana would scramble in for a six-yard touchdown. That punt return was a scintillating one on which it looked like he might break it all the way. While he muffed a return later in the game, that doesn’t take away from what an important return this was for the Niners, helping put them up 21-10.

    San Francisco had their second of their four Super Bowls from the eighties and five overall. The 49ers were already a dynasty, but the next three years would bring on brand new challenges. The New York Giants would get the Niners’ number and knock them out the next two seasons. The Niners would then lose an excruciating game in the 1987 playoffs to Minnesota which I still consider to be the biggest upset in NFL playoff history (not counting Super Bowl III, which was AFL vs. NFL). But four years later, the 49ers would be back on top of the NFL world, and they’d stay there quite a while.

    The 49ers won this game at Stanford Stadium just a short drive away from San Francisco. That brings us to today’s pop quiz question, how many teams have played in Super Bowls in their own state? The answer is three. San Francisco in XIX is one, Los Angeles in Pasadena in XIV is another, and everyone knows by now, Tampa Bay in LV. So, three of them. Will the Rams, Chargers, or 49ers make it four this coming NFL season?


    If you’re going to read one book on this particular Super Bowl, that’s an easy one. My homework for you today is to read A Nearly Perfect Season by Chris Willis. It is an absolutely fantastic book from start to finish on the 49ers’ 1984 season. It’s got behind-the-scenes looks at Bill Walsh and the coaches’ room. You’re going to want to read this one and keep reading through the whole book. I highly recommend it.

    That’s all for today. If you want more info about the eighties in the NFL, pick up my book Great Eighties on, you’ll find the Amazon link to it right there.

    If you like college football, I’ve also got my book Penn State Bowl Games: A Complete History. I’d like to thank everyone for sticking with this podcast even when I took a big break, and I look forward to doing more and more podcasts, but maybe not as often as I had been doing them.

    Next time, we’ve got the most famous team in Super Bowl history, the 1985 Chicago Bears, going up against a wild card Cinderella underdog in the New England Patriots. What could happen? Until then, this is Tommy A. Phillips. So long!

    Lombardi Memories is a show that takes you back in time, into January or February, to the greatest one-day spectacle in all of sports. This is the every-other-Tuesday podcast that looks back at each and every one of the 50-plus Super Bowls and tells the story of who won and why.  Tommy A. Phillips is your host on this Super Journey.  He’s an author of multiple NFL books.  You can purchase below.

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    1 thought on “Super Bowl XIX (Dolphins vs. 49ers): An Ultimate Recount of the Game”

    1. Montana’s scrambling ability is historically underrated! SBXIX is a fine example of this. More than double the yards all by himself than ALL OF Miami’s rushing output?? Didn’t even realize this until I read this article! Tony Nathan was not a bad all-purpose RB though! He just very well may be, for what its worth, the best RB Dan ever had in his career. But that seemed to be the problem all of that time in Marino’s career albeit under Shula or Johnson…Dolphins either had “not bad” ALL-PURPOSE running backs, or bad RBs-period! Never that MAIN-purpose 25-carries-a-game Terrell Davis or Emmitt Smith with, even more-importantly, a RUN-blocking OL!

      And although Miami’s D was actually ranked #7 in the league in ’84, it seemed all-too smoke-and-mirrors to me. They barely beating a gritty but mediocre-at-best Eagles team at home in Week #11 had to signal that they weren’t “all-that”; not the 11-0 ‘juggernaut’ that they seemed. This especially goes for Philly taking it down-field with utter authority for two TDs on their first two drives to go up, 14-0. Greatly assisting in they even getting out the AFC was going against a Curt Warner-less Seahawk team and then Mark Malone. Playing against a more-balanced 13-3 Denver team in the AFC Championship Game would have certainly been the greater roadblock to Palo Alto (and Dan Reeves knew a thing-or-two about scoring AFCCG-upsets on the road vs teams with the better record – see both ’86 & ’98)!

      Me being a Steeler-fan, I myself clearly didn’t mind us advancing. But sure enough everyone else wanted that Elway/Marino match (they both did meet the following regular season, and for the very first time; but wouldn’t again meet until… …1998). I guess all us non-Steeler-haters/non-Charger-fans being robbed of that 4-0 vs 4-0, Team-of-the-’70s-vs-Team-of-the-’80s Super Bowl of the ‘Ages’ between Pittsburgh & San Francisco in ’94 were the football gods thinking that they were making up for ten years prior (still, they could have picked a different scenario in a different year; that ‘karma’ applied by them was just OVERKILL).

      Now the immediate years leading up to ’84, a different story for the Dolphins. A defense more deserving of a ‘Killer’ nickname. Despite allowing 9-7 Seattle to immediately show them the door in the divisional round, the 12-4 installment of ’83 is likely the best Marino Dolphin team. Both offense and defense quite solid; definitely a more-balanced team, a team I respect much more.

      Yes, 15-1 SF vs 14-2 Mia is indeed the Super Bowl pitting two participants with the most combined regular season wins (although, win-%age-wise, 11-0 Bears at 10-1 Washington for the ’42 League Championship tops it)! Second-best, would be a battle-of-14-2s between Denver & Atlanta in SBXXXIII. Both contests, ironically, were real bad ones while Steelers/Rams, Steelers/Cards (both 12-4 vs 9-7 affairs), and – even worse – the second Pats/Giants (13-3 vs 9-7) turned out to be three of the better SB games ever!

      And what a drab game SBXIX was; and with all that pre-game Marino-vs-Montana hype to boot! Actually, #13 seemed to have gotten all the attention pre-game. This despite SF having the better, 17-1 going in, record as well as winning it all three years earlier; and coming real close to going back to the SB just a year prior! Joe Cool would simply give modest answers when being asked about his, apparently, more-superior opponent. Just as he did three years earlier – dressed as a bellhop taking his players’ luggage in Pontiac to lighten the mood in-contrast to uptight (like Vermeil a year earlier) Forrest Gregg, Bill Walsh played psychiatrist yet again. “How are we going to POSSIBLY stop Marino”, he mock-pouted, laying on the floor, hands behind his head – equipment as his ‘pillow’ – in front of his defensive players in the locker room.

      The 1984 San Francisco Forty Niners, like Joe’s scrambling abilities, seem to get lost in the Historic shuffle as well. Too much more such kudos is given to the following year’s also 18-1 dominant Super Bowl Champ! Maybe those Super Bowl Shufflers were a better team, but if they indeed were…it’s not by much. Not by much in the very least! And maybe, just maybe, they WEREN’T better than them. The most underrated thing of all about the ’80s Forty Niners was, by all means, their DEFENSE (and defensive-coordinator, George Seifert; a better DC than Wade Phillips or Buddy Ryan, in my opinion). Their lack of ‘sex-appeal’ and not having the ‘colorful’ personalities seems to camouflage them. Yes, they had Ronnie Lott and a LB nicknamed ‘Hacksaw’, but its not enough I guess. Let’s face it…Dent, Hampton, Singletary, Marshall, McMichael, the ‘Fridge’ much more memorable than…Dwaine Board, Dan Bunz, Eric Wright, etc.

      I may not be able to leave Chicago alive if I were to make such a ‘sacrilege’ statement there (and Ashton Kutcher would definitely try to ‘PUNK’ me as he’s NEVER tried to before with anyone), but whether its this, here, ’84 installment or the one five years later (Matt Millen adding yet another vital wrinkle of leadership and toughness to it, as if it even needed any more), I may actually take either of those ‘unsexy’ Forty Niner defenses over the much-more-heralded ’46’! Especially if I’m going up against a…Dan Marino!

      No, I don’t want to put too much into that MNF upset-loss at the Orange Bowl; and, yes, it WAS an upset! Da 12-0 Bears were, indeed, ‘due’ for a loss anyway and IMO they certainly get their revenge in a hypothetical rematch against Miami in SBXX! But the Forty Niners’ D, to me, would still be better in such an event. Deservingly Historic that ’46’ is! A great pass-D they also had, but they truly specialized against run-heavy or balanced offenses which, other than MIami, are all whom they went against all through ’85. That Ravens-D fifteen years later are also deserving of Historic recognition! But they also lacked going up against serious QBs as well.

      All this coming from a Steeler-fan who ended up ‘hating’ SF in the ’80s because they ‘caught up’ to (then surpassed) us in the Ring department as well as me liking it, in ’85, when da Bears got their revenge at Candlestick early that season. I did really like, and enjoyed, that Super Bowl Shuffle-run as well as, in a rare case, root heavy for the heavy-favorite that very SBXX! And not just because I SO wanted #34 to get that Ring!


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