Sunday, December 05, 1999

Why the 49ers ruled, not the Bengals

Five moments of truth

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The 1990s might not have been so disastrous for the Bengals and so grand for the 49ers if not for five times when their paths crossed. The 49ers got over each time, and the rest, as they say, is history. A look at five events that helped shape the future of the two franchises:

        1. Tiger picked over the Genius: When Paul Brown stepped down as the team's coach in 1975, he picked offensive line coach Tiger Johnson as his successor over another assistant, Bill Walsh. Johnson lasted 21/2 seasons as head coach and gave way to the Homer Rice Era. Walsh went west to San Francisco and did fairly well.

        2. Super Bowl XVI: The Bengals fell behind 20-0 and couldn't come all way the back. They lost 26-21. Remember that goal-line stand? The four Bengals turnovers? If this one goes the other way, maybe the Bengals are the team of the '80s.

        3. Young changes heart: Mike Brown went to bed before the 1984 draft thinking he had an agreement with Steve Young, whom the Bengals would select first the next day. Young decided otherwise. The Bengals traded the pick and took Ricky Hunley and Pete Koch. Young went to the USFL. “It's the only time since the old AFL that could have happened, and it did in our year.” Brown said later. Young eventually ended up with San Francisco where he won a Super Bowl. (The 49ers actually had nothing to do with Young's snub of the Bengals, but Cincinnati's loss would turn out to be San Fran's gain). The Bengals did get Boomer Esiason in the second round that year.

        4. Clock management fiasco: This is the most stunning defeat in Bengals history. In 1987 at Riverfront Stadium, they led 26-20 with six seconds left and a fourth-down play coming up. Sam Wyche chose to try a sweep to run out the clock; the play was stuffed with 2 seconds left. Joe Montana threw a 25-yard TD pass to Jerry Rice for a 27-26 win. The killer loss was followed by the players' strike. The Bengals finished 4-11 with the same talent that would go to the Super Bowl the following year.

        5. Super Bowl XXII. This one probably hurts more than the clock-management game because of the stakes. Thirty-four seconds from a world title. Lewis Billups drops the interception. John Taylor catches the TD pass. If Tim Krumrie hadn't broken his leg ... If Stanley Wilson hadn't done the coke ...


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