Today in sports history (1982), the San Francisco 49ers held on to beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-21, in Super Bowl XVI. It was their first Super Bowl victory in 49ers history. San Francisco would go on to win two more Super Bowls in the 1980s, along with two more in the 1990s.
Path to the 49ers Super Bowl
For the first time since Super Bowl III, both teams were playing in their first-ever Super Bowl. San Francisco finished the regular season with a league-best 13-3 record. Their play was quite the surprise given their combined 8-24 record over the previous two seasons. The 1981 season for the 49ers saw the emergence of young quarterback Joe Montana who became a force in just his third season. San Francisco would beat the New York Giants in the first round of the playoffs before beating the Dallas Cowboys to get to the Super Bowl thanks to “The Catch.”
Much like the 49ers, the Bengals were also a surprise in the NFL. Cincinnati went just 6-10 the previous season but finished with an AFC leading 12-4 record. Prior to the season, the Bengals had never even won a playoff game. Quarterback Ken Anderson would lead the Bengals to the promised land. Anderson won both the MVP and Comeback Player of the Year that season. The Bengals knocked off the Buffalo Bills in the first round before routing the then-San Diego Chargers in a game commonly referred to as the “Freezer Bowl.”
Turnovers Kill Bengals in Super Bowl XVI
Super Bowl XVI was the first Super Bowl where the team that was outgained in yards won. The Bengals had prime opportunities all game but squandered them until it was too late. The Bengals forced a fumble on the opening kickoff but a Ken Anderson interception on third down gave the ball right back to San Francisco. In the second quarter, the Bengals would fumble in the red zone before fumbling a kickoff right before halftime. The 49ers made the most of their chances and took a 20-0 lead into the break, the largest halftime lead in Super Bowl history to date.
The Bengals stormed back in the second half, but it was simply too little, too late. A late onside kick following a Cincinnati touchdown with 16 seconds left was recovered by the 49ers, sealing the game. The 49ers would go on to have plenty of success in the coming decades while the Bengals had little. Cincinnati would make the Super Bowl again in 1989 where they again fell to the 49ers. Following a Wild Card win in 1991, the Bengals would have a playoff win drought lasting until 2022.