Interview by Sports Reporter, Michael Silver - Yahoo Sports - 01/18/12
If you weren’t a San Franciscan or a Niners fan, it’s hard to contemplate what that victory over the Cowboys – and the subsequent Super Bowl XVI triumph over the Bengals – truly meant. But I’m going to try to convey it anyway.
San Francisco, at the time, had never won a major professional championship in any sport. The 49ers had been eliminated from the playoffs in three consecutive years (1970-72) by the Cowboys – twice in the NFC championship game, once with an 11-point lead at the two-minute warning. They were vexed; they were hexed; and when Dallas took a late 27-21 lead and Montana, Clark and the boys took over at their own 11-yard with one shot at salvation, we were all nervous wrecks.
And then, sweet, delicious euphoria: Montana rolling right and somehow hoisting a pass over three massive, onrushing defenders, and Clark sliding back across the end zone, getting big air and coming down with a fingertip grab for the ages. The resulting victory essentially ended one remarkable reign as an NFL power – that of Tom Landry’s Cowboys – and launched the most impressive run of sustained excellence (five Super Bowl championships in 14 seasons, and a streak of 16 consecutive seasons with 10 or more victories) modern football has known.
At the time, it brought an emphatic end to a pattern of deflated dreams. Watch the CBS feed, and look at the crowd reaction. There was a T-shirt that surfaced in the city that season which read, simply, “Forty [Expletive] Niners.” That vibe permeates the disbelieving bedlam you see in the footage.
“In the months after we won the Super Bowl, I would hear stories from the older guys – about how we finally got past the Cowboys and what it all meant,” Clark says. “For 30 years, you hear story after story, and there are a million out there about why 49er fans felt like they’d gotten over that hump. The 49ers just never had bragging rights. Now, they had arrived.
“At Bill [Walsh]’s funeral [in 2007], I heard [famed sociologist and longtime 49ers executive] Harry Edwards talk, and it was only then that I understood what the city was going through at that time. The city was struggling. The mayor [George Moscone) had been shot (in 1978), AIDS was starting to strike, and people were really in the dumps. And the 49ers winning kind of kick-started the city, got people feeling good again. I’d never realized the big-picture side of that. It’s a pretty cool thing to be part of.”