Jerry Rice is one of the baddest dudes to ever step foot on a football field. His Pro Football Hall of Fame resume speaks for itself. His three Super Bowl rings only add to the legacy. The former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver had several monster performances throughout his career, but perhaps none were more significant than his first NFL championship.
Before the Niners faced off against quarterback Boomer Esiason the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII, Rice had already established himself as one of the best players in the league. He had already been named First-Team All-Pro three times, went to three Pro Bowls, and was the NFL’s receiving yards and touchdowns leader. That 1989 season, however, was really what started his legacy.
During the regular season, Rice caught 82 passes for 1,483 yards — an average of 18 yards per catch — with 17 touchdowns. He was quarterback Joe Montana’s go-to guy. Most everyone knew about Rice before he played in Super Bowl 23, yet it was that performance which took it to another level.
Jerry Rice Super Bowl XIII Highlights
The AFC vs. NFC matchup at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami, Florida had plenty of star power. It was Joe Montana vs. Boomer Esiason at quarterback, Roger Craig vs. Ickey Woods at running back, Jerry Rice vs. Cris Collinsworth at wide receiver, Bill Walsh vs. Sam Wyche at head coach, and a pair of strong defenses all going head-to-head.
This was a playoff slugfest at its finest. Mike Cofer’s field goal put San Francisco on the board in the first quarter. Jim Breech tied the game in the second quarter with a 34-yard field goal just before halftime. It wasn’t until Stanford Jenning’s kickoff return touchdown in the third quarter that meaningful points were scored, but it ended in epic fashion.
The game is mostly remembered for its late, fourth quarter heroics. After Cincinnati’s Breech made a 40-yard field goal with just over three minutes remaining, Montana led the 49ers on a 92-yard game-winning drive, which was capped off by a 10-yard John Taylor touchdown catch with 34 seconds left.
There were many records broken that day, including from Montana, Breech, and Jennings, but the show truly belonged to Rice.
Rice finished with 11 catches for 215 yards and a touchdown to be named the Super Bowl MVP — the first and only of his illustrious career. His 215 receiving yards remain the Super Bowl record, one of several owned by Rice including career receptions (33), yards (589), touchdowns in a game (3; he did this twice) and receiving TDs (8).
He made a sensational one-handed catch early. He caught balls in traffic for first downs. He was the hero of the night, no doubt.
Montana finished the night with 357 yards with two touchdowns while Esiason had 144 passing yards with an interception. There was clearly a difference between which team had Jerry Rice in the huddle and which didn’t.
There were six future Hall of famers in the game — Montana, Rice, Steve Young, Charles Haley, and Ronnie Lott for the Niners; nose tackle Anthony Munoz for the Bengals — but nobody shined brighter than Rice.
San Francisco won its first title since taking down the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX and the first of three in Jerry Rice’s career. He also won Super Bowl XXIV against the Denver Broncos and Super Bowl XXIX against the San Diego Chargers.
Everyone always wants to talk about championships when discussing legacy, and Rice definitely had one of his best performances when it mattered most.
This post was originally published on January 29, 2020.