By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports
Unless you were a penguin, a polar bear, or a San Francisco 49er, the week of January 24, 1982 was a miserable one in Pontiac, Michigan.
After 15 years in the warm weather climates of Miami, Southern California, and New Orleans, the Super Bowl was held in a cold weather town. A crowd of 81,270 enjoyed 72-degree comfort inside the 5-year-old Silverdome and saw the Niners take advantage of four Cincinnati turnovers, two in the red one and one inside the Bengals’ own 5, to win Super Bowl XVI, 26-21.
“Diana Ross sang the National Anthem, which was awesome,” said Bo Harris, the former Captain Shreve and LSU star linebacker who was 29 and in his seventh year with Cincinnati during 1981’s regular season. “Once you got to the Silverdome, it was pretty neat in there. Pretty cool. But outside …”
It was pretty cold. San Francisco coach Bill Walsh and quarterback Joe Montana, who would win the game’s MVP, were stuck in a blizzard on a bus and got to the stadium an hour before kickoff. Stories were of fans having to walk miles through the snow, arriving teary-eyed and nearly frostbitten for the game.
“Hate to say it, but there was so much snow and ice everywhere,” said Harris last week as, coincidentally, snow fell outside his wealth management office in Shreveport, just a few days past LX years (that’s Super Bowl for “40”) since that start-and-stop, rhythmless game in Pontiac.
“We get there Tuesday and never saw the sun,” Harris said. “There were functions, which were fine, but no one knew where to go otherwise. Piles of ice and snow everywhere; it all looked the same. You couldn’t really tell where to go. Dark. Snowy…
“It was not,” he said, “a pleasurable time.”
The NFC West champ Niners, 13-3, were one-point favorites over 12-4 Cincinnati, AFC Central champs. Cincinnati had won its first two games by seven points total, both comebacks, then seven of its last eight.
“Got on a roll,” Harris said of the Bengals, 6-10 the season before. “All of a sudden, we were learning how to win.”
Like the weather outside, the game inside was wacky. Cincinnati turned it over twice in the red zone in the first half and fell behind, 20-0, a score that could have been much worse were it not for the Bengals defense, which surrendered an average of less than 20 points a game during the regular season and forced four Ray Wersching field goals, still tied for the Super Bowl record.
For the first time in the game’s 16-year history, the winners had less yardage than the losers, San Fran’s 275 to Cincinnati’s 356.
“1981 was my most complete season in the NFL, as a team and as a player, development-wise,” Harris said. “We could rock ‘n’ roll. On defense, we were smart. Not one great player but lots of good ones, guys who just did their jobs. We had a bend-but-don’t-break thing, did all kinds of crazy stuff.
“To their credit,” Harris said of San Francisco, “they had a good plan. They kept us off balance.”
Despite Cincinnati’s offensive troubles, Harris still feels the game hinged on a play less than six minutes into the game. After AFC MVP Ken Anderson had been intercepted at the Niners 11 on Cincinnati’s opening drive, the Niners faced a third-and-one at the Bengals 47. Joe Montana threw toward his tight end, Charle Young, at the 33. Harris and fellow linebacker Jim LeClair sandwiched Young’s rib cage.
“No way anybody holds onto that ball,” Harris said. “No way he catches it.
“But he did.”
It was Young’s only catch of the day — but it led to the Niners’ first TD. They never trailed.
“When you win the AFC title game, you become a champion,” Harris said. “We’d come a long way in a couple of years and had a really good team. A tough team. San Francisco was a little better that day.
“But to be a part of that, of that group that season, it’ll always be something special. Pretty neat deal …”