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49ers Throwback: The Birth of a Legend

Jul 30, 2023 at 11:01 AM--

On December 7th, 1980, the legend of Joe Montana was born when he led the 49ers on the second-largest regular-season comeback in NFL history in a game against the New Orlean Saints.

"Joe Cool," who is no stranger to comebacks, led the Notre Dame Fighting Irish back from 22 points down to beat the Houston Cougars 35-34 in the 1979 Cotton Bowl.

This game would be dubbed "The Chicken Soup" game because Montana had the flu, and he was seen on the sideline eating chicken soup.

At the start of the 1980 season, the 49ers won their first three games over the Saints, St. Louis Cardinals, and New York Jets but lost their next eight games in a row, including an embarrassing Week 6 59-10 beatdown by the Dallas Cowboys.

Montana took over the reins as starting quarterback from fourth-year player Steve DeBerg in Week 7 against the 4-2 Los Angeles Rams.

The 49ers ended their losing streak in Week 12 by beating the New York Giants and New England Patriots to come into this game 5-8.

On this sunny but cold 48-degree Week 12 day, the 0-14 Saints jumped on the 49ers with their first two drives as quarterback Archie Manning threw two touchdown passes to wide receiver Ike Harris and tight end Henry Childs.

Saints running back Jack Holmes increased their lead as he pounded it in from 1-yard out to take a commanding 21-0 lead.

The 49ers finally got on the board with a 57-yard punt return by wide receiver Freddie Solomon to make the score 21-7 to get the 49ers on the scoreboard. Still, the Saints would answer with 14 more points with another one-yard touchdown run by Holmes and a Manning 41-yard touchdown pass to Harris with under 20 seconds left in the first half.

The 49ers finished the first half with 21 yards and two first downs.

At the start of the second half, the 49ers started their drive with a 48-yard pass to wide receiver Dwight Clark to help set up a one-yard quarterback sneak by Joe Cool, making the score 35-14.

After a Saints punt, Joe Cool would hit Clark on a crossing route, where the former Clemson product would take it for a 71-yard touchdown reception to cut the New Orleans lead to 35-21.

Both teams' offenses stalled heading into the fourth quarter until the 49ers closed the gap with a Montana 14-yard touchdown pass to Solomon, making the score 35-28.

The offenses stalled again until the 49ers gave the Saints defense a heavy dose of Lenvil Elliott, and the eight-year pro tied the game from seven yards out with 1:50 left in the game.

The Saints had a chance to win in regulation. They walked the ball down to their 45-yard line, but Dwight Hicks picked off a pass intended for Wes Chandler on the 49ers' 6-yard line, and that is where the game went into overtime, 35-35.

The Saints won the overtime toss, but their offense stalled and punted the ball back to the 49ers.

Montana and Elliott led their offense down the field for a Ray Wershing 36-yard game-winning field goal to complete the 28-point comeback.

This regular season comeback became the largest in NFL history. It stood for 42 years until the Minnesota Vikings came back from 33 points down to defeat the Indianapolis Colts 39-36 in overtime in Week 15 of the 2022 season.

Montana finished the game 24 of 36 for 285 yards passing and two touchdown passes, while Elliott, the second half's workhorse, carried the ball 20 times for 125 yards, four receptions for 43 yards, and a rushing touchdown.

Despite a miraculous win, the 49ers lost their final two games to the Atlanta Falcons and Buffalo Bills, ending their season with a 6-10 record and third in the NFC West.

The following season, the 49ers ended the season with a 13-3 record and beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XIV 26-21 to win their first championship.

All game stats were brought to you by Pro Football Reference and 49ers History.
  • Written by:
    Sports has been my first love since I was 12 years old. At one point I wanted to play football professionally. I started to take photography as a hobby in my teenage years but this was when I followed sports. I started to listen to sports radio, I found my true calling and it was to be a sports talk show host. Though I follow football and basketball, I started to have a new love of cultures around the world. After graduating from San Antonio College in 2018, I worked for the Castroville News Bulletin before going to A&M San Antonio to get my communications degree. Since I have written for the Ranger of San Antonio College, the News Bulletin and the Mesquite of Texas A&M San Antonio, I met many people and went to a lot of events. My major milestone was being in the press box of the San Antonio Commanders game for the Mesquite and being apart of a press conference with the Medina County Sheriff and other local news outlets. When I am not doing anything, I like to watch old cartoons on the DC Universe, play video games such as Mega Man and the Mass Effect series. I have also created Youtube channel called "Anger Management" with my friend Aaron Donnell.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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