It all began here

The Super Bowl was back this season in Detroit, the place where it all began 24 years ago for the 49ers. San Francisco's victory in Super Bowl XVI was a seminal moment in team history, the launching point for a two-decade dynasty. While that 1981 squad was the forebear of greatness for the 49ers, the four NFL champions to follow it were stronger teams. Here, SFI ranks San Francisco's five Super Bowl champions now that the game has returned to the city where the 49ers won their first NFL title.

1. Super Bowl XXIV: 49ers 55, Denver Broncos 10 -- While many would argue that San Francisco's 1984 team was the best of the 49ers' five Super Bowl champions, the choice here is the fabulous 1989 squad, primarily because it had two of the greatest players ever at their positions – QB Joe Montana and WR Jerry Rice – performing in their prime. And those two stars were at their sensational best as Montana won his third Super Bowl MVP, completing 22 of 29 passes for 297 yards and five touchdowns. Three of those scoring tosses went to Rice, who finished with seven catches for 148 yards. The 49ers also dominated on defense, intercepting Denver quarterback John Elway twice and sacking him six times. The 1989 team cruised through the regular season at 14-2 with the two losses coming by a combined total of five points. Before blasting the Broncos, the 49ers routed Minnesota 41-13 in a divisional playoff and the Los Angeles Rams 30-3 in the NFC Championship game. This 49ers team featured five first-team All-Pros and six Pro Bowlers. San Francisco led the NFL in total offense and was fourth in total defense during the regular season, and the starting lineup was a virtual casting call of all-star players at the height of their careers.

2. Super Bowl XIX: 49ers 38, Miami Dolphins 16 -- San Francisco's 1984 team was the first NFL team ever to win 18 games and will go down as one of the greatest in NFL history. San Francisco's only loss in an 18-1 season was a 20-17 defeat to Pittsburgh in October, and the 49ers finished on a 12-game winning streak during which they recorded seven victories by 18 points or more. Perhaps the most impressive of those was the rout of Miami for the team's second Lombardi Trophy, since the Dolphins entered the game 16-2 and were considered an unstoppable force on offense. But the 49ers ranked second to the Dolphins that year in total offense, and their defense rose to the occasion when it counted in the big games. The 1984 team featured 10 Pro Bowl players but only one first-team All-Pro. Montana won his second Super Bowl MVP award by shredding the Miami defense for 331 yards and four touchdowns passing, and Roger Craig scored three touchdowns to punctuate the victory.

3. Super Bowl XXIX: 49ers 49, San Diego Chargers 26 -- In retrospect, this was the last truly great 49ers team, though San Francisco would produce championship contenders for another four seasons. After losing to Dallas in the NFC Championship game the previous two years, team president Carmen Policy leveraged the franchise's future in 1994 by bringing in the best supporting cast money could buy to complement team fixtures such as QB Steve Young and WR Jerry Rice. After a slow start, the team quickly developed chemistry and blew through the regular season with a 10-game winning streak that featured seven scoring outbursts of 37 points or more. While setting a team record with 505 points, the 49ers ranked second in the NFL in total offense and eight in total defense while producing five first-team All-Pros and 10 Pro Bowlers. Young was named NFL MVP and CB Deion Sanders – who didn't join the starting lineup until October – was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Young also was named Super Bowl MVP after throwing a record six touchdown passes in the rout of San Diego, three of them going to Rice, as the 49ers scored two touchdowns in each of the first three quarters on the way to their last world championship.

4. Super Bowl XXIII: 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16 -- Some might consider this the most unlikely San Francisco team to win a Lombardi Trophy, since it was 6-5 at one point in the 1988 season after being held below 10 points twice in four weeks. But this is the same team that went 13-2 before being shocked in the playoffs the season before, and this veteran-laden unit was dominant by the time the postseason rolled around, dumping Minnesota 34-9 in a divisional playoff game before stunning favored Chicago 28-3 in the NFC title game amid icy conditions at frigid Soldier Field. The 49ers missed several opportunities to take control in the Super Bowl, but they came through in the clutch as Montana directed a 92-yard drive in the final minutes for the winning touchdown. Montana completed 23 of 36 passes for 357 yards and two touchdowns in another spectacularly Super performance. Despite its 10-6 record during the regular season, the 49ers clearly were among the league's elite as they finished second in NFL total offense and third in total defense. This team also has seven players that received first-team All-Pro recognition and six that were named to the Pro Bowl.

5. Super Bowl XVI: 49ers 26, Cincinnati Bengals 21 -- The upstart 49ers shocked the football world by rising from their 6-10 season of 1980 to a NFL-best 13-3 record in 1981. But even after dumping the New York Giants 38-24 in a divisional playoff game and slipping past Dallas 28-27 in a memorable NFC title game, the Niners still were underdogs against the Bengals. But, without much of a running game to support him, Montana got the 49ers out to a 20-0 halftime lead and they were able to hold off the Bengals from there. While this young team caught the league by surprise most of the season, it won its title behind a young defense that ranked second in the NFL. The offense ranked only 13th in the league – the only time San Francisco's offense would rank lower than fourth in the NFL over the next 14 seasons. While this team obviously planted the foundation for great things to come, it recorded six victories by four points or fewer and was not nearly as dominant as San Francisco's other four Super Bowl champions. The 1981 team had four first-team All-Pros and six Pro Bowlers, but it dropped back to a 3-6 record in the strike-shortened 1982 season – San Francisco last season of fewer than 10 wins until 1999.


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