The coach looked out over the field as he entered the stadium where his San Francisco 49ers would meet the American Football Conference Champion in the Super Bowl. The coach knew he would be facing a young quarterback that had a record breaking season and was the toast of the football world.
His team had opened as a slight favorite over the team with the explosive quarterback, 1½ points, but now on game day that number had been bet up to 3 points. Did the coach know that the gambling world was confident his team could handle the quarterback who had a set of receivers seemingly capable of scoring at any time from anywhere on the field?
The 49ers coach would later say he entered that stadium with more confidence his team would win that Super Bowl than any other game he ever coached.
While the circumstances may in many ways parallel the game played next Sunday in Miami, the contest outlined above was actually played 35 years ago at Stanford Stadium. It was the 49ers in that game, but their opponent was not the Kansas City Chiefs, but rather the Miami Dolphins. And the prolific young quarterback for the 49ers opponent was not Patrick Mahomes, but rather Dan Marino.
Why was Walsh so confident of a win against Don Shula and his brash young quarterback?
He liked his defense, liked his preparation, liked that his team had the better won/loss record entering the battle, 17-1 versus the Dolphins 16-2 season mark. He also didn’t think his offense needed to take a backseat to any opponent with Joe Montana at quarterback. Walsh didn’t care what the gambling world thought, positive or negative, or what the writers would fill their space with leading up to the game. He knew what he knew, and it instilled in him an overwhelming sense of confidence.
Walsh was right. The 49ers dominated the young quarterback of the Dolphins and rolled to an easy win, 38-16.
Will current 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan have the same confidence when he steps on the field next Sunday in Miami? Will he have a sense that he enters this game with the better defense, likes his team preparation and is confident that his offense need not take a backseat to any team given the 49ers can either run over opponents or pass them right by?
Does Jimmy Garopollo provide the same confidence for Shanahan that Montana did Walsh 35 years ago?
This is not an exact duplicate Super Bowl from the one played to complete the 1984 season. First of all, the 49ers that year were just three seasons removed from winning a Super Bowl and had many of the same key components that won Super Bowl XVI. Marino was making his first Super Bowl trip, and a game that would prove to be his last to the big stage for the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and the Dolphins had not won a Super Bowl since the 1973 season.
Something else that was different, while Marino had grabbed many of the headlines with his spectacular Most Valuable Player campaign in 1984, the 49ers were still listed as a point spread favorite by the guys that set the lines in Las Vegas.
This week, Andy Reid’s Chiefs opened as a slight favorite and have maintained that edge for the first week leading up to the February 2nd showdown at Hard Rock Stadium. It is perhaps worth historical note that their have been seven Super Bowl games played where the point spread has been 2½ points or less. In those seven games, the favorite, like the Chiefs are this year, are 2-5 both straight-up and against the line.
Of course, the 49ers were a three point favorite in Super Bowl XIX and won easy, and the New England Patriots were favored by two points last February and downed the Los Angeles Rams by 10 points in Super Bowl LIII. The only other small favorite to win, like the Patriots last season, were the 49ers. They got their first Super Bowl win while favored by 1 point over the Cincinnati Bengals in the game that completed the 1981 season.
Numbers only mean so much, more importantly, like Walsh 25 years ago, is Shanahan or Reid going to step onto the field next Sunday and know, where they know things, that they’ve got this one?