The 1989 Green Bay Packers surprised a lot of people en route to a 10-6 record after winning just four games the previous year. Led by quarterback Don Majkowski, the “Cardiac Pack” found a way to win four games by a single point and were one of the most exciting teams in football.
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At that time, the San Francisco 49ers were the defending Super Bowl champions and entered the game at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park with a 9-1 record. Joe Montana’s team was on a six-game winning streak and had outscored their last two opponents by a 76-16 margin. In addition to Montana, the offense featured Jerry Rice, Roger Craig and Brent Jones while the defense featured three All Pro performers in Don Griffin, Michael Walter and future Hall of Famer, Ronnie Lott.
The Packers entered the game with a 5-5 record and lost the previous week to the Detroit Lions 31-22 in a game that saw Majkowski throw 59 passes before getting injured. The Packers weren’t sure if Majik would be able to play at all until a day before the game because of a hyper-extended knee. But Majkowski toughed it out and played through the pain.
In the first half, the Packers and 49ers traded touchdowns. Majkowski ran two yards for a score to give the Packers an early 7-0 lead but the 49ers responded and tied the game on a four-yard pass from Montana to Craig.
Early in the second quarter, Packers safety Chuck Cecil intercepted Montana and returned the ball to the San Francisco nine-yard line. It was the first interception Montana had thrown in 149 attempts.
The Pack regained the lead three plays later when Majkowski found his favorite target, Sterling Sharpe on a four-yard scoring strike.
Montana responded and led his team on a 98-yard drive that culminated with a nine yard touchdown strike to Rice that tied the game with just nine seconds left in the half. The teams headed into the locker room all even 14-14 at halftime.
Neither team managed to score in the third quarter but as the game continued, the Packers gained confidence when they realized they could stay with defending Super Bowl champs. The Green Bay defense recovered two fumbles in the quarter to keep San Francisco at bay and then 49ers kicker Mike Cofer missed a 45-yard field goal attempt in the closing seconds of the quarter which missed wide right.
The Packers then started a long scoring drive that was aided by three San Francisco penalties that gave Green Bay an additional 35 yards on the drive. Majkowski took Green Bay deep into 49ers territory when he threw a pick-six that safety Chet Brooks ran back 90 yards for an apparent touchdown, but Dan Stubbs was offsides on the play and the Packers got the ball back.
With 11:55 left in the game, Majkowski, hobbling knee and all, ran a quarterback draw in for a touchdown from eight yards out and the Packers led 21-14.
“They faked the blitz,” Majkowski told the New York Times after the game. “I thought, ‘they’re going to get me, it’s going to be a busted play.’ But it opened up and I squirted through there.”
The 49ers cut the Packers lead to four points on a 44-yard field goal by Cofer. That made the score 21-17 Green Bay.
The stage seemed set for another last second comeback win by Montana. San Francisco had the ball at the Packers 41 with 5:49 left in the game but the Packers defense dug in. On fourth-and-13 at the Packers 32, Montana looked for Rice at the first down marker. Packers safety Mark Murphy (not to be confused with the current team president) batted the ball away and the Packers took over. They were able to hold the ball and run out the clock.
Majkowski had helped the Packers gut out a tough and hard fought win. He finished the game with 18 completions in 30 attempts for 153 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for two scores, gimpy knee and all.
The Packers defense also rose to the occasion, recovering three fumbles in addition to the interception by Cecil. They also sacked Montana five times and backup quarterback Steve Young once with Robert Brown, Tiger Greene, Tim Harris, Murphy, Brian Noble and Blaise Winter each registering one sack.
The win improved the Packers record to 6-5 on the season while the 49ers fell to 9-2. Head coach Lindy Infante was thrilled with the win. “They’re all big plays,” Infante told reporters after the game. “There were at least 25 to 30 plays that would have changed the difference in this game, but that’s what we talked about all week, our approach. It was unwavering.”
Murphy felt his team rose to the occasion. “Different teams bring out different things in a player, especially the 49ers.”
Packers linebacker Johnny Holland added, “They probably took us a little light,” referring to the defending Super Bowl champs. “It gives us a little motivation by beating the 49ers. We can determine our own destiny now.”
The Packers finished strong after beating San Francisco. They won four of their final five games and missed the playoffs on a tie breaker. The 49ers didn’t lose another game all season, finishing with a 14-2 record before winning their second straight Super Bowl.
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