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For the first time since Super Bowl III both teams playing in Super Bowl XVI were making their first Super Bowl appearance as the San Francisco 49ers took on the Cincinnati Bengals. Super Bowl XVI was played in the Pontiac Superdome in Michigan and was the first pick'em in Super Bowl history.
The 1981 season served as a breakout year for third-year quarterback Joe Montana. After going just 6-10 SU in the previous season and 2-14 SU the year before, San Francisco owned the best record in the NFL at 13-3 SU in 1981. Montana passed for 3,565 yards and 19 touchdowns this season, spreading the ball around to weapons including wideouts Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon. San Francisco's ball-hawking secondary racked up 23 interceptions on the season.
Cincinnati was also a surprise team in 1981, putting together the best record in the AFC at 12-4 SU just one season removed from a 6-10 SU record the year before. The Bengals had never won a playoff game in franchise history before beating the Buffalo Bills and the San Diego Chargers to advance to Super Bowl XVI. Quarterback Ken Anderson won the NFL MVP Award with 3,754 passing yards and 29 passing touchdowns on the year. Running back Pete Johnson was also an offensive threat with 1,077 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns.
This was considered to be one of the most evenly-matched Super Bowl games in NFL history. But when the time came for the big game, San Francisco rose to the occasion. The 49ers went into halftime with a 20-0 lead, the largest halftime lead in the history of the Super Bowl. Cincinnati clawed back in the second half to make the score look more respectable, but the 49ers held on for a 26-21 victory.
San Francisco picked up the win and cover in the five-point pick'em victory. Joe Montana was named Super Bowl MVP after passing for 157 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 18 yards and another touchdown. For the second straight Super Bowl, the UNDER cashed by a single point, staying just under the posted total of 48 points.