Super Bowl XXIII was the third rematch in Super Bowl history as the 12-4 Cincinnati Bengals faced the 10-6 San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco beat Cincinnati 26-21 in Super Bowl XVI. The Bengals once again had the NFL's Most Valuable Player in Boomer Esiason and hoped that their luck would change in this rematch. Esiason led Cincinnati to their league-best tying 12-4 record and helped the Bengals lead the league in scoring. He enjoyed the second best year of his career as he threw for 3,572 yards and 28 touchdowns to a cast that included wide receivers Cris Collinsworth, Tim McGee and Eddie Brown as well as rushing sensation Ickey Woods, who scored the second most rushing touchdowns in the league with 15. Once in the playoffs, the Bengals first toppled the Seattle Seahawks 21-13 in the AFC Divisional Playoff and then the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Conference title game 21-10. The Niners, though, were not going to just roll over to the high-powered offense of Cincinnati and they still had plenty of weapons of their own. Led by future Hall of Famers Joe Montana, Steve Young and Jerry Rice on offense and Ronnie Lott on defense, San Francisco was returning to the NFL title game for the third time in the last eight years. All-Pro running back Roger Craig was also enjoying an MVP caliber year (he was voted the 1988 NEA MVP and the AP Offensive Player of the Year) after leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 2,036 and scored ten times. The 49ers erased the memories of their recent first round exits by going 10-6 before pummeling the Minnesota Vikings 34-9 in the NFC Divisional Playoff Game and then trouncing the Chicago Bears 28-3 in the NFC Conference Championship Game.
Super Bowl XXIII was played at Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins, in Miami, Florida on January 22, 1989. The first half began with a major injury to each team as San Francisco lost offensive tackle Steve Wallace to a broken ankle and then Cincinnati's defensive tackle Tim Krumrie broke two bones in his leg. That served as much of the excitement during the first half of the game due to the good defense of both squads, but also blunders from both sides. The 49ers got on the board first with a 41-yard Mike Cofer field goal in the first quarter and the Bengals countered with a 34-yard Jim Breech field goal in the second quarter, capping off the scoring at 3-3 going into halftime. It was the first time in Super bowl history that the game went into halftime tied and it was to lowest number of points scored since Pittsburgh took a 2-0 lead into halftime during Super Bowl IX. Opening up the second half, Esiason, Collinsworth and James Brooks led a drive into 49ers territory to set up a second Breech field goal to take the lead 6-3. San Francisco's Bill Romanowski intercepted an Esiason pass on the next drive and the Niners marched down into Bengals territory before answering with another 32-yard Cofer field goal. On the ensuing kickoff, Stanford Jennings became the first player to get into the end zone as he returned the kickoff 93 yards before being tripped up on the one-yard line and toppling into for the score. The back-and-forth battle continued in this war of attrition as San Francisco once again tied the game at 13 when Joe Montana hit Jerry Rice with a 14-yard touchdown pass. Esiason led the Bengals back down the field once again setting up a 40-yard Breech field goal to take the lead 16-13. On the 49ers next drive of the game, Montana calmed his amped up offense with a little levity pointing and saying "Hey, isn't that John Candy?" His tactic worked and the Niners marched back down into Cincinnati territory on a 92-yard drive before Montana hit John Taylor with a 10-yard, game-winning touchdown pass with 39 seconds remaining in the game. After setting a Super Bowl record with 215 receiving yards on 11 receptions and scoring one touchdown, Jerry Rice was named the Super Bowl XXIII MVP.