Rams, 49ers have met once in the playoffs, the 1989 NFC championship — it went terribly

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SAN FRANCISCO - JANUARY 14: Tight end Pete Holohan #81 of the Los Angeles Rams gets tackled by safety Ronnie Lott.
Rams tight end Pete Holohan (81) is tackled by 49ers safety Ronnie Lott (42) and linebacker Mike Walter (99) in the 1989 NFC Championship game at Candlestick Park. (George Rose / Getty Images)

Old grudges die hard, and the one that former Rams tackle Jackie Slater has held against the San Francisco 49ers for 45 years shows no signs of subsiding.

Slater is 67 and decades removed from a 20-year NFL career with the Rams, but his disdain for the 49ers is as strong today as it was when he was trying to fend off San Francisco sack-masters Charles Haley and Fred Dean in the days of yore.

“Oh man, I hate the 49ers with a passion,” Slater said this week when asked if he still feels the intensity of the rivalry, which resumes with Sunday’s NFC championship game, in his bones. “Are you kidding me?”

Slater’s career included seven Pro-Bowl selections, a Hall-of-Fame induction and zero championships, the latter void in large part because of the 49ers, who often stood between Slater and a diamond-encrusted ring.

While Slater’s Rams reached the Super Bowl once and won five NFC West titles from 1976-95, the Joe Montana-led 49ers built a dynasty in that time, the franchise winning five Super Bowls and 12 division titles.

The low point for Slater came at the end of the 1989 season when the 49ers walloped the Rams 30-3 in the NFC title game at Candlestick Park, where Montana carved up the Rams defense, Rams quarterback Jim Everett took his infamous “phantom sack,” and the 49ers doused the Rams’ Super Bowl hopes.

“That,” Slater said, “was one of the most disappointing games I can remember.”

Before Sunday’s game in SoFi Stadium, that was the only time the teams had met in the postseason.

As the Rams and 49ers prepare to battle for another Super Bowl berth, it’s worth looking back at that 1989 title game, which was every bit as lopsided as the score would indicate.

Montana, then a 31-year-old future Hall of Famer, completed 26 of 30 passes for 262 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions; Everett, then a 26-year-old budding star, completed 16 of 37 passes for 141 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions.

The 49ers racked up 442 total yards, 29 first downs and possessed the ball for 40 minutes. The Rams had 156 total yards, nine first downs and held possession for 20 minutes.

“It was supposed to be Dempsey-Tunney. It was more like Tyson-Spinks,” former Times columnist Jim Murray wrote that day. “The last time anyone saw anything this one-sided, they got the lifeboats out. And radioed for help.”

Stuck in the 'Stick

The die for that frustrating finish might have been cast five weeks before the title game, when the Rams blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead in a 30-27 "Monday Night Football" loss to the 49ers in Anaheim Stadium on Dec. 11, 1989.

San Francisco clinched the division, a first-round bye and home-field advantage through the playoffs with the win, and the Rams were forced to travel to Philadelphia and New York for wild-card and divisional games.

The Rams beat the Buddy Ryan-coached Eagles 21-7 in Veterans Stadium and picked up steam with a 19-13 overtime win over the Bill Parcells-coached Giants, the game ending with Flipper Anderson catching a 30-yard touchdown pass and never breaking stride as he sprinted up the tunnel in the Meadowlands.

Los Angeles Rams Willie Anderson takes the ball into the end zone for the winning touchdown against the Giants, Jan. 7, 1990
Rams receiver Flipper Anderson catches a pass for the winning touchdown against the Giants in an NFC divisional playoff game on Jan. 7, 1990. (Tim Clary / Associated Press)

“That Philly game was tough,” former Rams cornerback LeRoy Irvin said. “Flipper going through the tunnel reenergized us, but we knew we snuck out of New York by the hair of our chinny chin-chin. We were banged up. It was late in the season. Then we had to travel across the country twice, and we were a little worn down.

“The 49ers were fresh because of the week off. Had we won that Monday night game, we would have hosted the championship game in Anaheim. But we let them back in that game, and it came back to bite us.”

The 49ers throttled Minnesota 41-13 in the divisional round, setting up a rematch with the Rams, who beat San Francisco 13-12 in Week 4 in Anaheim.

Skies were cloudy for the 2 p.m. kickoff, with a temperature of 53 degrees and winds of 12 mph, but it rained that morning, and the usually soft Candlestick turf turned muddy between the hash marks.

“Candlestick Park was the worst track in football,” Irvin said. “We weren’t sure of our footing. We were used to playing on nice turf, not a cabbage patch like that.”

Reversal of fortune

The Rams started well, forcing a three-and-out on San Francisco’s first possession and taking a 3-0 lead on Mike Lansford’s 23-yard field goal.

The Rams recovered a fumble and had a chance to go up 10-0 when, from the 49ers’ 40, Everett faked a reverse to receiver Ron Brown, sucking in the secondary, and threw long to Anderson, who was wide open down the right sideline.

But the pass seemed to hang in the air forever, giving Hall-of-Fame free safety Ronnie Lott just enough time to sprint over and deflect the football at the last possible moment at the six-yard line. The drive stalled and the Rams punted.

“We call the play, everything sets up beautiful at the line of scrimmage, and boom, Flipper is running down there, wide open,” Slater said. “But the ball gets hung up a little too high, and Ronnie Lott hustles his ass off, gets back over there and knocks it down.

“It would have been a touchdown if he caught it. That would have been one big, big play. With a 10-point lead, the momentum and the way we ran the ball … ”

Montana seized control of the game with a 13-play, 89-yard drive that consumed 8½ minutes, mixing short passes to Jerry Rice, John Taylor and tight end Brent Jones with punishing runs by Roger Craig and fullback Tom Rathman.

A 20-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Jones gave the 49ers a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter.

Tim McKyer intercepted a deflected Everett pass, setting up Craig’s one-yard touchdown run, and Montana capped a 14-play, 87-yard drive — that took just 3 minutes, 1 second — with an 18-yard scoring pass to Taylor for a 21-3 lead nine seconds before halftime.

“He ran a post-corner-post, and our safety was up on the line of scrimmage with a play fake,” Irvin said. “Taylor got me on a touchdown, and the wheels started coming off after that.”

Montana’s bullet to Taylor, threaded perfectly between Irvin and defensive back James Washington, capped a near-perfect half in which he completed 18 of 21 passes for 198 yards.

“If they put a statue outside of Candlestick of Joe Montana, I think everyone would just walk by it and bow their head right now,” John Madden said on the CBS telecast, as a record crowd of 64,769 roared its approval. “You don’t get any better than that.”

Fall guy

The second half was much like the first, Montana taking advantage of the poor field conditions by dissecting the Rams with timing patterns — quick outs, slants and curls to his receivers and short tosses to his backs.

His longest completion of the afternoon went for 20 yards. The 49ers kicked three field goals in the second half and were never threatened.

“The 49ers had that West Coast offense, a balanced attack — they’d run the football here, a few short passes there, move the chains,” Irvin said. “They just wore us down.”

Montana’s game of keep-away prevented Everett and the Rams offense from gaining any kind of rhythm.

“They just methodically held on to the ball,” Slater said. “It seemed like I was sitting on the sidelines for a long time.”

49ers quarterback Joe Montana throws a pass to Brent Jones for a touchdown over the head of Rams Sean Smith.
49ers quarterback Joe Montana throws a pass to Brent Jones (not shown) for a touchdown over the Rams' Sean Smith during the 1989 NFC title game. (Bob Galbraith / Associated Press)

There was one last indignity for the Rams. On third-and-10 with 3½ minutes left in the third quarter, Everett, who was under heavy pressure all game, dropped back and, sensing the pocket about to collapse, suddenly flopped to the turf without being hit for an 11-yard loss.

“Everett felt a bullet when there were no bullets,” Madden said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a quarterback get knocked down when there was no contact.”

Slater called the play “unfortunate,” but took some blame. It was the ferocious Haley, whom Slater claimed threatened “to break Everett’s leg” earlier that season, who beat Slater around the edge and was closing on Everett from behind.

“I don’t know what Jim saw or felt at that time, because they were getting some pressure on him from different places, and maybe he thought the guy was around his knees,” Slater said. “Quarterbacks can feel that in the pocket.

San Francisco 49ers safety Ronnie Lott, right and Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jim Everett greet each other after the game
Rams quarterback Jim Everett, left, and San Francisco 49ers safety Ronnie Lott after the NFC championship game. (John Mabanglo / Associated Press)

“Unfortunately, I don’t think anybody was there, but sh—, maybe we were doing such a poor job that he was getting that pressure all the time and just felt it.”

In a 1997 interview with The Times, Everett said he was “absolutely wrong” to go down.

“I made a mistake and there was no reason why I had to take a dive,” he said. “I thought I saw Jackie Slater’s man come free. I thought I was going to get drilled. I took a dive. Damn, I wish I could be perfect, but I’m not.”

Rams linebacker Kevin Greene is covered with dirt during 1989 NFC championship game against the 49ers.
Rams linebacker Kevin Greene is covered with dirt during 1989 NFC championship game against the 49ers, who won 30-3. (George Rose / Getty Images)

Postscript

Two weeks after dispatching the Rams, the 49ers whipped the Denver Broncos 55-10 in the Super Bowl. They won the division in six of the next eight years and won their fifth Super Bowl, with Steve Young at quarterback, in 1994.

It took a decade for the Rams to recover from the 1989 title-game loss. They had nine straight losing seasons, four after moving to St. Louis in 1995, before breaking through with a Kurt Warner-led Super Bowl win in 1999.

“The Rams figured they couldn’t beat the 49ers, so they made wholesale changes after that 1989 season,” Irvin said. “It was the end of an era. We had a great run from 1983-89 but never could get over the hump because of the 49ers.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.