For the 49ers, it was their first Super Bowl appearance since they defeated the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX. They had made the playoffs in the three seasons between Super Bowl XIX and Super Bowl XXIII, but were eliminated each time in the first round, primarily because of the poor performances by their offensive stars in those games; quarterback Joe Montana, receiver Jerry Rice and running back Roger Craig all failed to produce a single touchdown.
The 49ers alternated quarterbacks as Montana and Steve Young both started at various points of the season. The broadcast booth of the 49ers radio network also saw change, as Joe Starkey substituted for longtime 49ers play by play announcer Lon Simmons during several games, mostly in October when Simmons called the Oakland Athletics 1988 American League Championship Series and 1988 World Series games for the Oakland A's flagship station, KSFO–AM. The 1988 season was the last for Simmons as 49ers broadcaster. With the regular season and postseason, the 49ers compiled a total of 13 victories (a .684 win percentage) on the season, a record-low for Super Bowl champions. In 2011, the New York Giants would tie this record (but with a .650 win percentage as they suffered seven losses as opposed to the 49ers six).