The buzzword is "threepeat." Starting this evening, you're going to be hearing a lot more of the buzz.
The San Francisco 49ers begin pursuit of their third straight NFL championship against the New Orleans Saints tonight (9, Ch. 13) at the Louisiana Superdome in the regular-season debut of "Monday Night Football."
Eight months ago in this same building, the 49ers demolished the Denver Broncos 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV. That rout marked the first time in a decade that any team had won back-to-back Super Bowls. No team has won three in a row. And no team has won a total of five Super Bowls, which is another attainable goal this season.
With memories of the '80s still fresh, the 49ers enter the '90s with their share of question marks. Will success ruin their "threepeat" ambition, or fuel it? Is Joe Montana going to have a bull's eye on his jersey because of his $14 million contract, as teammates have suggested? Can nose tackle Michael Carter return from foot surgery? And will the Niners' injury-depleted defense miss its best cover man, cornerback Tim McKyer, who was traded to Dallas?
Coach George Seifert wasn't afraid to change the cast. There are seven rookies on the roster, including first-round draft pick Dexter Carter, another in a trend of small (5 feet 9, 170) running backs. There are three Plan B free-agent additions, including former Saints safety Dave Waymer, now a nickel back with the 49ers.
The Saints should provide a rugged first test. They won their last three games last year with journeyman John Fourcade at quarterback, and are best in the league at stopping the run. What's more, they probably have not gotten due credit in recent years.
Playing in the NFC West with the 49ers and Rams, the Saints are second to San Francisco in regular-season victories during the last three seasons. But they have made only one playoff appearance in that time.