49ers-Steelers meeting could offer clue to future


October 21, 1990|By VITO STELLINO

At first glance, the San Francisco 49ers game against the Pittsburgh Steelers today is nothing special.

It's supposed to be just another stop on the 49ers' road to their Dec. 3 battle with the unbeaten New York Giants in what may be the only game the rest of the season that really means anything.

But if you believe in omens, today's game could mean a lot.

The last time a 3-3 Pittsburgh team went to Candlestick Park to play an unbeaten 49ers team -- in 1984 -- the Steelers pulled a 20-17 upset.

The 49ers might not be too worried if the Steelers, 10-point underdogs, do it again in the game between the only teams to win four Super Bowls because it could be a good omen.

The 49ers didn't lose another game in 1984 while posting an 18-1 record and winning their second Super Bowl. It's still their best season record.

Omen or no omen, it will still be a major upset if the Steelers win.

Since the 49ers struggled to a 6-5 start in 1988, they've gone 7-1, 17-2 and 5-0. That's a 29-3 stretch that is almost hard to believe in today's climate, when teams are distracted so easily.

They haven't really missed the silver-haired genius, Bill Walsh, // who's in the TV booth. They're 22-2 (the two losses were by a total of five points) since he left.

It's time to think the unthinkable -- they really have a shot at three straight Super Bowl victories.

Owner Edward DeBartolo is the first to rule it out. "It's too tough," he said. "It would be almost inconceivable to win three. There are too many things that have to go right, as I'm sure the Steelers know from their past success."

In 1976, when the Steelers were going for three straight, they steamrollered the Baltimore Colts, 40-14, in their first playoff game for their 10th straight victory. But Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier were hurt in that game, and the Steelers lost the next week in Oakland, 24-7. (For the younger generation, those were the days when Baltimore and Oakland had franchises).

Although there could be a lot of potholes in the 49ers' road to the Super Bowl, a lot of things are breaking their way.

The Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles were supposed to be major challengers, and they all have losing records.

Only four other National Football Conference teams have winning records, and the Giants appear to be the only team that has a shot at stopping the 49ers.

San Francisco does appear vulnerable at times. Roger Craig is ailing, and DeBartolo said, "We've got some holes, some problems. Our running game's not really setting the world on fire. Our secondary at times has had some lapses."

Not that he's getting much sympathy, mainly because Joe Montana is still at the top of his game. He torched the Atlanta Falcons for 476 yards and six touchdowns.

Granted, Jerry Glanville made it easier. The Atlanta coach is a reckless type who would have told Gen. Custer not to worry about the Indians. He tried to blitz Montana and left cornerback Charles Dimry on an island to be shredded by Montana.

Win or lose today, the 49ers have a shot at three straight as long as Montana plays well.

If they win today, they're still unbeaten. If they lose, it could be that good omen.


As expected, the owners got a routine informational report on expansion from the realignment and expansion committee at a meeting in Chicago last week.

There were some raised eyebrows, however, when commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who several months ago said the league would expand "certainly by 1993," seemed to back off.

He said it was a "realistic goal," but it wasn't "etched in stone."

He also said that everyone is "well aware of the situation in the Mideast, escalating gas prices and softness in the economy generally. Those types of considerations are very important when you're talking about expanding your business."

These comments prompted The Associated Press to report that there could be a delay in expansion.

A league spokesman said the comments weren't a change of position. "It's consistent with what's been said all along," he said.

The next day, Tagliabue seemed more bullish.

"Our evaluation toward expansion is getting more intensive and more in-depth," he said. "It's now time to ask what will a franchise cost and what will the impact be on television? I think the clubs made it clear that they want us to give them the best estimates of what the '90s hold in terms of TV revenue, in terms of the economy and to be prepared to go beyond assumptions."

One executive who was in the meeting said he came away with the impression that there was no change in the situation.

What this seems to mean is that the league will continue to study expansion, but there's no guarantee it will expand by 1993.

Remember, this is a league that has added a grand total of two teams since 1970. Because Tagliabue wants to put his stamp on the league, he's likely to push for expansion, but that picture is still quite murky.


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