All Allan Webb knew when he finished scouting the Giants for the 49ers last Sunday was the Giants had lost and his team was in a different time zone. He had his evaluation of the Giants and suspense.
When he changed planes in Chicago he went directly to the Red Carpet lounge and asked people sitting around the TV, "Anybody hear the Niners' score?"
"Everybody looked at me like I was nuts," Webb said.
Perhaps the local fans felt there was no other game since the beloved Bears had just had their pelts cleaned by the Vikings. So the director of pro personnel for the 49ers got on his plane home and asked the captain if he could get a score. He couldn't.
"So," Webb said, "when I got home bless my wife I walked through the door she said, 'I really can't tell you about the game because it rained and it kind of got sloppy, so here's the play-by-play. You decide what you think about it.' "
So the great first meeting of 11-0 teams since 1934 now had become a meeting of 10-1 teams. "I'm not surprised at all," Webb said by phone from the 49ers' offices.
Well, he was being the sophisticated football man. "The Rams always play us tough. It's the game of the year for them and sometimes for us, too," he said. "Philly always plays the Giants well. It was more of a surprise to me that the Giants beat them in the opener."
That was said with no slur on the Giants. Webb has his ties, however stretched they are from coast to coast and era to era, to the Giants. He worked for them from 1961 to 1979, the first five as a defensive back, the first three of them on division champions.
"Before the war," he called it. He was an assistant coach when Wellington and Tim Mara, uncle and nephew, were feuding, and George Young was sent by the league to make peace. Young says he wanted to hold onto Webb, but decided he'd better make a clean sweep rather than create factions.
Webb also has critical evaluations to be expressed within the confines of strategic secrecy. "I see them and I can't find any weaknesses," Webb said of the Giants. "They don't make a lot of mistakes, they have good strategy and great defense. Where's my edge?"
This comes from a guy who came home after watching Denver quarterback John Elway in last season's conference championship game, and told 49ers coach George Seifert, "I hope the guys don't look at the films and say we ought to beat them by 100 points." Of course, Webb kept that thought inside the confines of the boardroom.
So this one won't be a game for the ages. Yet, the fact that they've each lost a game makes it mean more for this season. The loser is in jeopardy of falling to third place and into a dreaded wild-card game with a team that may be under .500.
He dismisses the score in Philadelphia.
"If the Giants don't miss the extra point, maybe it goes to the wire," he said.
At the same time he dismisses most of the details of his team's loss to the Rams, the three interceptions of Joe Montana and his total of 14 in 11 games, most in his career. They're passing more because injuries to running back Roger Craig have restricted the running game. "That's my explanation," Webb said.
What he thinks the world has overlooked is how the 49ers have kept on winning despite their injuries. "We've had five starters out for a number of weeks but nobody talks about that," he said. "All the Giants have had is Banks."
Actually it's been Carl Banks, the bookend linebacker with Lawrence Taylor, and offensive tackle Jumbo Elliott. "Elliott isn't Mike Walter or Craig," Webb said. "He's not going to the Pro Bowl tomorrow. I don't see any problem with pass protection without him."
But let's talk about the Giants. Webb said it was only natural for the Giants to try to pass against the Eagles because Buddy Ryan "was putting eight men" up on the line. "Even in high school you know not to run," Webb said.
Some of the eyes watched Taylor's frustration and concluded that he had aged from Superman to a mere very good mortal. But then Banks' forte is the run and Taylor's is the pass rush, and there was no Banks. And Randall Cunningham is a running back when he's flushed out of the pocket. "If a team were to play just one guy on Taylor, he'd still be Superman," Webb said.
The Giants felt the officials didn't see all the holding that was going on and overlooked the pass interference. Perhaps it was the disappointment talking. What Webb has seen is that officials are more apprehensive of the replay monitor than ever, huddle more and take less control of the game before their eyes.
Anyhow, he thinks the demands of the moment will pull the Giants back to the focus they lost when, as Taylor said, they let themselves be drawn into "a street fight" with the Eagles.
"You can't let anybody do that to you," Webb said. "If somebody puts a finger in your chest, are you going to let him? It may come down to a guy's psyche; he may respond by kicking and grabbing and shouting. You can't let anybody disrupt you."
Both of these teams are sophisticated. Each has its leadership.
"I'm excited at the thought," Webb said. He recalled 18 seasons and the great hug from Harry Carson when the Giants stepped over the 49ers to the Super Bowl. "I have a little piece of my heart with Wellington," he said, "and people I respect like George Young and people I respect who don't even know me, like Phil Simms and Taylor.
"It's going to be a hell of a game. I'd buy a ticket for it. It's the game for this time of the year."
It was understood there would be another big game in two months. Webb has seen the 49ers there before.