Motivating a team to play against the San Francisco 49ers is not usually a difficult task for a football coach.
The 49ers have set the standard for the past decade -- winning four Super Bowls in nine years -- and teams usually are fired up to play against them.
But when the Washington Redskins go to Candlestick Park to play the 49ers in a National Football Conference playoff game Saturday, they will be in the unusual situation of worrying about a letdown.
"Any time you come off an emotional game like this, there's always a letdown," Richie Petitbon, the assistant coach who runs the Redskins defense, said after Washington beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 20-6, Saturday.
"It's something we'll have to guard against. That can be a problem," Petitbon said. "I think with the experience we have on this club, the older guys will take over, but this is a very real problem because we wanted this game very badly."
The Redskins got San Francisco as their next opponent when the Chicago Bears beat the New Orleans Saints, 16-6, yesterday. If the Saints had pulled off an upset, the Redskins would have played the New York Giants.
The Redskins have plenty of incentive against the 49ers. They have a chance to stop their bid for a third straight Super Bowl victory and a chance to avenge their 26-13 loss to the 49ers in the second game of the season.
The victor will meet the winner of the Giants-Bears game for a tripto the Super Bowl.
The Redskins beat the Bears, 10-9, last month, and even though they've lost nine of the past 10 non-strike games to the Giants, they lost those games when the Giants had Phil Simms at quarterback. It would be different with Jeff Hostetler at quarterback.
Despite the opportunity they have against the 49ers, it won't be the same as playing the Eagles. The game against the Eagles was more than a football game. It was more like a crusade, a vindication for the Redskins way of doing things.
The Redskins dislike coach Buddy Ryan of the Eagles and the trash-talking he encourages. They were even more infuriated when the Eagles taunted their injured players during a 28-14 victory over the Redskins Nov. 12.
That's why the had incentive against the Eagles.
By contrast, it's difficult for the Redskins to get annoyed at the 49ers, even though they lost in Candlestick Park, 26-13, in the second game of the season.
The 49ers would never talk about body bags. They are almost as bland as the Redskins. They compliment their foes even when they vanquish them.
After the 49ers beat the Redskins in September, linebacker Matt Millen came into their locker room and talked about how he expected to see the Redskins again in the playoffs.
The only Redskin who could be found after the Eagles game to complain about the 49ers was defensive lineman Charles Mann, who didn't like the tactics of offensive tackle Steve Wallace.
Mann, who didn't have any tackles or assists in the game, said: "I remember kind of being a bit humiliated a little bit by the tackle I played against [Wallace]. I thought there were some bad calls. He was doing it with with regularity, putting his hand in my face. I tried to tell the referee, and I think they called him one time for it. But for the most part, his hand kept stabbing me in the face mask, so I'd like to have the opportunity to play against him again."
Wallace was not called for a penalty, but, in any case, Mann's complaint was minor, compared to the Redskins' unhappiness with the Eagles.
From a purely football standpoint, though, this game has some interesting subplots.
This game will match the two teams that won six of the nine Super Bowls since 1981. The Los Angeles Raiders in 1983, the Chicago Bears in 1985 and the New York Giants in 1986 won the other three.
But the clubs have met in only one playoff game, even though they were the best teams of the 1980s. That was in 1983 in what football people remember as the "10-foot Celtic" game.
After Joe Montana brought the 49ers back from a 21-0 deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter, Eric Wright was called for an interference penalty on Art Monk to set up the winning field goal by Mark Moseley.
Bill Walsh, who was then the 49ers' coach, argued that Joe Theismann's pass was so overthrown that a "10-foot Celtic" couldn't have caught it and no flag should have been thrown.
Current 49ers coach George Seifert is less colorful than Walsh nowan NBC -TV broadcaster.
Seifert has a 31-4 record as a head coach, and one of those losses was to the New Orleans Saints last month after the 49ers had clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and rested Montana, who may have been ailing.
Seifert, though, can match Joe Gibbs of the Redskins when it comes to poor-mouthing.
"The team last year was in a more dominant role," Seifert said last week. "This team has yet to take off. It has yet to play its best game."
The 49ers have escaped with several close victories, but they still have the best record in pro football.
It may turn out that Seifert knows the secret to beating the Redskins: Don't insult them.
NOTES: Trainer Bubba Tyer said that Earnest Byner's sprained ankle will be sore for two or three days, but he should be able to play against the 49ers. Byner got 62 yards in 11 carries against the 49ers earlier this season.