Pressure fuels Seifert's paranoia in playoffs Underdog Redskins have nothing to lose

January 12, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent FTC

SAN FRANCISCO -- Success doesn't only breed success in the National Football League.

It's sometimes breeds pressure and paranoia, also.

There was a lot of talk about the "P" words around the San Francisco 49ers this week.

George Seifert even referred to himself as a paranoid coach, and he acted like one, closing practice to members of the media and having a fan chased out of a eucalyptus tree overlooking the practice field.

Listening to Seifert, it was easy to forget he's taking a 31-4, two-year record as a head coach into today's National Football Conference playoff game against the Washington Redskins at Candlestick Park.

It's easy to forget the team is attempting to become the first to win three straight Super Bowls.

He sounded more like a man who was worried about his job.

"It is a very serious business. There's an awful lot of careers on the line each time we play, so you tend to take it quite seriously," he said.

Seifert said he called a meeting about the Super Bowl and "threepeating" a week ago with the players and then told them to forget the subject.

"You'd better get it the heck off your mind or you won't get any further than the first game," he said. "The Super Bowl is really this first game. Otherwise it's over. If we don't play well, it's over. We're kind of up against it, but that's the business."

Up against it?

Most teams would like to be up against it with Joe Montana at quarterback.

In a way, though, the 49ers are victims of their own success. A 14-2 regular season isn't a successful season unless they cap it with a Super Bowl victory.

They remember they had a 13-2 record and were upset by the Minnesota Vikings in their first playoff game in 1987.

That helps explain why the 49ers rarely seem to enjoy their success.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls in the 1970s, coach Chuck Noll stressed, "Sunday is fun day." It was the reward for all the practice session.

The 49ers are too businesslike to have much fun.

"Football during the season, there's not too much time where it' really, 'Gee, this is fun,' " Seifert said. "Maybe somebody makes a big play or when the game is over and you've won a close, hard game, there's a great exhilaration. But then you're right back into it again. You have to be businesslike. When the season is over, if you've had a good year, then you can have fun."

All the pressure is on the 49ers in today's game. The Redskins are supposed to lose. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

That's why Seifert tried to deny all the pressure is on his team.

"I think Washington feels the pressure," he said. "They worked hard to get to this position as well. They've had a great season. It's really a hell of a matchup."

It's probably a better matchup than the eight-point spread indicates.

One reason Seifert is so tense is that he knows the Redskins have a cornerback, Darrell Green, who can cover Jerry Rice all over the field. He also knows the Redskins are much better on defense than the team that Montana bombed for 390 passing yards in the second game of the season during a 26-13 victory.

Lineman Tim Johnson has moved into the starting lineup and could put pressure on Montana. Rookie linebacker Andre Collins has a year of experience. Defensive back A.J. Johnson is back from a knee injury and is likely to help Martin Mayhew double cover John Taylor.

The Redskins could well make a game of it. Linebacker Matt Millen said: "Washington is a better football team now than they were then [the second game]. If we go and play them now the way we played then, we'll get beat."

Actually, beating the 49ers is easier said than done. They always seem to find a way to win.

They can win shootouts and they can beat you at your own game the way they edged the New York Giants, 7-3, in a defensive battle.

"We went into that game fairly conservative," Seifert said. "They were a ball-control team. So we were playing their game a little bit with them, basically."

They've also got Montana, who's in a league of his own. He's won 13 playoff games. Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien has won one. Montana's also helped the 49ers win their last six playoff games by an average margin of 34-9. If Rypien has a bad day, it could be another blowout.

Montana is typical of the 49ers. He's all business.

When Millen was asked this week to describe Montana, he said, "He's got the personality of a stone, and he's a great quarterback."

When the laughing stopped, Millen added, "That stone is a diamond, however."

Chipping that stone won't be easy, but it's difficult for everything to go right for any team for three straight years.

In 1976, when Pittsburgh was going for its third straight Super Bowl, Joe Ehrmann fell on Franco Harris' ribs and Rocky Bleier suffered a foot injury during the Steelers' 40-14 victory over the Baltimore Colts in their first playoff game. The Steelers went to Oakland the next week without their two starting running backs and lost.

Washington head Joe Gibbs and Richie Petitbon, the assistant coach who runs the defense, like to point out the 49ers can't win indefinitely.

"Somebody's got to beat them someday," Gibbs said.

Petitbon said: "I don't think we concede anything to anybody on any given day. Hey, somebody's got to beat them. So why not us?"

That thought raises Seifert's paranoia level.

* The Redskins activated quarterback Stan Humphries and waived Gary Hogeboom to make room for him on the roster. Hogeboom was signed after Rypien was hurt in the third game of the season, but never appeared in a game. . . . The 49ers activated wide receiver Mike Sherrard, who had suffered a broken right leg on Oct. 28. To make room for Sherrard on its roster, San Francisco placed linebacker Greg Cox on injured reserve with an injured right hamstring.

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