When coach George Seifert of the San Francisco 49ers was ducking questions about Joe Montana's elbow Monday, he said, "We're still in the evaluation mode."
That prompted a reporter to try to crack a joke, saying, "You sound like those guys in the U.S.S.R." Seifert stormed out of the news conference.
Seifert later said: "I'm embarrassed by it. At that moment, the remark about the U.S.S.R. didn't strike me as funny."
The next day, the 49ers put Montana on the injured-reserve list for at least four weeks.
And Seifert walked into his news conference wearing an East German military hat. That was his way of making a joke about his reaction.
It's easy to understand, though, why Seifert was so agitated.
Losing Montana is a prospect that could rattle any coach. The 49ers have a good replacement in Steve Young, but a Montana comes around only once every generation or so.
Nobody knows, either, whether Montana will be back in four weeks, four months or ever. He's suffering from the wear and tear of all those years of throwing, and he's 35. Terry Bradshaw's career ended with a bad arm at the same age.
But nobody is counting Montana out. He has beaten the odds before, notably in 1986, when he came back from back surgery after some doctors suggested he retire.
He also is willing to pay a higher price to play than some other players are.
For example, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason said: "He's a great player and I feel for him, but I would never do what he's done. I think you're risking your football health by taking as many cortisone injections as he has. We all respect him because he wanted to play. He'd do whatever is necessary, but I never will. All I use is heat and ice, and that's all I will ever use."
Seifert said one reason the club put Montana on IR was that doing so would eliminate the temptation to rush him back and risk further injury to the arm.
For now, even shots can't enable Montana to play. The doctors can prescribe only rest and waiting.
You'd think a coach who won the Super Bowl in his first season and lost the NFC title game on a late field goal in his second season could think he was off to a pretty good start.
But it doesn't work that way. Seifert acknowledged last week that he never has gotten over the 15-13 loss to the New York Giants in the NFC title game last January.
He said has he replayed the game in his mind, going over every detail -- the play-calling, the substitutions. Everything.
He finally decided that the only way he could get over the defeat would be to start playing games again.
Tomorrow night, he will start again. At Giants Stadium. Against the Giants.
It's easy to figure what this game means to Seifert. His two-year record is 32-5, an incredible .865 percentage. By contrast, Don Shula is at .683, Joe Gibbs at .673 and Mike Ditka at .653.
OC But he remembers that loss to the Giants more than the 32 wins.
Only two teams, the Washington Redskins and New York Jets, don't force season-ticket holders to buy exhibition game tickets.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue says season-ticket holders shouldn't be upset and rather should look at it as if they're getting the exhibition games for free. He argues the season-ticket package would cost the same without the exhibition games.
"In many ways, it's a question of form," he said. "The teams have to price their tickets at a level which gives them the revenue they need to operate. And in many situations, the question really is, do you have a $200 ticket price for eight games which breaks out to $25 a game, or do you have a $200 ticket price for 10 games, which breaks out to $20 per game on a per-game basis. I think from the club's standpoint, the basic question is, at what level do you fix the overall price and it really becomes six of one and half dozen of the other whether you put eight games on the strip or 10 games on the strip. The basic price is driven by revenue needs in relation to cost, including player salaries. The fan in effect gets two additional games for a price that he'd otherwise have to pay for the eight regular-season games rTC because what is driving the pricing is the overcall economics of the strip of tickets."
Maybe they should print that explanation next year on the exhibition game tickets.
Incidentally, The Wall Street Journal reports that, according to a Team Marketing Report survey, ticket prices will average $25.21 around the league, although the 49ers will charge $35 for every ticket. They raised their prices 17 percent, the biggest increase in the league. Only 11 of the 28 teams raised prices last year.
If Tom Clancy's new novel, "The Sum of all Fears," is any indication, he likes both The Sun and pro football.