With Redskins-49ers, dismiss the data Super models of consistency look to reach NFC title game

January 09, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- Forget the odds. Forget the matchups. Forget the records.

The thing to remember is that the San Francisco 49ers are playing the Washington Redskins in a playoff game today at Candlestick Park. The teams have won seven of the past 11 Super Bowls.

Both know what it takes to win a game like this, and both know what it's like to lose.

That's why it's tempting to overlook the fact that the Redskins are the biggest underdogs on the board -- nine points -- this weekend and that they lost four of their last seven regular-season games and backed into the playoffs with a 9-7 record.

It's also tempting to overlook the fact that the 49ers are 14-2 and favored to win their fifth Super Bowl since 1981.

Said Washington assistant coach Richie Petitbon: "The thing about football is you have to play the game. Nobody's ever won on paper. On paper, we don't have a chance. That's the way we like it."

If this were the best of worlds, last year's Redskins team that won the Super Bowl would be playing this year's 49ers.

That's because this Redskins team is beat up. Defensive lineman Charles Mann and guard Mark Schlereth will play but both could have had knee surgery weeks ago. Defensive back Darrell Green (heel) and running back Ricky Ervins (ankle) aren't sure how much they can play. The Redskins had hoped to bring back defensive tackle Eric Williams (torn abdominal muscle), but he's not ready.

What the Redskins lack in health, though, they're likely to make up for in intensity. This could be the most intense game of the playoffs.

The best game of the playoffs is supposed to be next week, when the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys -- if each team wins this weekend -- will play for a Super Bowl berth.

But the Cowboys might be too young to fully appreciate a game like this. What they see on the horizon are better days. Perhaps they don't realize how rare these opportunities can be.

The 49ers and Redskins have experienced the better days -- combining to win those seven Super Bowls -- but they haven't forgotten the sting of the losses.

The 49ers remember going 13-2 in 1987 and losing their first playoff game at home to the Minnesota Vikings. They remember leading the New York Giants in the final two minutes of the 1990 NFC title game, only to have Roger Craig fumble it away.

The Redskins remember losing the 1986 NFC title game to the Giants in the wind. Most of all, they remember their last playoff defeat -- the 28-10 loss to the 49ers here two years ago.

Mann said, "I remember Monte Coleman getting an interception and he's coming to the sidelines crying. I'm saying, 'You just got an interception. What are you crying about?' He said, 'I don't want to lose this game. I don't want to lose it.' What he was crying about was just because we ended up losing.

"It's not all about the money," Mann said. "It's about pride. This is something we've done all our lives. It's something we really want to have. A lot of guys have played their whole careers and never gotten an opportunity at a Super Bowl experience, let alone a ring."

There's probably more pressure, though, on the 49ers. If the Redskins lose, they'll just be the latest defending champion that didn't repeat.

The 49ers are supposed to win, and they'll be measured by the Joe Montana legacy. Steve Young will be making his first playoff start and has the burden of proving he can pick up where Montana left off. The fact that Montana is standing on the sidelines won't make it any easier.

Coach George Seifert, who stepped in for Bill Walsh in 1989 and

won a Super Bowl in his rookie season, is downplaying that aspect.

"I don't know that anybody ever replaces anybody else," he said. "Certainly, Joe Montana is an entity unto himself. Bill Walsh is. I'll never replace Bill, Steve will never replace Joe, Ricky Watters will never replace Roger Craig, and Dana Hall will never replace Ronnie Lott. Each person is someone unto himself."

Seifert says he isn't concerned about the fans yelling for Montana if Young stumbles.

"Steve's heard that already, and I've heard the fans yelling for Bill Walsh. It kind of goes with the territory," he said.

Seifert acknowledges, though, that the pressure to win is intense.

"It's like a monster constantly chasing you and you're trying to stay one step ahead of it," he said. "All of a sudden if you start stumbling, the monster's got you in a hurry."

The fact that the 49ers can become the first team to win five Super Bowls doesn't interest Seifert. He's focused on today's game.

"It's not like during the season when you have something else after this one. You either win or it's over, baby. The biggest game of the century is this Saturday, period," he said.

The winner gets to play another game of the century next Sunday.

The difference is that it won't match two teams with seven Super Bowl victories.

"You develop expectations," Seifert said. "I'm sure Washington goes into each season with the idea they're going to win the Super Bowl. That's what they talk to their players about, and we do the same thing. The level of expectation is so high that I think people perform to that."

NOTES: Heavy rain in California this week has tapered off, but showers are forecast for today. A muddy field could restrict the 49ers' passing game and favor the Redskins, who plan to rely on the running game. The field at Candlestick has been covered all week, and it should "be firm and hold up," said Murlin "Mo" Fowell, director of stadium operations. "Personally, I think it will be fine.". . . Since Williams wasn't ready to be activated, the Redskins brought back WR Stephen Hobbs from the injured reserve list and put WR Carl Harry on the list with a shoulder injury. The Redskins had hoped Williams would help their run defense.

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