Norton's Quest Has Familiar Ring Super Bowl Xxix

January 26, 1995|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Writer

MIAMI -- Ken Norton Jr. sent a message to his teammates last Sunday.

When the San Francisco 49ers flew to Miami to prepare for Super Bowl XXIX, he wore the ring he won last year in Super Bowl XXVIII with the Dallas Cowboys.

"I wore my ring down here just to let them understand why we're coming here," he said. "The money comes and goes, but the rings will last forever. We're here to win a ring."

Norton was one of the key free agents the 49ers signed in the off-season as they rebuilt their defense in a bid to end the Cowboys' two-year championship reign.

Although many of the veterans the 49ers signed -- including Deion Sanders, Gary Plummer and Rickey Jackson -- are attempting to win their first Super Bowl ring, it's just as special for Norton.

Pointing at some of the teammates trying to win that first one, Norton said, "It makes you understand how rare it is and how special it is. It's something I'll never forget and I'll cherish it for the rest of my life. I can go down in history as the first guy to win three in a row. It'll be really special for me to be remembered for something like that."

Norton also likes to point out that his signing is an example of why the 49ers are back and the Cowboys fell short in the NFC title game.

When the 49ers were busy signing several veterans before the salary cap went into effect Dec. 23, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones concentrated on signing quarterback Troy Aikman.

"Dallas wants everyone to play at the minimum wage," Norton said. "In order to play for the Cowboys, I would have been the laughingstock of the league."

He makes it obvious he's not enamored of the ownership style of the Cowboys' Jerry Jones.

"The ownership in Dallas thought they could line up anybody at any position and play them there," said Norton, who signed a five-year, $8 million deal with the 49ers. "It doesn't matter about personality. It doesn't matter about emotion. It doesn't matter about talent. Hopefully, they learned their lesson.

"You have to look at economics. Fifteen, 10 years down the road when your kid goes to college and he asks me, 'Dad, how come you can't afford to put me in college.' [And I answer] 'Well, son, I stayed with the Cowboys."

He said there's quite a contrast between the way Jones runs his team and 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo runs his.

"Here, they make the players look like they're part of the team," Norton said. "They don't look down on them. Over there, the organization is all ownership, and then there's the players."

On a more sensitive issue in his life, his tangled relationship with his father, the former heavyweight boxing champion, Norton likes to avoid discussion.

The two men who were once so close -- Ken Norton Sr. raised his son as a single father when his first marriage broke up in 1967 and the son helped nurse the father back from a serious auto accident -- had a public rift when Ken Jr. got married.

When Norton Sr. was interviewed about the rift by a TV announcer before the Cowboys' first Super Bowl, he broke down on camera, though he requested his tears not be shown and they weren't.

The rift apparently started when his father urged caution when his son announced he was going to marry a divorced woman with a young daughter.

The two men made a tentative attempt at patching things up earlier this year when Norton's father showed up at a 49ers game against the Rams in Anaheim, Calif.

"We spoke. There's really nothing to it. If we can work it out, let's work it out between us," Norton Jr. said yesterday.

Norton Jr. is not sure how it's going to work out. It's a situation, though, he doesn't want to elaborate on.

"This is my third Super Bowl," he said. "The first one was your father and the relationship. The second one was your father and the relationship. And you think that maybe it's old news now. But the story won't die. To you guys, it's a story. It's my life. I'd like to get it out of the papers."

Norton is more willing to turn the subject back to football. He had a tough time adjusting to the 49ers' defensive concept, but now has settled in. He led the team in tackles with 92.

His main assignment Sunday will be to stop running back Natrone Means. The 49ers know the Chargers want to keep the 49ers' offense off the field by running Means.

"My worst fear is to be on the ground and looking up and seeing the back of Natrone Means running down the field," Norton said. "That's real scary. I sit back and I hear about being 20-point favorites and then I look at Natrone Means running the ball. I'm saying, 'How in the world can they come up with these numbers?"

But the 49ers did hold Means to 50 yards in 18 carries when they beat the Chargers, 38-15, on Dec. 11.

If they stop Means again, Norton should get that third ring.

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