In 'Young and restive' soap, faces change, ending same

January 12, 1998|By John Eisenberg

SAN FRANCISCO -- The "real" Super Bowl was a wet and one-sided dud yesterday at 3Com Park, and, well, let's blame the home team.

The NFC championship game between the Packers and 49ers had the makings of an epic -- each team had won 14 of 17 games to get here -- but it didn't deliver on its promise because the 49ers turned out to be pretenders more than contenders.

Yes, again.

Only the most loyal Cheeseheads will want to keep the tape of the Packers' 23-10 victory, and even they might be willing to tape over it if, say, a really good bratwurst show comes on the cooking channel one night.

Why preserve a muddy yawner that was decided by the middle of the second quarter?

That's how long it took for the Packers to establish complete dominance.

After that, the only things left to do were a) see how hard it rained (very), b) see how quiet a crowd of 68,987 fans could get (very), and c) see if any locals started pining for the old days when Joe Montana was playing and the 49ers actually won championship games. (Just wait, it's coming.)

The 49ers now have lost four of their past five NFC title games, with three of the losses at home, posing no small problem for a smug franchise that insists no season is a good season unless it ends with a Super Bowl title.

They might want to think about lowering those standards a little now that they have the NFL's oldest team and the Packers have blasted them out of the playoffs three years in a row.

The '80s are very over, in other words.

But no, they won't lower their standards -- they'll just find more scapegoats and excuses. You can look it up.

When they lost to the Packers two years ago, they brought former coach-genius Bill Walsh back into the fold, obviously suggesting that they needed more vision, more adjectives, more something.

Alas, that didn't work -- Walsh did little more than take lunch orders, and the Packers blasted the 49ers again in the playoffs.

Shortly after that, head coach George Seifert was pushed out the door, replaced by Steve Mariucci, the head coach at Cal. Veteran free agents such as Rod Woodson and Kevin Greene were signed, and there was a lot of talk about retooling specifically to beat the Packers.

Yesterday's game would determine how well that retooling had gone, and, well, you saw it.

Report card grade: F.

Time for more scapegoats, more excuses, more rationalizations.

Meanwhile, the obvious reality is that the 49ers just aren't that good, anymore -- not good enough to beat the Packers, that's for sure.

It was pretty obvious before yesterday's game, if you looked closely enough. The Packers had played nine teams with winning records, beating eight. That was a champion's record. But the 49ers had played just five teams with winning records, beating only two. Not so hot.

Blessed with an easier schedule than Nebraska, the 49ers had made it to the NFC title game without a single road win against a team with a winning record.

They were something of a myth, their fat record built at home against bad teams.

It was just one game, though, one game on the 49ers' home field, so there was reason to believe the 49ers could make things close and maybe even spring the upset if a couple of breaks went their way.

Then the game started.

Oh, the 49ers hung in there for a while, with quarterback Steve Young passing fairly effectively around midfield and the defense limiting the Packers to three points in the first quarter. But major warning signs already were flashing. The Packers' offense was having no trouble moving the ball. And the 49ers' running game was nonexistent.

Then came the key moment: Packers safety Eugene Robinson intercepted Young midway through the second quarter and returned the ball 58 yards, setting up a touchdown pass from Brett Favre to Antonio Freeman. The Packers were up 10 now, and that was more than the 49ers were going to muster without a running game.

The 49ers' offense never scored a touchdown, it turned out. The team's only touchdown came on a kickoff return late in the fourth quarter.

In the end, it was a classic performance by the Packers, with their trademark offensive balance, big-play capabilities and stifling defense.

They're going to have to butcher the Super Bowl to lose it.

And the 49ers? They talked after the game about getting stuck in bad field position, getting off to a poor start, committing too many penalties.

Some admitted they'd gotten blown away, and others denied the obvious.

"We were just a couple of plays short," said wide receiver Terrell Owens.

Huh? A couple of plays? Earth to Terrell.

The 49ers were a lot more than just a couple of plays away yesterday.

They were over their heads.

They were a pretty good, aging team that was missing its best player (injured receiver Jerry Rice), lacking offensive balance, and unable to keep pace after a long season of beating overmatched opponents.

Not even the advantage of playing at home made any difference.

In another big game, at the end of another season, the 49ers just weren't good enough -- again.

Pub Date: 1/12/98

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