Steve Young remembers the way the NFL once was.
"In the early '90s, teams were together for years and years," the San Francisco 49ers quarterback said last week. "Now you put together a team in April and you have to teach the players the team's heritage in two months and then go play football."
One of the things he has to teach some of the players is the significance of today's game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field (4 p.m., Ch. 45).
The Packers have beaten the 49ers four straight times and knocked them out of the playoffs the past three years. If the 49ers are to get back to the top, they have to show they can beat the Packers.
"Half the guys in our locker didn't experience that [the four losses]. Free agency has changed the game in a lot of ways, and this is one of the subtle ones," Young said.
Along with the unbeaten Minnesota Vikings, the 49ers and Packers are the only NFC teams with realistic shots at the Super Bowl. This game will help determine field position for the playoffs.
The 49ers and Packers are such rivals that Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre said his team's victory over San Francisco in the NFC title game last year was so emotionally draining that it took something out of the team for the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos.
There's a lot of personal connections because Packers coach Mike Holmgren is a San Francisco native who was an assistant coach for the 49ers while 49ers coach Steve Mariucci was an assistant coach with the Packers.
Young, who has not beaten the Packers in eight tries with Tampa Bay and San Francisco, savors games like this.
"I understand the team can't win a championship Sunday, but these are the games you've got to win and when you don't, you remember them," he said.
His duel with Favre will be the focal point of the game. Favre was annoyed last year when Mariucci said Favre made more big plays than Young but threw more interceptions because of the risks he takes.
It was basically a true statement, though. Young, a lawyer off the field, is more analytical than Favre, who relishes his role as a gunslinger.
"Playing quarterback is like trying to catch a tiger," Young said. "You think you've got it caged, but if you're not careful, it runs out again. You try to corral it as much as you can. The fun part is always trying to master it."
In the watered-down NFL of this era, it doesn't get much better than the Packers vs. the 49ers and Young vs. Favre.
Chip off the old block
When football people talk about Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda, they often say, "He's got a little bit of George Allen in him."
Marchibroda coached under Allen from 1966 to 1974 with the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins before he started his head-coaching career with the Baltimore Colts in 1975.
Marchibroda has a much different style than the intense Allen, who thrived on paranoia and creating an "us vs. them" philosophy.
While Marchibroda is much more laid-back, he copies Allen's style on occasion. Like last week, when he closed practice to the media. He closed the locker room on Wednesday and only opened it on Friday after the NFL threatened to fine him.
Of course, these Allen ploys don't always work. Marchibroda was on Allen's staff in 1972 when the Redskins went to Super Bowl VII. Allen spent the week railing about "distractions" and even sent a coach to scout the sun at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
All Allen succeeded in doing was to get his team uptight, and the Redskins lost to the 17-0 Dolphins even though they were favored by three points.
But these are desperate times for Marchibroda, so it remains to be seen if this ploy will work. If nothing else, it shows that Marchibroda knows his job is on the line.
Sports Illustrated put him first this week on the list of coaches likely to be fired. Rumormeister Fred Edelstein said in his newsletter that the "word inside the organization" is that Marchibroda will be fired if he loses the next two games.
Edelstein then said that his report might save Marchibroda because "Art Modell loves to prove us wrong." How's that for having it both ways?
In any case, it makes no sense to fire Marchibroda during the season because that'll just increase speculation the next time the Ravens have a coach in trouble. If Modell hadn't fired Sam Rutigliano at 1-7 in 1984 and Bud Carson at 2-7 in 1990, there wouldn't be as much speculation that Marchibroda could lose his job before the season ends.
Coaches often point out that bad calls by the officials can cost them their jobs. All they get is an apology from the league that the officials blew a call, but it doesn't help their won-lost mark.
Marchibroda finds himself in that situation after the league admitted the officials should have called wide receiver Charles Johnson for pushing off cornerback Duane Starks when he scored the only touchdown in a 16-6 Steelers victory two weeks ago.
That touchdown early in the third quarter turned the game around and probably cost the Ravens the win.
Trouble in paradise?