Packers-49ers game gives wild-card weekend punch

On The NFL

January 03, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Call it the law of unintended consequences.

When the NFL added two more wild-card teams to the playoffs in 1990 and took the bye away from the conference champions with the third-best record, the idea was to create more TV attractions by having four games -- instead of two -- played during the wild-card weekend.

What really happened is that they gave a huge advantage to the four teams that have byes the first weekend. Teams with first-round byes have filled 14 of the 16 Super Bowl berths in the eight years this system has been in effect.

Of the 64 teams to play in the wild-card weekend during that span, only two -- the Bills in 1992 and the Broncos last year -- made it to the Super Bowl. The Bills had to pull off the biggest comeback in league history to survive, and the Broncos had a 12-4 record, which is unusual for a wild-card team.

That's why the odds are stacked against the eight teams playing this weekend. But there is still one game that has a lot of significance even if neither team makes the Super Bowl.

That's the Green Bay-San Francisco matchup in San Francisco today.

This is such a rivalry -- Green Bay has beaten the 49ers five straight times and knocked them out of the playoffs the last three years -- that Packers quarterback Brett Favre has suggested the Packers had a letdown in the Super Bowl after beating the 49ers in the NFC title game last year.

In his book "On the Record," Favre said: "I think the NFC championship game took something out of us. It was a pretty emotional and physically draining win. When we ran off the field, it felt like we'd already won the Super Bowl."

Favre said he even told a teammate, "This win is bigger than the feeling when we beat New England in the Super Bowl."

As if their duel in the playoffs for the fourth straight year -- only Pittsburgh and Oakland, who met in the playoffs five straight years from 1972-76, have had a longer string -- weren't big enough, there's an added dimension to today's game.

It's the speculation that if the 49ers lose today, owner Eddie DeBartolo will fire coach Steve Mariucci, who'll then wind up in Cleveland with his old boss Carmen Policy. DeBartolo would then hire Packer coach Mike Holmgren to run the show.

Nobody knows if this rumor has any validity, but the speculation has taken on a life of its own in the Bay area.

Holmgren, a native of San Francisco and a former 49ers assistant, called the speculation that Mariucci could be coaching for his job "ridiculous" and Mariucci said he's only thinking about this game.

"We have to put it all on the back burner," said Mariucci of a proposed contract extension that has yet to get done.

All this explains why there could be a lot at stake today when the 49ers play the Packers in a mere wild-card game.

Organization men

As the controversy swirls about Ravens owner Art Modell's refusal to hire a strong football man to run his organization, Modell couldn't help noting the new Cleveland Browns are following his model.

Policy, the Browns team president, has hired Dwight Clark as his personnel chief and will hire a coach, but neither will have authority over the other.

"What we're trying to do here is get away from individual decisions, individual selections," Policy said recently. "The Cleveland Browns [not Clark or the head coach] are going to make the selection of the first pick in the draft. This is not all about authority, this is not all about power. This is about responsibility. That's the kind of system we want to put in place."

Modell said at the news conference Monday when he fired Ted Marchibroda: "Policy says the scouts will have input, the coach will have input and if there's a division of thought, a disagreement, he'll make the decision. I put that in place 38 years ago. It's nothing new. Do it by consensus."

The question that can be debated is whether consensus works. Modell has had one title team (1964) in those 38 years and has yet to make the Super Bowl. By contrast, the 49ers dynasty was built when Bill Walsh was calling all the shots.

Modell said his franchise's problems in the 1990s are not the result of the consensus system, but of the coaches he's selected.

"Mistakes I made. The choice of people. Pure and simple. I'll try to learn by my mistakes and not repeat them. We had some coaches that should not have been our coaches in Cleveland," Modell said.

That means that Modell has a lot riding on his next selection of head coach if he's to improve his record of having just one playoff team in the 1990s.

Consensus controversy

The flaws in the consensus system can be illustrated by the debate now going on in San Francisco over the 49ers' selection of Jim Druckenmiller over Jake Plummer two years ago.

Clark, who joined Policy in the exodus from San Francisco, recently said that Walsh, who wasn't even in the building when the pick was made, felt that Druckenmiller had more ability than any quarterback in the draft.

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