Will we ever learn?
Do you figure we'll ever get it through our craniums that every time we try to give Joe Montana the Polident Gift Set, he turns 22 again? That every time we try to give Bill Walsh the gold watch, he winds up cleaning someone's clock? That every time we start writing the obit on the San Francisco 49ers, they write one on the other guys?
Oh, we thought we had the Niners this time. There they were, up to their chin straps in chaos as they entered their New Year's Day NFC playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings at Candlestick Park. Was Walsh going to stay? Was Montana going gray? What about Steve Young, anyway? And when was Jerry Rice going to have his playoff day? And if the 49ers still ranked among the NFL's best teams, how come they had gone nose-to-the-canvas faster than Michael Spinks in their last three playoff appearances?
Montana, in fact, hadn't passed for a postseason touchdown since the Niners' Super Bowl win, over the Miami Dolphins, in January 1985. Rice hadn't sniffed a playoff touchdown in his life, and 1988's premier running back, Roger Craig, may have been Hummm Baby during the regular season, but he had been numb, baby (57 yards on 21 carries), in three playoff games since '85.
What's more, the 49ers were going to face the same outfit that had knocked them out of the playoffs last year. This season the young and sung Vikings boasted the best defense in the NFL, the top passing quarterback in the NFC and the baddest driving record in Minnesota.
With 11 Vikings having been arrested during the past two years, including seven for DWI, most people don't want to get on the same blacktop with them, never mind the same football field. And socially the Vikes aren't exactly Young Republicans either. Safety Joey Browner likes to play with a samurai sword in his spare time. Safety Darrell Fullington owns a submachine gun. Defensive tackle Keith Millard once warned a cop, "My arms are more powerful than your gun." Nosetackle Henry (Harley Hank) Thomas wears reptile-skin motorcycle jackets. Good thing that defensive coordinator Floyd Peters used to be a prison guard. The Vikings even briefly signed Mossy Cade, who had been convicted of sexual assault, which prompted one Viking player to ask, "Who are we going to sign next, Charles Manson?"
More important, the Yikes Vikes had more Pro Bowlers—nine—this season than any other team, and they were going against a 49er club that had a regular-season record that was worse than theirs (10-6 vs. 11-5), an unimpressive record at home (4-4) and a proclivity for getting playoff apples lodged in the throat. So you take the Vikings and get ready for Bears-Vikings III in the conference final, right? Wrong.
Old Blue Eyes, Montana, threw for three TDs, and he was so adept at eluding Minnesota's hairy rush that he was sacked only once. The forgotten Rice scored San Francisco's first three touchdowns and put so many spine-twisting moves on Viking cornerbacks that some chiropractor will have his hands full for a while. Craig ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which was an 80-yarder. In short, the 49ers made Minnesota's All-World defense look like so many human yield signs by rolling up 372 total yards.
Meanwhile, the Niner defense addled the Vikings with mysterious sets and seven-defensive-back curtains. San Francisco hit Minnesota so hard that the Vikings' families were dizzy. The 49ers sacked Minnesota quarterback Wade Wilson six times. And they won a 34-9 chortler to set up a meeting with Chicago in the NFC enchilada game.