All of this was fine, but there was no need for the peninsula to get truly excited until that Monday night when the defense blanked the Los Angeles Rams and Plunkett generated enough offense to give the 49ers a 16-0 stunner on national television. The haughty Beverly Hills set tried to rationalize the whipping of its beloved Rams by saying that the Rams had taken the night off, feeling that the NFL's schedule was too long. Down on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, though, the thinking was that the 49ers had embarrassed and battered the hated Rams, and had forced them to quit playing about 50 minutes before the final gun.
In that game the 49ers sacked L.A. Quarterback James Harris a grand total of 10 times and, when it was over, Harris was back on the injured list with a bruised shoulder. Hart personally accounted for six of those sacks, while Hardman had two. Hart and Hardman so confused and overwhelmed the members of the Los Angeles offensive line that the Rams also were hit with four holding penalties. Suddenly, there was true joy in San Mateo.
The 49ers made it four in a row against the poor, disadvantaged Saints with Plunkett hurling two more touchdown passes. There were seven more sacks to accompany the offense, all in all a splendid performance by everyone in a 33-3 waltz, the only sour note being the broken leg McGee suffered when he fell on the concrete-like artificial turf at Candlestick. Plunkett was six out of 10 for 121 yards and the two sixes. On the other hand, New Orleans generally encourages splendid performances by its opponents, so there was still the nagging question of how good San Francisco really was.
Before the Atlanta game—which, as it developed, hardly provided any answers—Coach Monte Clark laughed when he was asked where the 49ers were going to be headquartered at the Super Bowl. Clark, happily, has a subtle wit. He also has a smile that starts on Wednesday and gets there sometime Friday, as when he said of the Chicago loss, "We put it all together that day—in a negative sense."
If Clark, who replaced the fired Dick Nolan last winter, had any plans to redecorate the coach's office in the 49ers' modest headquarters near burgeoning downtown Redwood City, he must have mislaid them. Nothing adorns the walls but a portrait of Tony Morabito, the man who brought to San Francisco in 1946 "the oldest original major league professional football franchise west of the Mississippi" and a slogan on a plaque. Most coaches have more inspirational slogans around their offices than X's and O's, but Clark has just one. It says: "Success equals peace of mind which comes from the self-satisfaction of knowing you have done your best."
Clark said he did not know who said it, or where he found it, but that he believes it.
He said he also believes in Don Shula. Clark reminds people of Shula. Well, he would if Shula stood on a stepladder and put on about 40 pounds. What they mean is that Clark's mannerisms and attitudes compare favorably with Shula's. Of course, that seems only natural, since Clark worked six years for Shula in Miami and has been given much of the credit for assembling the offensive line that helped the Dolphins win their Super Bowls.
"I've tried to learn from everybody I've ever been around," said Clark, who was with the 49ers, Cowboys and Browns during his playing career, and at 39 is the NFL's youngest head coach. "When I was playing, I was always asking guys in other positions why they did this and that. Here, I'll tell you how much I'm like Shula." With that, Clark opened two large notebooks on his desk, books filled with plays, diagrams, work schedules, etc. One was San Francisco's. The other was Miami's. Leafing through both of them, he paused frequently to show how many of the pages were identical.
When Clark arrived in San Francisco last January, he looked around to see what could be changed. New coaches like to change things to create a new atmosphere. The first thing Clark did was move the training camp from Santa Barbara to San Jose. "About 65% of our following, maybe even more, comes from the peninsula, and I felt it would create interest if our camp was in the middle of that," he said. Clark's other momentous decision was to institute the wearing of white jerseys for home games, something the 49ers had never done in all of the years that they have not been winning the NFL championship. "I guess Dallas did it first so that all the visiting teams would have a different look," Clark said. "I did it for that reason, too, but also so I could change something."
Plunkett was acquired from the Patriots—and at great expense—to help bring the good times back. Success in San Francisco has always been measured in what they call "exciting teams" rather than championships. Old 49er sufferers gaze back with fondness on the team of the "Million Dollar Backfield," that of Y. A. Tittle, Joe Perry, Hugh McElhenny and John Henry Johnson, and the days of the "Alphabet Backfield," which was Y. A. Tittle, J. D. Smith, R. C. Owens and C. R. Roberts. They think of the early Frankie Albert-Leo Nomellini days, and they are more than aware of how close they came to a championship under Dick Nolan when John Brodie reached his antique prime in the early '70s.