Neither are the SAN FRANCISCO 49ers, though a happier season than 1978's 2-14 is likely in the Bay Area now that Bill Walsh has replaced Joe Thomas—the NFL's answer to Captain Bligh—as master of the 49ers' fate. Along with his low-key manner and a disdain for such Thomas tactics as wholesale firings and passing the buck, Walsh brings impressive credentials to his jobs as head coach and general manager. During 10 years as an assistant coach for three teams and two seasons as head coach at Stanford, Walsh demonstrated that he has few peers in the art of developing throwing quarterbacks. Walsh's mastery will be tested as he tries to turn Steve DeBerg, who threw for only eight touchdowns a year ago, and rookie Joe Montana from Notre Dame into first-rate NFL passers.
O. J. Simpson, who has run through more airports than defenses the past two seasons, has announced that this one will be his last, and while Jim Brown's career rushing record is out of O.J.'s reach (he'd need to run for 1,537 yards), a superb finish is not—if his sore left knee comes around. However, Simpson did not play during the exhibition season. And the death of his 23-month-old daughter on Sunday further clouds his future.
Says Walsh, "I'm confident we'll double our number of victories this year, and not even the oil companies are doing that."