DIARY OF A WASHINGTON REDSKIN SPY:
Spylog, Tuesday, Jan. 8: I'm not so sure about this. Look, I've done the Kremlin, the Lebanese embassy, even Madonna's house, but this San Francisco 49er practice facility is the toughest nut to crack yet. I actually had to climb a eucalyptus tree just to get a look inside today. Unfortunately, 49er coach George Seifert had his security staff chase me out before I could get any good pictures. While I was able to slip away without being identified, it was embarrassing to read in all of the papers that I had been sighted.
"Honest to God, there was somebody in that tree," Seifert told the media. "This just shows the kind of environment we're living in."
Spylog, Wednesday, Jan. 9: Seifert admits he's getting "very paranoid," and I like to think I'm part of it. Today, I tried the Fuji blimp. Seifert and his guys glared at mc, but what could they do? Rent a chase blimp? Unfortunately, from a circling blimp, it is difficult to tell a tight end from a Gatorade cooler.
Not that I think we Redskins will have any trouble with the 49ers come Saturday. Seriously. You could bail out Pan Am with the money you would make betting on us. Everybody knows we're the hot team now. We've won five of our last six, and that included the girl everybody wanted to take to the Super Ball, the Philadelphia Eagles. We stuffed their corsage-down their throat.
The Niners? Get bent. They're about as in as eight-track tapes. These guys are just waiting to be driven to the Hall of Fame dinner. They've been flat. Joe Montana, 34, has played 30 minutes in the last three weeks and a lousy 30 minutes at that. Ronnie Lott, 31, hasn't played in four weeks. Roger Craig, 30, has been spelled by somebody named Dexter Carter, for cripes' sake.
Spylog, Thursday, Jan. 10: Today I flew over the Niner practice field in a helicopter. Seifert got so flustered he told somebody to go get a starter's pistol to fire at the chopper, but nobody could find him one. You think I'm going to be scared by a starter's pistol? Who am I, Carl Lewis?
Spylog, Friday, Jan. 11: This baby is in the bag. Seifert even went up to Mark Purdy, columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, and said, "I read your story on how Joe Montana is better than Mark Rypien. Thanks a lot for motivating Washington." Uh-oh. Somebody call Reuters, NEWSFLASH: MONTANA SAID TO BE BETTER THAN RYPIEN!
Everybody knows our coach, Joe Gibbs, will think circles around Seifert. Have you ever seen Gibbs lose when he holes up in his office for a week with his X's and O's and his hot plate? It snowed four inches in Washington, yet four days later, Gibbs's car was still sitting there, under a pile of snow. This is a lock, baby.
Spylog, Saturday, Jan. 12: This is not the team I saw from the blimp. This Montana, he was fantastic. Old? He was as frisky as a second-year guy. He threw on the run. He hit guys that didn't even know they were open.
Somebody double-crossed me. I think the team I spied on was Stanford. We got killed at Candlestick Park. We scored a touchdown on our first drive, got a field goal the next time clown and then never scored again. We got vaporized in an NFC divisional playoff, 28-10.
Most of the problem was this damn Montana. He was running like Cunningham and gunning like Elway and cunning like, well, himself. "We were this close every time to sacking him," said our Pro Bowl defensive end, Charles Mann. "We made him run, but every time he seemed to like to run.... He was a one-man wrecking crew."
Maybe I wasn't seeing too well out of my seagull disguise, but I could've sworn we were in this game for a minute there. Rypien started off sizzling. He hit Art Monk for a 31-yard touchdown, and we were up 7-0. They answered with that running back who looks like a Russian professor, Tom Rathman, whose one-yard touchdown tied it. But we came right back with a field goal, and we led 10-7 in the first quarter. Who would ever think they would egg us from there?
I should've known we were in trouble, though, when Montana hit third-look receiver Jerry Rice with a 10-yard touchdown pass that was so pretty it could break your heart in two. He slipped it just past the cuticles of our cornerback, Darrell Green, and right onto the fingertips of Rice. "That's all Montana," said Green. "We were in the right position. He just made the play."
The trouble was, he kept on doing it. On the next drive he put a spiral through the crook of the elbow of our linebacker, Andre Collins, and into the disbelieving mitts of their tight end, Brent Jones, for 47 yards. And two plays later a guy who hadn't played in 10 weeks, Mike Sherrard, who was coming off a broken right ankle, gimped into the clear and caught the eight-yard TD pass that made it 21-10.
"If the ball had been thrown three inches either way," said Gibbs of the passes to Rice and Jones, "we could have made the plays on defense."
Still, I had hope. One of our Buicks, 290-pound defensive end James Geathers, put a hurt on Montana at the end of the first half that put him out of the game. "When I saw [backup] Steve Young come in," Geathers said, "I thought we had a chance. But Montana came back like Superman."
Not that it mattered. By then, Rypien had gone south. He had Monk open in the corner of the end zone in the third quarter and threw it so late that the Niners got back and intercepted it. Then he opened the fourth quarter by getting intercepted in the other end zone. Nobody quite knew who he was throwing to, but it was definitely somebody in a 49er jersey.
We had one more chance when Montana had his first throw picked off in 180 playoff pass attempts over the past three years. Linebacker Monte Coleman made the interception with 10:28 left. But Rypien got zilch on three tries, and on fourth down, Niner cornerback Eric Davis gave Gary Clark a facial in the end zone without getting called for it, and that pretty much killed that.
Oh, then there was the humiliating ending. San Francisco's 285-pound nose-guard, Michael Carter, picked off a Rypien pass and ran it back 61 yards for a touchdown. Although, maybe ran isn't the right word. It was more the way a doughnut truck gets down Broadway with five pistons and three wheels. When they've got Rice and Carter burning you, you might as well start making vacation plans.
"I thought this was going to be the game," said Niner linebacker Matt Millen. "My honest feeling was Washington was the best team in the playoffs. From here, it's going to be easy."
O.K., he was joking. But seriously, who in the solar system thinks San Francisco can be beaten now? After a mandatory appearance in the NFC Championship Game against the Giants this Sunday, the Tampa trip looks like it'll be six days at Busch Gardens and one day dusting off the old Vince Lombardi trophy acceptance speech. Craig and Lott and Sherrard are back, after nursing various knee and ankle ailments. The defense gets all bent out of shape anytime anybody tries to park in their red zone. (We were inside their 20 four times in the second half and got zip!) And Montana, who completed 12 of his first 15 passes and finished up 22 of 31 for 274 yards, looks like he's been putting Retin-A on his arm.
Our defensive coordinator, Richie Petitbon, said it best about Montana: "We shoulda kidnapped the s.o.b."
JOHN W. McDONOUGH
Montana stayed one step ahead of the Skins, picking them apart with pinpoint passing.