On Oct. 2, 1981, the 49ers were 2-2 and struggling. They tried to jump-start their season by dealing for a pass rusher who was angry because his team wouldn't pay him what he wanted.
On Monday, almost 10 years to the day after that acquisition, the Niners were 2-3 and struggling. They tried to jump-start their season by dealing for a pass rusher who was angry because his team wouldn't pay him what he wanted.
If the trade for Packer linebacker Tim Harris turns out to be half as good for San Francisco as the deal for Charger defensive end Fred Dean was 10 years ago, you can count on the 49ers making the playoffs for the ninth straight season. Dean was 29 when the Niners got him, and he gave them 40 sacks and fine all-around play for five seasons, including two that ended with Super Bowl victories.
Harris, a holdout who was acquired for a second-round pick in the 1992 draft and a second-or third-rounder in '93, should combine with Charles Haley to give San Francisco the best pair of pass-rushing outside linebackers in the league. Harris had 40 sacks over the past three seasons, and Haley had 38 in the same period. Both are 27, and both have exceptional speed and quickness.
With linemen Michael Carter, Kevin Fagan and Pierce Holt, the Niners have the scariest defensive front west of Philadelphia. "I'm not sure Tim's the impact player Fred was," says veteran linebacker Matt Millen, now with the Redskins. "Fred was one of those guys who, when he went on the field, you knew he was going to do something. But adding Tim will make that defensive front unbelievable."
"It's going to be almost impossible to block them," says Raider coach Art Shell, whose team defeated San Francisco 12-6 on Sunday.
Better still for the Niners, by landing Harris they shored up one weakness without having to give up their 1992 first-round pick—a bargaining chip in the stakes for disgruntled Bronco running back Bobby Humphrey, who would solve another San Francisco headache. Against the Raiders, the 49er backfield-by-committee once again ran with sporadic effectiveness. After five games, Keith Henderson is the team's top rusher, with 176 yards.
If the Niners need a boost now, the Raiders needed one just as badly on Sunday, following a dreadful performance in a 21-17 loss to the Falcons the week before. There was a festive air for the 49er game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where for the first time in memory, scalpers didn't have enough tickets. A crowd of 91,494 watched the L.A. offense continue to sputter. These Raiders will have to win with defense, because they can't depend on the offense with Jay Schroeder (.479 completion percentage) at quarterback. Four field goals by Jeff Jaeger accounted for L.A.'s points.
Safety Ronnie Lott, who moved from the 49ers to the Raiders under Plan B in the off-season, tutored L.A. cornerbacks Lionel Washington and Terry McDaniel in the fine art of blanketing Niner wide-outs Jerry Rice and John Taylor, who together were averaging eight catches, 151 yards and two touchdowns per game this season. So what happened? Rice was shut out until the fourth quarter, and he and Taylor totaled five catches for 80 yards and had no touchdowns.
Veteran stars like Lott and running back Roger Craig, a former 49er who rushed for 44 yards Sunday, can make that kind of difference. They're supposed to. Which is why the 49ers are banking a chunk of their future on Harris.
Stats of the Week
•In 1940, Lion running back Whizzer White—the Supreme Court justice—was the NFL's leading ground gainer, with 514 yards. That's 10 fewer yards than Detroit's Barry Sanders had in September. Sanders picked up 160 on Sunday in a 31-3 victory over the Bucs.
•The Falcons select an honorary special teams captain before every game. Heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield is 0-3 as special teams captain, after Atlanta's 27-6 loss to the Saints.
•The Patriots haven't beaten an NFC East team since 1978, when they defeated the Eagles 24-14. Over that span New England is 0-17 against the division, including Sunday's 24-10 loss to the Cards.
•Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino has been sacked more times (13) in five games this year than he was in four of his previous eight seasons. He was dumped four times in a 41-23 loss to the Jets.
New York, New York
•Dominant Giants? Hardly. They've won only one game by a margin of 10 points or more since last Thanksgiving; they've been outscored by a total of six points in their last seven games; and in those seven games, kicker Matt Bahr has scored 62 of New York's 110 points.
•Cursed Jets? Surely. In their 23-20 loss to the Bills on Sept. 15, the Jets had the ball for 40:35, the second-highest time of possession for a losing team since the NFL started keeping the stat, in 1976. In their 19-13 overtime loss to the Bears on Sept. 23, the Jets blew two chances to win on killer mistakes by running back Blair Thomas and kicker Pat Leahy. Before he was stripped of the ball late in the fourth quarter, Thomas hadn't lost a fumble in 208 career rushes and receptions. Chicago recovered and scored to tie the game. Excluding blocked attempts, Leahy had made 79 straight field goals inside the 30 before missing one from 28 yards that would have beaten the Bears in overtime. The Jets didn't roll over and die, though. They dominated Miami on Sunday.
The situation in Tampa Bay is so bad that the Bucs (0-5) picked up cornerback Carl Carter on waivers from the Bengals last Friday, tutored him in a hotel room Saturday night and played him for a half in their loss at Detroit. Tampa Bay coach Richard Williamson ought to be fired any week now. Look for defensive coordinator Floyd Peters to finish the season as interim coach, with the Bucs bidding for Bill Parcells' services (now, there's a shock) after the season.... The Colts will give left tackle Mark Vander Poel and right guard Chris Conlin their first NFL starts this Sunday night against the Steelers. Veteran tackle Bubba Paris will make his third career start at left guard, and Brian Baldinger, normally a guard, will line up for only the second time at center. Says Indy quarterback Jeff George, "I'm calling plays out there, and we've got guys that, because they're new, are wondering if it's a pass or a run."
Game of the Week
Buffalo at Kansas City, Monday night. The last time these teams met, in 1986, both were coming off last-place finishes—the Bills at 2-14 in the AFC East, and the Chiefs at 6-10 in the AFC West. Now they might be the AFC's top two Super Bowl contenders. "Unbelievable," says Buffalo linebacker Darryl Talley, an alum of the '86 meeting, which the Bills won 17-14. "Who'd we have in that game who's still with us?" Well, Buffalo's 17 points came on two Jim Kelly-to-Andre Reed TD passes and a field goal by Scott Norwood. The seeds were sown.
The End Zone
In 1974, when Jet kicker Bobby Howfield sprained his right knee in midseason, Pat Leahy replaced him. Leahy has never left. At 40, he's now the NFL's oldest player. On Oct. 13, the Jets will play the Oilers, whose kicker is Ian Howfield, Bobby's son. Ian was eight when Leahy booted his dad out of a job.
PETER READ MILLER
The Raiders know the acquisition of veterans such as Craig (22) can make a difference.
To understand McNally you must be fluent in the language of linemen.
Listening to an offensive line coach instruct his players is like walking in on a Berlitz class. During a recent film session with his troops, Bengal line coach Jim McNally put the final touches on their assignments for Cincinnati's game two days later with the Redskins. Below are McNally's instructions to one lineman for one play, followed by a translation.
"We've got a 19 fall. Anthony will take a big split if it's a T bubble-type thing. Remember, Anth, versus this kind of look, if you have to tighten down to Vern, O.K. Now, this is a good look at a rake. When in doubt, drop-step."
The 19 fall is a running play the Bengals would use against Washington's base defense. Anthony is Cincinnati's left tackle Anthony Munoz. McNally wants Munoz to take a big split—to line up a foot or so farther from left guard Bruce (Vern) Reimers than he normally does—if he has a linebacker across the line from him in a T bubble, which is the Bengals' term for the linebacker's playing the tackle soft (a few yards off the line). The play the Bengals are watching on the videotape, however, shows the linebacker across from the tackle but close to the line of scrimmage, in which case, McNally tells Munoz, he can cut the gap between himself and Reimers. The rake is a blocking technique with which Munoz tries to knock Reimers's man off balance before taking on his own man. When Munoz drop-steps, he moves his right foot back, to better position himself for a rake block.