The good news coming out of San Francisco on Sunday night was
that 49ers quarterback Steve Young had walked away from a 28-17
victory over the Minnesota Vikings still in one piece.
After Young had been sacked four times in a 44-9 loss to the
Kansas City Chiefs the week before, the question was, Can the
Niners' offensive line protect him in a game against a strong
team? "I think we answered that today, and the answer is yes,"
San Francisco right guard Kevin Gogan said after Sunday's game,
in which Young completed 20 of 25 passes for 280 yards and two
touchdowns to move the 12-2 49ers within a victory of securing
home field advantage in the NFC playoffs. "They have some real
good pass rushers, and they brought the heat, but we kept it
With Young nursing ribs that had been bruised by the Chiefs, the
San Francisco line performed admirably, holding the Vikings to
two sacks and preventing All-Pro defensive tackle John Randle
from doing any serious damage. In fact, the most stinging shots
delivered by Randle were of the verbal variety. Late in the game
Randle began chattering at Niners left guard Ray Brown, and
Gogan happily entered the fray. Ten minutes after the game,
Gogan was still squawking. "Ask John Randle if he has a carnival
ticket," Gogan cackled, "because I gave him a good ride today."
Randle shouldn't be offended, for Gogan is an equal-opportunity
annoyer. His most frequent targets are teammate Tim Hanshaw, who
began this season as the starting left tackle but was benched
after Week 3 in favor of Derrick Deese, and offensive line coach
Bobb McKittrick, whose meetings are constantly interrupted by
Gogan's yelps, barbs and hurling of various objects. "It's like
The Howard Stern Show," Deese says of the offensive line
meetings. "You always want to see what will happen next." Gogan
has no qualms about tormenting the 61-year-old McKittrick.
"Hey," Gogan says, "somebody's got to do it."
While the 330-pound Gogan garners the bulk of the attention, it
is the quietest member of the line, 6'6", 275-pound right tackle
Kirk Scrafford, who is having the best season of any 49ers
blocker. Scrafford, who hails from Missoula, Mont., has an
overly relaxed manner of speaking--Gogan calls him Eeyore after
the Winnie the Pooh character--but is a punishing pass
protector. The versatile Deese, who until this year hadn't
played tackle since junior college, has also been an effective
pass blocker, and the Niners have received strong inside play
from Brown and center Chris Dalman.
The line has struggled with pass protection on two occasions
this year, both times on the road: in Kansas City and in a
season-opening defeat at Tampa Bay, during which Young suffered
a concussion. In those games the line looked overwhelmed. "If
there was one thing we learned in Kansas City," Scrafford says,
"it's that we don't want to be on the road in January."
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Scrafford (76) and Dalman kept the Vikings at bay, giving Young time to complete 20 of 25 passes. [Kirk Scrafford, Steve Young, Chris Dalman, and others in game]