The Bengals will win, 34-24. Ken Anderson will complete 24 of 41 passes for 286 yards. Old man Isaac Curtis, the forgotten Bengal, will catch important passes, including the last touchdown. Anthony Munoz will make Fred Dean disappear. As gallantly as the 49ers will rally on the throwing of Joe Montana (26 of 47), they must lose because they can't match Pete Johnson.
It is always entertaining to see football coaches at work, for only monks bound to silence are as insulated from the world's thrashings, and the coaches say the darndest things. Only Friday the 49ers' Bill Walsh told 500 reporters it was too bad one Super Bowl team would be thought of as "a loser."
Only in the Super Bowl of all sports events, the coach said, was the stigma of defeat so everlasting that the loser "almost has to skulk out of town." This brilliant football tactician said losers in Wimbledon's finals or even losers in heavyweight championship fights are not branded with the scarlet L of ignominius loserdom.
Given 10 minutes any serious sports observer could compile a laundry list of teams, athletes, machines and animals forever connected with constant and inglorious defeat. But Walsh is a coach whose fertile mind gives growth to crossing patterns and underneath routes, whatever they are. So rather than conclude he simply didn't know whereof he spoke, we ought to sift through his little sermon to find out what his real purpose was.
It says here Bill Walsh is afraid his tiny-tot 49ers are going to be so uptight in their first Super Bowl that they won't play well.
The evidence, if circumstantial, is persuasive. The 49ers have 11 rookies, two second-year players and seven third-year men. Nearly half the 45 players, then, are under 24 years old. The Super Bowl is 20th Century America's rendition of Roman excess. And for Sweet XVI, as this one is known to its friends, these 49ers come so fresh faced and vulnerable that the coach is doing strange things that can be interpreted as attempts to make his youngsters forget the Roman numerals.
Walsh put on a comic disguise--a doorman's jacket with the cap pulled low--and wrenched luggage from his players' hands upon arrival this week.
He called a team meeting for the purpose of asking if anybody wanted to go to a Diana Ross concert.
He told his guys, through the media, that losing is no big deal as long as you play beautifully.
The stratagem most intriguing was Walsh's insistence early in the week that the key to the game was Cincinnati running back Pete Johnson. No way Walsh could believe that. The Bengals have a quarterback who completed 63 percent of his passes for 29 touchdowns and nearly 30 points a game. Could Walsh be worried enough about his team's confidence to try so transparent a psych job on the Bengals?
"I think there's some thought on their part to run Pete Johnson up to 30 times," Walsh said.
Everyone looked to see if Walsh would giggle at his outrageous flimflammery, for Johnson hasn't carried 30 times yet (a high of 26, an average of 18).
Walsh, with a straight face, went on: "In our first game, he ran very well. It is my suspicion he'll be their primary weapon."
When Cincinnati lost to San Francisco six weeks ago, 21-3, Johnson carried 12 times for 86 yards.
"I doubt it," Johnson said of the 30-carry theory. "I would love it, but I doubt it. I will say this: if I carry the ball 30 times, we will win--because that means we'll be ahead and won't be throwing the ball a lot."
Johnson won't carry 30 times, but he will be important because he gives Ken Anderson a powerful weapon that 49er quarterback Joe Montana doesn't have. At 250 pounds, Johnson gained 1,077 yards this season--nearly twice the 543 yards of the 49ers' best runner, Ricky Patton.
If San Francisco's wily defensive end, Fred Dean, becomes a nuisance despite the 280-pound presence of tackle Anthony Munoz, Anderson can nullify the rush by sending Johnson up the middle.
Students of horse racing give nags the benefit of the doubt. If they see a race in which a horse runs poorly for no discernible reason, they "throw out" that performance. By picking Cincinnati to win this Super Bowl, a fellow is throwing out the result of Dec. 6.
That's when the 49ers beat the Bengals in Cincinnati. The Bengals' only excuse is that Anderson hurt a toe and had to be replaced. By then, however, he had thrown 20 passes for less than 100 yards and had been intercepted twice. The 49ers led, 14-3, when Anderson went out. The Bengals had six turnovers that day and were sacked three times.
Montana was 23 of 32 in the victory, and Dean taught Munoz a thing or two, which might indicate more of the same coming up Sunday--except for what Tom Landry said. The Dallas master, appraising the 49ers in the wake of the Cowboys' 28-27 loss to them two weeks ago, said: "Montana is all there is there."
And as exciting as Montana will make Sweet XVI, darting loose from angry Bengals to blacken the Silverdome sky with flying footballs, he isn't enough to carry the 49ers to victory over a team built on 11 first-round draft choices (the 49ers have four).
Statistically, the teams are practically identical. This is the kind of game won or lost by a single mistake. A team of anxious rookies whose coach dresses in a doorman's disguise is more likely to make that killing mistake.
By the way, a poll of the press here shows San Francisco the favorite, 104-82. There's no explaining some people.