After the Bears whipped the 49ers slightly more than a year ago, they made an unforgivable mistake. They called Bill Walsh "predictable."
To football's master doodler, that's a four-letter word punishable by hanging in mental limbo until humiliated.
For starters in the NFC title game today, Walsh's 49ers used a guard at fullback three or four times. The formation is called "Angus" not because it puts more beef in the backfield but in honor of the saloon Guy McIntyre frequents.
"Angus" has been in the 49ers' playbook less than a month, or since Walsh realized there was a very good chance the Bears would be on his postseason agenda.
There was genius to the gimmick, for anything that isolates a 271-pounder on a defensive back is bound to keep a coach up to his turtleneck in endorsements.
The first time the 49ers turned rookie McIntyre loose he belted strong safety Todd Bell several yards into the end zone while leading Roger Craig on first and goal from the four.
Unfortunately for Walsh, middle linebacker Mike Singletary slipped behind McIntyre, dropped Craig after a one-yard gain and the Niners eventually settled for a field goal.
"Angus" returned in a mildly awesome way on the play that assured the 49ers another trip to the Super Bowl. They had been so close to the end zone twice before, only to be foiled as much by mistakes as by the Bears.
This time Walsh kept matters simple, ordering "Angus" McIntyre to thunder up the middle and clear out any Bears who happened to get in his way. So splendidly did McIntyre follow orders that Wendell Tyler all but romped over the goal line.
"Just hit in there and let the back make the decision," is how McIntyre rolled it back on replay. "The first time I had any idea about the formation was when (a Walsh aide) came up to me in the bus on the way to practice and said: 'Here, I want you to look at some plays.' "
McIntyre had been around Walsh long enough to expect almost anything, even plays that have No. 62 penciled in behind the quarterback.
"Anything that allows us to use every one of our 49 players to best advantage," McIntyre said. "You wouldn't believe some of the things we have."
How about a wide receiver at quarterback and the quarterback at wide receiver at the same time? The 49ers drew that one up shortly after the Bears mauled the Redskins.
Walsh cannot take total credit for that bit of inspiration, Freddie Solomon being the one who suggested it after suddenly realizing that the Bears' unique defense just might be vulnerable to something the colleges have been running for decades:
Lining up against eight men panting near the line of scrimmage is frightening, Solomon allowed, except if you break through at a particular angle, two of your friendly blockers are bearing down on one Bear.
"One guy can't get both," offensive line coach Bobb McKittrick said.
"It could have been . . . who knows?" said right tackle Keith Fahnhorst. "Only I screwed it up . . . I missed the snap count."
All of a sudden, we were mentally drifting back a decade, to that pup Solomon running the option as well as it can be run at the University of Tampa. Sliding confidently down the line; waiting either for an enormous hole to open or the chance to flip to a back about to barrel downfield.
Freddie flipped; Fahnhorst flubbed; Craig got flopped for no gain.
And what was the new wideout, Montana, doing to make himself useful on the play?
"Bumping and running," he laughed, "the other way."
Today was anything but funny for the Bears. They played hard on defense, as usual; they were creative, as usual. They were outhit and outmaneuvered, which almost never happens.
"We could sense their frustration in the first quarter," Fahnhorst said, "when we were moving the ball. We just couldn't get the seven. At halftime (49ers ahead by 6-0), I think they knew we were the better team. Honestly. We just had to come out and finish it.
"I think they stepped in their grave last year with that statement about being predictable. He (Walsh) was quite tense this week. I know he remembered it."
Giving the Bears their defensive due, Fahnhorst said he could not recall a more mentally taxing week. Even during the final practice, he admitted, "There were times when we'd say: 'Hold it, which way are we going to do this?' "
One of the gimmicks the Niners decided not to try was the shotgun, that being too risky and, well, too predictable for Walsh.
The idea was to give Montana time for three steps and a throw. Protect the middle and hope the ball would be airborne before Chicago blitzers from the outside arrived.
The 49ers' short-passing offense is all but designed to slicker a Bears-style defense.
"They got out of the overshift sooner than I expected," Fahnhorst said, "because we had good success against it."
Montana scarcely got soiled -- and was grounded just three times by the sackingest gang in NFL history. Only one of those sacks was a manly one, the others coming after Montana slipped in the second quarter and on a fall-down for no loss in the fourth.
If the Bears are the Monsters of the Midway, somebody asked Fahnhorst, what does today's dominance make the 49ers?
He is bright, capable of a biting one-liner or cutesy nickname on command. Instead, he smiled and said, very quietly: "It makes us one game from the NFL championship."