This city, beside itself in anticipation, finally got what it wanted Sunday afternoon.

It already had Super Bowl XIX, but still needed the host. The 49ers gladly obliged.

After stopping Walter Payton and the Chicago Bears the way the Bears usually stop their opponents, the 49ers qualified for the short drive to Palo Alto Jan. 20 to play Miami, their only true peer in the National Football League.

"It's going to be a great game," said Chicago Coach Mike Ditka, undaunted by the 23-0 whitewash he had just witnessed. "Whoever has the ball last will probably win it."

For just the second time in NFL history, a home team is playing in the Super Bowl. In 1980, the Los Angeles Rams lost to Pittsburgh, 31-19, in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

"Maybe we should get in a plane and fly around the stadium a couple times to give us the impression we're on a trip," defensive end Dwaine Board said. "We really don't care where we play. We're going to make our home anywhere we go."

At Stanford Stadium, the 49ers probably will have the biggest home-field advantage in Super Bowl history. It's hard to imagine fans more infatuated with their team than the followers of the 49ers. Sunday night, they clogged city streets for blocks in celebration, forcing police to re-route traffic for several hours.

Just how big is the Super Bowl here? The local ABC-TV affiliate Sunday night aired a story on the arms control talks in Geneva. Its heading: "Diplomatic Super Bowl."

"You couldn't ask for a better matchup," said Board, who had perhaps the most bone-crushing of San Francisco's nine sacks against the hapless Chicago offense. "It's a great challenge for us going against Dan Marino."

Almost two weeks away, the glamor matchup looks like Miami quarterback Marino against the 49ers' unit that beat the league's best defense at its own game.

"Their defense reminded me of ours," Chicago guard Mark Bortz said. "They were coming from all different angles, and they have so many defensive linemen. Whenever we looked, they were right on top of us."

From the 49ers, the first obligatory awestuck words have been spoken of Marino.

"The guy's unbelievable," said cornerback Ronnie Lott. " 'Boom.' It hits you right away. He's tough, he's improved. They're a much better team than they were last year."

The 49ers and Dolphins played in 1983, and Miami won, 20-17, at Candlestick Park. Miami is the only NFL team the 49ers have never defeated, losing four times.

But turnabout seems to play a big role in Coach Bill Walsh's game plans. The 49ers said several times last week that they were seeking vindication after an embarrassing 13-3 loss to the Bears in 1983. The Bears said then that San Francisco's offense was "predictable."

Then there was all the pregame talk about Chicago's defense. San Francisco nose tackle Manu Tuiasosopo called it simply "extra incentive."

There might be no fighting words to dig up for the Dolphins, but the challenge of Marino might be enough. When they played in '83, Marino was in his first month as a starter, but still completed 15 of 29 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns.

"It seems like pressure doesn't faze him," Board said. "He has such a quick release, he doesn't have to set up. He can throw off his back foot, off of anything. That's what makes him different."

San Francisco's defense might end up getting all the ink that Chicago's unit received last week. "I don't know if we're underrated or overrated or what," Lott said. "All I know is we have a great offense and we have to give them every opportunity to score."

The 49ers' path to the Super Bowl has been a strange one. Who would have thought their playoff opponents would have been the New York Giants and the Bears? They sound like midseason patsies most years.

The 49ers won with two entirely different styles: the quick start, slow-burn approach against the Giants; the four-quarters method against the Bears.

"Everybody said we're a first-quarter team that fizzles out," Lott said, "but that wasn't the case today. Our offense played well, our defense played well."

Possibly the most optimistic note for 49ers fans as they approach Marino and Co. is the fact that the 49ers' defense did not give up a big play Sunday.

Payton's longest run was 20 yards, on the Bears' fifth play from scrimmage. He gained 31 of his 92 rushing yards on the Bears' meaningless final possession.

Quarterback Steve Fuller went backwards almost as much as he went forwards, and his longest completion was only 21 yards, to Dennis McKinnon in the third quarter.

"This rush will do good against any team," said defensive tackle Gary Johnson. "We just keep coming."

For rookie nose tackle Michael Carter, who, like Johnson, was credited with two sacks, this victory has to be measured. Last summer, he won a silver medal in the shot put in the Olympics.

"It's been a nice year," he said, "from winning the medal in the Olympics to winning the playoffs. Right now, winning the medal is still No. 1, but if we win the Super Bowl and I get my ring, it might change.

"This was definitely the best game I've played on the pro level. It's even bigger than the Cotton Bowl."

At least there is a little perspective left in the Bay Area.