Ronald Reagan, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.STANFORD, Calif., Jan. 20:
Dear Mr. President:
I know that you have more pleasant and profound matters on your mind today. But when you get around to doodling that Star Wars defense on the nation's chalkboard you might consider calling a bright fellow named Bill Walsh for advice.
Here at one of the nation's think tanks, Stanford University, the San Francisco 49ers' coach and his aides won Super Bowl XIX with their minds as much as Joe Montana and the other players did with their arms and legs.
I know that when a team trots up and down the field on whim and puts 38 numbers on the scoreboard, it seems at least slightly silly to be enchanted most by its defense.
As a former player, and now game planner of the free world, you can best appreciate how this is both possible and obvious.
By the way, your coin flip went well, except the Miami Dolphins very likely quibbled over a line in that generous prayer.
It was: "May the best team win." Frankly, in their hearts, many Dolphins surely were hoping that the best team would not win, for they had the inferior 49 men.
The Dolphins were banking on the most precocious professional child football has known to score a few more points than their rather porous defense figured to allow.
Dan Marino's were the missiles that terrified the National Football League this season. He shattered every significant passing record, averaging slightly more than three touchdown passes in 18 previous games.
There was a magical air about Marino; he seemed destined to end an extraordinary year the way legends always do. He would step into the cleat prints Sammy Baugh left in 1937, Sid Luckman left in 1940, Johnny Unitas left in 1958 and Joe Namath left in Super Bowl III.
Maybe next year.
Marino has learned so much so quickly; the lesson yesterday was humility. Sacked 13 times the entire regular season, he was planted four times by the 49ers.
In your postgame message to Walsh, Mr. President, you suggested that the Niners help in your big one against Congress, that you could "use a front-line four."
Frankly, they could be trusted with even weightier responsibility. The front-line four was fantastic; so was the secondary seven that gave the rushers enough time to harass Marino.
Best of all were the sideline sages, Walsh and his eyes in the coach's booth who responded to a Don Shula shock with seat-of-the-pants inspiration.
Here's how it went:
Behind by 7-3 late in the first quarter, Shula ordered a no-huddle offense. That was designed to keep the 49ers from emphasizing one of their defensive strengths, situation substitutions.
Some say the Niners are what you've often called government: excessive to a fault. In your day, everybody played both ways. Now the Niners have guys allowed on the field only in specific situations.
When a team figures to run, one set of 49ers is used; on passing downs, another gang comes on. If the quarterback suddenly sent out for pizza, Walsh probably would have a unit prepared to intercept the pepperoni.
Anyway, Shula tried to trip Walsh with his own tactic. If the Dolphins never stopped to huddle, the 49ers couldn't bring in their specialized troops.
Shula wanted to create confusion; for one glorious series, he got it. In six plays, three of them without a huddle, the Dolphins dashed 70 yards and gained the lead.
What followed was the NFL equivalent of the National Security Council on mild alert. Walsh paced more rapidly; his defensive aides gathered their wits -- and the players to settle on strategy.
Montana and the offense bought some time, though not much. Everyone on the defense sucked his breath more deeply after the punt, and prayed those minutes of analysis would not lead to paralysis.
Deciding that the Dolphins had no runner worthy of unusual attention, the 49ers gambled they could play pass defense the rest of the game and win. Grenada wasn't much tougher.
First play of the first series after Shula's surprise, Fred Dean knifed through the line and caught Woody Bennett for a four-yard loss.
Second play, tight end Bruce Hardy slipped and Marino's pass fell incomplete; third play, Marino threw low toward Nat Moore. Both times, Dean applied relentless pressure.
So it continued.
The next series, Miami could gain just eight yards; the series after that, Miami moved three yards backward. After its no-huddle series, the Dolphins gained a grand total of one yard in more than 13 minutes.
Meanwhile, the 49ers' offense -- predictably -- had assumed 28-10 command. If you didn't return to inaugural weather problems early in the third quarter, you could have. It was all over in California.
Walsh's reputation as an innovator was built on offense. His scripted 25 plays to start games and his use of receivers at quarterback, quarterbacks at receiver posts and linemen in the backfield have been celebrated for years.
Truth be known, the script got slightly mutilated very early. Derrick Harmon was supposed to let the opening kickoff sail out of bounds instead of catching it, losing his balance on the sideline and causing the offense to start on its six-yard line.
Neither was the first play designed for Freddie Solomon to drop a pass, nor for Mike Wilson to do the same a bit farther downfield, nor for Guy McIntyre to fumble a kickoff that led to a Dolphins field goal on the final play of the half.
But Walsh had all the right answers for Shula's puzzles. And a magnificent break on what seemed a 49ers fumble and Dolphins recovery that was ruled an incompletion.
This was special for Walsh: his second Super Bowl victory, and where he was given his first post-high school job as a head coach. His team is as resourceful as it is skilled.
Walsh bristles at being called a genius, insisting that compliment be reserved for those involved in deeper thinking than football. If his mind isn't for hire just now, have him east for dinner sometime soon. He'll not fumble his end of any conversation.