SANTA CLARA, CALIF., JAN. 8 -- The San Francisco 49ers paranoid? Coach George Seifert closed practice today and plans to close it Wednesday because he believes reporters might accidentally leak information to the Washington Redskins, San Francisco's NFC playoff opponent at Candlestick Park Saturday.

But this is becoming silly. Today, Seifert said there was someone watching practice from a eucalyptus tree that overlooks the field. Seifert said the man was asked to leave. (He wasn't wearing a Redskins uniform.)

"That's the God-honest truth -- someone was in that tree," said Seifert. "We chased him away. I'm just showing you the type of environment we live in. It's a war."

War? More like paranoia. And while paranoia might be the norm for some organizations, it is unusual for the 49ers, one of the most successful teams in NFL history. Suddenly the champions are beginning to look over their shoulders? Say it ain't so, Joe.

"We've had a tough road all year because all the teams were geared up to play us," quarterback Joe Montana said. "The way things are going, it's not going to get easier."

Seifert is following what is becoming a playoff trend. Cincinnati's Sam Wyche and the New York Giants' Bill Parcells also closed practice to reporters. It is believed to be the first time local media here have been banned from watching.

Seifert sounded like a man being chased by shadows when he said at his weekly news conference: "You will see a very paranoid coach this week. I ask your indulgence from that standpoint. More so than normal."

The coach also hinted he might limit media access to players because he feels the Redskins will "see what we say in the paper and they can draw some conclusions. What player's practicing, what players aren't practicing, that type of thing. Or if we do a specific thing out there. . . . And I know some of you say you don't know that much about football. I don't believe it.

"I'm serious. Right now, I've got a lot on my mind. . . . There have already been a couple of headlines that we're going to be in the Super Bowl. If we get caught up in that aspect of it, then we're going to have problems."

Yet postseason performance rarely has been a problem for the two-time defending Super Bowl champions. Since 1988, the 49ers have gone 6-0 in the postseason. In those six games, San Francisco won by a combined 208-54. That's an average of 34-9.

Paranoid? Maybe coaches should try it more often.

But what has Seifert losing sleep is the Jan. 9, 1988, playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings at Candlestick Park. The score was 36-24. The 49ers owned the league's best regular season record at 13-2, and before they played a down of postseason ball people had them drinking Super Bowl champagne.

Seifert was an assistant under Bill Walsh then, but the memory still stings. It is likely that loss is a motivating factor in Seifert's current mood.

"It wasn't so much we were playing Minnesota, it was who we were going to play in the Super Bowl," Seifert said.

Now, Seifert gets angry when the term "threepeat" is tossed around. "Everything you've done to this point will be capsulized in this one game," he said. "People, I don't know if they totally understand that, because they think the Super Bowl is the big game. The big game is this first postseason game. You've got to get that one even to think about anything else."

Said backup quarterback Steve Young after practice Monday: Seifert "made a comment about the game we played against Washington five years ago. He made a comment about what they were doing that day. And I guarantee you that he studied that playoff game against the Redskins {in 1984}. Who knows? He might have gone back to when Billy Kilmer threw the square-outs. . . . He's just a madman.

"I think his feeling is: 'I owe it to this team to make it as prepared as it possibly can be to go out and play this game.' He's relentless with that stuff. I think it's a great way to do it, instead of walking in and yelling at everyone to try and fire them up artificially.

"It's like: 'I'm going to work so hard that it's going to rub off.' Then we'll win the game and wonder why. But it's because we've covered every base and have an anxiety about the game."

Wide receiver Jerry Rice and defensive end Charles Haley talked about playing the Redskins and the game's challenges.

Rice said he relishes the idea of going one-on-one with cornerback Darrell Green, who right now may be playing his best football of the season.

Haley said he thinks one of the keys to beating the Redskins is frustrating quarterback Mark Rypien the way San Francisco did earlier this season, when Rypien was able to complete only 17 of 37 passes in a 26-13 loss in Week 2.

"We got a lot of hits on Rypien that game," he said, "and it took its toll. Making the quarterback throw the ball a second before he wants to throw it. Or anything, just changing his footing, the way he sets. And if you change up anything about a QB, that throws him off.

"If we can just hit him a lot, without getting sacks, that's great too."