Bill Walsh, coach of the San Francisco 49ers, spoke in somber tones as he broke the news about quarterback Joe Montana's bad back.
"We're assuming he won't play," Walsh said Wednesday of Montana's status for Sunday's game against the Rams at Anaheim Stadium. "We have to be careful. Even if it was the last game, we're obligated to protect him. If he's not at his best, he won't play."
Of course, this was the same Walsh who two years ago had convinced local reporters that his team had been flattened by a flu epidemic and would be no match for the Rams.
Well, the 49ers, fever and all, won that game here, 33-0.
So is Montana's bad back just another smoke screen to give the Rams reason to smile?
Ram Coach John Robinson thinks so.
Asked if he thought Montana would play, he replied: "(Bleep,) yes, he'll play."
But the word in San Francisco is that Montana really is hurt this time.
Although he is still listed as questionable, Montana spent Wednesday at home strapped into a portable traction unit. He also received an anti-inflammatory shot in his lower back.
Also, the 49ers re-signed quarterback Mike Moroski, who had been waived in the exhibition season.
Montana, bothered with back problems all of last season, was reinjured in the 49ers' 31-7 win over Tampa Bay last Sunday.
Montana, perhaps the game's best thrower on the move, wrenched his lower back while running left and throwing back to his right.
If he can't play, it certainly will be good news for the Rams, who have been haunted by Montana for several years.
In 10 games against the Rams since 1981, Montana has completed 65% of his passes for 2,967 yards and 20 touchdowns, with only 4 interceptions.
The 49ers, meanwhile, have won five straight games against the Rams at Anaheim Stadium.
If Montana can't play, he'll be replaced by Jeff Kemp, former Ram backup.
"I'm distressed," Walsh said. "But we've won without Joe before."
Ram Notes Defensive end William Fuller signed with the Rams Wednesday and was in uniform for afternoon practice. He'll wear No. 95. . . . Jack Youngblood, former Ram All-Pro defensive end, will join radio station KMPC as a color commentator for Ram games. Youngblood, who works in the Ram front office this year, will share the booth with play-by-play announcer, Bob Starr, and analyst Dick Bass. . . . Former Ram Jeff Kemp, who may start at quarterback against the Rams Sunday, is renting his home in Orange County to the new Ram quarterback, Steve Bartkowski.