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They're Pulling Out All Stops : Seifert Huddles in Fear

December 11, 1989|MIKE PENNER

What is there left to say about the San Francisco 49ers that hasn't already been disallowed by Coach George Seifert?

Well, the Niners are in town tonight, but you didn't hear that from me.

There are rumors of a football game, but at this point in time, we can neither confirm nor deny them.

Allegedly, the Rams are also involved, but in what capacity, we're not at liberty to discuss.

This is Forty-Niner Football we're talking about. Or not talking about. This is the trade secret of the '80s, the Montana Project--football so good, it's meant to be sampled only at the proprietor's discretion.

But if we can go off the record for a minute, let's say one thing about the 49ers as they reportedly head into their second meeting of the season with the Rams:

They're nervous.

This you can see by what you're not permitted to see. Camp Seifert, pretty much a closed book to begin with, was placed on special alert this week in preparation for the Rams. For the first time since the 1970s, predating the Bill Walsh Era, 49er practices were closed to visiting writers.

Initially, Seifert had declared all practices closed to all writers. But at the urging of his public relations staff, Seifert relented; writers could watch practice as long as they didn't report anything worth reporting, such as lineup changes or new formations.

You can look but you better not vouch.

When that went over like a blocked punt--swatted back, returned to sender--Seifert eventually settled on his final dictum: No Ram writers at 49er workouts.

"Things are pretty tight," Seifert conceded. "This is a time we'd just as soon keep to ourselves."

But Bay Area reporters were OK. Why? "We kept it open for the good of media relations," Seifert said, "and the trust we have in the local media. We're all in this together."

This type of thinking, if not scary, is warped, for at least two reasons.

First of all, no, we're not all in this together, George. There's a reason your guys wear numbers and our guys wear bad sport coats. You pass and run, pass and fail, win and lose. We record it. The relationship ends there. And if it doesn't, the relationship ought to be re-evaluated.

Secondly, suppose a writer is privy to a whole practice session's worth of new Xs and O's. What then? Is he supposed to be able to instantly recognize it, assimilate it and then report back on it?

Sorry, but few of us are so equipped.

Hello, John? John Robinson? Just watched the 49ers work out today. Look out for the big, fast guy in gray sweat pants. They seem to throw to him a lot.

After the 49ers wrapped up drills on Thursday afternoon, a group of writers--home and away alike--huddled around Seifert for his daily state-of-the-team address. Seifert opened by glancing at the hotel that straddles the practice field and quipping, "I hear the Rams rented a room at the Doubletree Inn."

That brought a few laughs and an observation that Al Davis used to believe things such as that.

"Maybe I do, too," Seifert said.

No one was absolutely sure he was kidding.

Evidently, the 49ers' pyramid of success is built upon this mentality. The team's Santa Clara training complex is a paranoid's paradise, replete with surveillance cameras, electric gate, around-the-clock security guards and the special permission that is required to traipse up the gilded staircase for an appointment in the publicity department.

This week, the 49ers were even hiding their three Super Bowl trophies, although visitors were informed that they had been taken away for cleaning. Apparently, the Bay Area earthquake shook loose some dust inside the glass case and no 49er wants dust resting on his laurels.

A fourth trophy could be added soon, considering that San Francisco owns the league's best record at 11-2 and can clinch its fourth consecutive NFC West championship with a victory over the Rams tonight.

So why are the 49ers worried?

Joe Montana's rib cage remains a concern, but as long as Steve Young hangs a shingle in the bullpen, how big a concern can that be?

No, credit the Rams as the cause of the latest anxiety attack. They beat San Francisco in their last encounter, 13-12, on Oct. 1, and the 49ers have paid close attention to the Montana-like resurrections engineered by Jim Everett the past two weeks in New Orleans and Dallas.

"Their offense has changed quite a bit since the first game," Seifert allows. "There's not the great need for the run anymore. Now, they can control the football by throwing it."

And on the day the Rams play 60 minutes like they do the last two minutes, the 49ers are hoping to be playing host to Atlanta.

So, Seifert frets and the Niners sweat under a veil of secrecy. But tonight, the closed practices are complete and the highly classified game plan is in place. Tonight, we finally get to see what Seifert didn't want anybody to see.

It had better be good.

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