Paul Zimmerman reports from Anaheim on Sunday's Rams-49ers game: It was a textbook lesson on offensive football, and after it was over, after San Francisco had risen from the dead to hand the Rams their first defeat of the season 28-14, everybody was trying to figure out what was the best throw Joe Montana made out of a hatful of memorable ones.
"A nine-yard squareout to Jerry Rice," said 49er Ronnie Lott. "One of the hardest throws I've seen him make in my five years here."
"The swing pass to Roger Craig," said offensive coordinator Paul Hackett. "The one where Roger ran for 73 yards. Gary Green was right on him and Joe put it under Green's hip pads. Perfect touch."
Then there was Montana's 35-yard TD to Craig with a blitzing defensive back, Vince Newsome, in his face. Joe darted to his right and went in the air with a kind of scissors kick and laid the ball into Craig's hands like a feather, 20 yards downfield.
Montana hit Wendell Tyler with a perfect-touch pass in the left corner for a TD, and he put one softly into Rice's hands 50 yards downfield (it was dropped). "Can't throw deep, huh?" said wideout Dwight Clark. "A man can't throw a deep one any better than that."
San Francisco put together four long scoring drives in its first five possessions and ended the game before halftime, when it was 28-0. The Rams, with the NFL's second best defense, had been giving up 273 yards a game. The Niners got 323 in the first half alone. Thanks to Montana's big day (22 of 30 for 306 yards, three TDs and no interceptions), they're back among the living at 4-4 and in the thick of a nine-team wild-card race in the NFC. And the nagging questions that have plagued this team and its quarterback during the rocky start can be laid to rest—at least for a week.
"We reminded the public we are the reigning champions," said coach Bill Walsh. "And we can play accordingly."
What price does an NFL coach pay for success? Listen to Redskins coach Joe Gibbs talk about his job. Sometimes during the season, Gibbs, 44, arrives at his office at 9 a.m. Monday and doesn't leave until Thursday night.
"It's the only way I've been able to do it," Gibbs says. "I know it's crazy. My best friend called from Tampa, and he said, 'I think there's something wrong with our relationship.' I said, 'Why?' And he said, 'You don't return calls.' You've got to understand. There isn't an hour in there to do anything extra. I need to call Pat [Gibbs's wife] when I get a chance.
"At different times I've said, 'Hey, this team is probably going to go, no matter what I do. I kind of sit back for a day or two, and the team seems like it's going to fall on the floor. At least this way, if I fail I can always say I did everything I could do—biting, clawing, scratching, climbing the walls—to get ahead."
Traditionally, Tuesdays are an off day in the NFL. But not for 16 New York Giants. From 6 to 8:30 p.m. they're on the campus at Fairleigh Dickinson, attending classes. "We're destroying the myth of the dumb athlete," says defensive end George Martin, who helped start the back-to-school program. Martin, an art education major with his eye on an eventual M.B.A., is back in school after 11 years. "Most of us were never asked to go to class the first time around. Finally, we're pushing ourselves beyond the comfort zone."
Many of the players are enrolled in Contemporary Trends in Business. They read business periodicals, learn how to make real-estate investments and attend computer labs. Tackle Damian Johnson is taking a Fluids and Thermal Dynamics course. Kicker Ali Haji-Sheikh is taking Music Appreciation. Tight end Zeke Mowatt, laid up with a knee injury, is enrolled in Introduction to Computers. The school has put a computer in his home.
"We do homework assignments in the locker room and on planes to away games," Martin says. "I think we've got them intrigued."
The NFL draft next spring promises to be a big one, or as Gil Brandt, the Cowboys' vice-president for player development, says, "This is the year for franchise players. Like the Elway-Marino-Dickerson draft of '83." The first franchise builder will be Auburn running back Bo Jackson. Some others to build on:
•Running backs—Keith Byars, Ohio State; Rueben Mayes, Washington State; Reggie Dupard, SMU; Neal Anderson, Florida; Kenneth Davis, TCU; Ronnie Harmon, Iowa; Dalton Hilliard, LSU; Garry James, LSU.
•Offensive linemen—Jim Dombrowski, Virginia, premed with 3.1 GPA, ex-high school hockey star; Brian Jozwiak, West Virginia, 6'7", 295 pounds, runs a 4.8 40; John Rienstra, Temple; Joe Milinchik, NC State; Mike Haight, Iowa; Doug Williams, Texas A & M.
•Wide receivers—Ron Brown, Colorado; Tim McGee, Tennessee; David Williams, Illinois.
•Quarterbacks—Jim Everett, Purdue, the scouts' top QB pick in the Big Ten; Chuck Long, Iowa, some scouts not sure he can read defenses; Jack Trudeau, Illinois; Robbie Bosco, BYU, mixed reviews; Mike Norseth, Kansas ("He's my dark horse for '86," Brandt says).
•Nosetackles—Tony Casillas, Oklahoma; Mike Ruth, Boston College; Leslie O'Neal, Oklahoma State.
•Defensive ends—Tim Green, Syracuse, Rhodes scholar candidate; Kevin Fagan, Miami, back condition has scouts scared; T.J. Turner, Houston; Jon Hand, Alabama.
•Linebackers—Alonzo Johnson, Florida; Byron Lee, Ohio State, has come on strong in '85—a big surprise; Joe Kelly, Washington.
•Defensive backs—Mark Collins, Cal-Fullerton. Good cornerbacks are hard to find.
•Kicker—John Lee, UCLA.
With friends like this...
Terry Bradshaw, the former teammate, golfing buddy and dinner companion of Mark Malone, has joined the critics of the Steelers' starting quarterback. "I've come to the conclusion that in the big games he has yet to learn how to play well," Bradshaw said recently on Pittsburgh's KDKA-TV. "Whether or not he's nervous or apprehensive or doesn't have the confidence to face the Dallas blitz...I don't know. I know they don't want to play [second-year pro] Scott Campbell, but I think he can do the job."
What did old pal Malone have to say about all this? "Bradshaw never knew any loyalty before," Malone said. "He's the same guy who would come into a locker room after a game and tell three reporters one story and tell three more the opposite story. He'd tell me to meet him at a restaurant or golf course and then not show up. The next day, he would say it looked too cloudy, or that he got tied up on a phone call. That's just Bradshaw. He's as wishy-washy now as he was when he played here."
The 1-7 Falcons have approached Rollie Dotsch, coach of the USFL's Birmingham Stallions about Dan Henning's job. George Allen's son, Bruce, also may join the Falcons as a vice-president.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
OFFENSE: San Francisco's Roger Craig carried 14 times for 63 yards and one TD and caught six passes for 132 yards, including a 73-yarder, and another TD as the 49ers handed L.A. its first loss, 28-14.
DEFENSE: Nosetackle Joe Klecko had four tackles and one sack and forced one fumble as the New York Jets defeated the Seahawks for the first time in the eight games the two teams have played, 17-14.