Champion 49ers have winning glow as pro football season opens
The San Francisco 49ers are the envy of everyone in pro football these days -- talented, well-balanced, deep, and just plain fun to watch. And, oh, yes, their fingers are adorned with Super Bowl rings, a gridder's best friend. Led by nimble-footed quarterback Joe Montana, the Niners conducted a veritable clinic in last season's National Football League championship game, when they capitalized on all their own strengths and exploited each of Miami's weak-nesses in a masterful 38-16 victory. The win capped a spectacular 18-1 campaign, among the league's best ever.
There are no assurances this team can repeat during the NFL's 66th season, which begins Sunday, but it certainly is no flash in a gold prospector's pan. The 49ers have now won the Super Bowl two of the last four years, which is as close to dominance as anyone has come since Pittsburgh won back-to-back titles in the 1978 and 1979 seasons.
The question, of course, is whether San Francisco can maintain its momentum, something it didn't do after winning Super Bowl XVI, when it went 3-6 during the strike-shortened 1982 season. The strike reportedly worked as a divisive force, and some players seemed a little too caught up in their new-found celebrity.
But Coach Bill Walsh and his charges claim to have learned from that experience and are ready to get down to serious business. Montana appears to be at the peak of his passing powers, and now even has an exciting new target for his spirals in rookie Jerry Rice of Mississippi Valley.
The picture has not been nearly so rosy for the Miami Dolphins. Coach Don Shula called the pre-season ``the most disheartening, confusing, and disruptive time I've ever had in coaching.'' Several key players were lost to injuries and record-setting quarterback Dan Marino (48 touchdown passes in 1984) sat out most all of the team's training camp over a contract dispute.
Much like Marino, Los Angles running back Eric Dickerson has been at odds with management, but he has yet to return to the Rams' fold. After rushing for a single-season record 2,105 yards, he wants a raise and figures he has the leverage to get it.
With Dickerson in limbo, L. A. knows it needs a juiced-up passing game, which is why quarterback Dieter Brock was brought in from the Canadian Football League. Brock, an American who went unnoticed playing college ball at Auburn and Jacksonville State, racked up some eye-popping passing statistics playing north of the border.
By contrast, the Cleveland Browns have a veritable babe in the woods in rookie Bernie Kosar, the league's other highly publicized quarterbacking addition. Despite playing only two college seasons for Miami, Kosar was eligible for a supplemental NFL draft, and was eager for the opportunity to play in his native Ohio for his beloved Browns. Though Gary Danielson's understudy, Bernie eventually will be handed the keys and told to take Cleveland to the Super Bowl.
Danielson, incidentally, was acquired from Detroit, which picked up Joe Ferguson in a trade with Buffalo, which got Vince Ferragamo from the Rams.
Team personnel departments have obviously been keeping busy, and in some cases they've reeled in defectors from the rival United States Football League, which faces an uphill battle when it reconvenes for its first fall season in 1986.
Among the USFL stars lured onto NFL rosters are running back Mike Rozier (Houston), receiver Anthony Carter (Minnesota), and quarterback Bobby Hebert (New Orleans).
The draft, of course, is still the chief port of entry to the league. Defensive lineman Bruce Smith of Buffalo was the top overall pick, but William ``The Refrigerator'' Perry may wind up getting more ink. If he can slim down, the 300-pounder might win a spot in Chicago's already snarling defense.
Washington, a team adept at acquiring veteran help, feels it has managed a coup in acquiring running back George Rogers from New Orleans in a major off-season deal. Rogers, a former Heisman Trophy winner, should relieve workhorse John Riggins of some of the running load.
He'll get a chance to show his stuff next Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys, who missed the playoffs last year. The game also will be an opportunity to see if Dallas halfback Tony Dorsett has been able to put a summer of personal problems behind him.
Returning to active duty after nearly a year-long injury absence is running back Curt Warner of Seattle, a 1,400-yard gainer as a rookie in 1983. Meanwhile, Bud Grant returns to the sidelines in Minnesota, where he attempts to rebuild the floundering Vikings after a one-year retirement from coaching.
Leeman Bennett, the former coach of the Atlanta Falcons, has resurfaced in Tampa Bay. Rod Dowhower (Indianap-olis) and Darryl Rogers (Detroit) are making their coaching debuts, and Raymond Berry (New England) and Marty Schottenheimer (Cleveland) enter their first full years on the job.