Monday, September 25, 1989


By Tom Wheatley
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

PHILADELPHIA -- Randall Cunningham is good. In fact, he's real good. But he's no Joe Montana, at least not yet.

The old top gun showed the young quick-draw artist what gutsy, gritty football is all about Sunday before a sellout crowd at Veterans Stadium.

And with their 38-28 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, Montana's San Francisco 49ers spelled out something else.

''I guess they showed us why they are world champions,'' Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan said.

Behind Cunningham, that splendid whippet of a quarterback, the Eagles led 15-10 at halftime, 21-10 early in the fourth quarter and 28-17 with barely eight minutes to play.

It looked as though the new-rich Eagles, and not the old-money 49ers, would be the team improving their National Football League record to 3-0.

To that point, everything that could go wrong for the 49ers did go wrong, plus a few disasters that seemingly ecouldn't possibly happen - but did anyway.

''We'd get a penalty or drop a ball or the ball'd bounce off our head - some God-awful thing,'' 49ers head coach George Seifert said. ''But our lights were never totally turned out. And they aren't with this ballclub.''

That's because Montana is at the switch.

''It's been written many times that he's one of the great comeback quarterbacks in all of football,'' Seifert said. ''And I think, once again, he proved it today.''

On a windy day before a nasty crowd, Montana completed 25 of 34 passes for 428 yards and five touchdowns.

In the fourth quarter alone, he was 11 of 12 for 227 yards and four touchdowns.

Montana needed only 5 minutes 32 seconds to ring up those final four touchdowns, using only 18 plays to cover a total of 252 yards.

''He was just throwing quick rhythm passes,'' Ryan said. ''He was just getting back, throwing a three-step drop and he was throwing them underneath. And we were missing tackles and things like that.''

Montana, as usual, was as cool in his postgame analysis as he was in his in-game paralysis of the Eagles.

''They were taking our running game away from us in the first half,'' Montana said. ''And we weren't able to do some things we wanted to do. Then we settled down a little bit and started playing football.''

The Eagles sacked Montana eight times. It was the 49ers, though, who stole the defensive show and kept the game from careening out of even Montana's control.

San Francisco debacles, mainly on special teams, set up all but six of the Eagles' points.

Punter Barry Helton dropped a perfect snap on his own 34-yard line, setting up the Eagles' first touchdown and a 7-7 tie.

Then Terrence Flagler flubbed the ensuing kickoff, forcing the 49ers to start from their own 10. A sack and a penalty later, Montana tripped over an offensive lineman's foot and plopped backward into the end zone and was downed for a safety.

That gave the Eagles a 9-7 lead. After the ensuing free kick, Cunningham drove the Eagles for a Luis Zendejas field goal that made it 12-7.

In the third quarter, a fake punt by John Teltschik helped set up another field goal, giving the Eagles a 15-10 lead.

Another field goal made it 18-10, and then young Bill Romanowski of the 49ers was nailed for a clip on the ensuing kickoff.

Backed up to their 12-yard line, the 49ers made one first down before Al Harris intercepted Montana at the 15. The 49ers' defense held the bleeding to just another field goal - Zendejas' fourth - to keep the damage to 21-10.

Montana's little dump pass to John Taylor turned into a 70-yard scoring play. The 49ers trailed only 21-17 with more than 13 minutes to play.

The 49ers' defense forced a punt. But the inevitable winning rally hit a snag in the form of Romanowski's skull.

A short punt took a 49ers bounce, which quickly became an Eagles bounce when the ball hit Romanowski on the noggin as he diligently blocked his man downfield.

''It hit me on the back of the head,'' Romanowski said. ''I didn't know what happened. I said to myself, 'I hope that wasn't the ball.' Then I turned around and saw it was the ball.''

Actually, it was seven points and a 28-17 Eagles lead, because Cunningham eventually turned that gaffe into a 3-yard scoring pas to Jimmie Giles.

Trailing by 11 points, the 49ers needed two touchdowns and had only 8:24 in which to get them.

Montana got them three TDs in less than seven minutes.

''You can't lose your cool,'' said Jerry Rice, who caught a 68-yard pass from Montana to open the scoring and a 33-yarder to close the scoring. ''You've just got to keep fighting. We had things go against us, but we just kept going.''