Tuesday, November 13, 1990

49ERS SUPER HERO RICE HAS AN OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD GAME

By Frank Cooney
San Francisco Examiner


After the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 24-6 Sunday night, most of the locker room talk was about how they rediscovered their running game.

Get serious.

The 49ers' 24th-ranked ground game managed to pound out 107 yards at 3.0 a carry against a rushing defense that was ranked 22nd in the National Football League.

An improvement? Yes. Impressive? No.

It's obvious that the 49ers' offense is still up in the air, but that's fine as long as Jerry Rice is around to bring passes, and defenses, down to earth.

Rice, not the running game, ruined the Cowboys as he went through and jumped over all manner of legal and illegal coverages to grab a dozen passes for 147 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown that was out of this world.

But then, so is Rice. Just ask tight end Jamie ''Spiderman'' Williams, an expert on comic book heroes and other super-human beings.

''Jerry's nickname is Flash, so I always kid him about the song by Queen on the sound track from the movie 'Flash Gordon,' '' Williams said. ''Brent Jones and I sit behind Jerry in meetings and we'll start singing him the lyrics, 'Flash, savior of the universe . . . Flash, He can save every one of us . . . Go, flash, go . . . '

''To me that typifies Jerry. He can save every one of us. He is out of this world. Every week he just keeps coming up with plays that leave average human beings in awe.''

Rice has awed average human beings often enough this year to total 62 catches for 1,006 yards and 11 touchdowns in only nine games.

Of his dozen catches, these seven either set up or scored all the 49ers' points Sunday night:

Rice opened the 49ers' first TD drive with an 8-yard catch, then highlighted it by somehow grabbing a 37-yarder while cornerback Issiac Holt was pulling his head backward by the facemask. tuc

After again opening the next drive with a short catch, this time for 5 yards, Rice ended it with a sub-orbital leap in the back of the end zone to make a one-handed grab for a 7-yard touchdown. The play was so incredible that officials consulted the instant-replay booth before declaring that he, did, indeed make the catch.

With five seconds left in the first half, Rice made a 27-yard catch-and-run to the Dallas 25 to set up a 42-yard field goal.

On the 49ers' final TD drive, Rice made catches of 9 and 6 yards to help set up a 4-yard touchdown run by the team's other Super Hero, quarterback Joe Montana.

Rice's facemask catch and one-handed touchdown grab were the kinds of plays that you had to see to believe. And that obviously wasn't even enough for the officials until they had instant-replay confirmation.

But ask Rice how he managed these plays and he almost sends you away yawning with his matter-of-fact descriptions. Williams is right that such plays leave an average human being in awe. But Rice responds with more of an ''aw,'' as in, ''What's the big deal?''

Here's Rice on the facemask catch: ''I went to the post and Joe put the ball up but before it got there, maybe out of desperation or something, Holt tried to grab something and he grabbed my facemask. He was pulling me back and my eyes just followed the ball over my shoulder and I caught it.''

No big deal. Somebody was trying to twist his head off his torso backward and he just leaned forward to make a catch while running at full speed. And afterward he doesn't even know how he did it.

''I don't know exactly,'' Rice said when asked how he managed to keep his eyes looking one way while his head was being tugged another. ''I have to go back and watch that one on film. But I'm sure when the ball came over my head, he had my facemask already and my eyes just followed the ball.''

And about that leaping, one-handed touchdown?

''On that play I just kept working against the defender while Joe first looked for somebody on the other side. Then he came back and found me in the back of the end zone. He threw the ball and it sort of took off as it came to me. The only way I could get the ball was with one hand, so I just went up and made the catch.''

But this catch was one that even impressed other 49ers Super Heroes, present and past.

''That one sailed a little high, but I wasn't trying to throw it away,'' Montana said. ''Jerry is the only guy who could have made that catch.''

The only guy? How about Joe's old buddy, Dwight Clark, who made The Catch in the 1981 NFC Championship Game against the Cowboys?

''No way,'' said Clark, a team executive. ''Joe's right. Only Jerry could have made that catch. He did it with one hand. I needed two.''

Even as other players were marveling at Rice's plays after Sunday night's game, Rice himself was more concerned with his mistakes.

''Some of the reads I made mistakes on,'' he said. ''I just wasn't as sharp as I wanted to be.''