Monday, September 24, 1990


By Bud Geracie
San Jose Mercury News

By the final minute Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons were being taken seriously -- very seriously -- in the grandstands of Candlestick Park.

Long before that, though, long before they gave the mighty 49ers a bigger scare than anybody should have expected, the Falcons had won the respect of their opponents, their opponents' coach and their own coach.

In fact, the only thing the Falcons didn't win Sunday was the game, which they lost 19-13.

Bubba Paris, the 49ers offensive tackle, called the Falcons "the antithesis" of last year's team. George Seifert, the 49ers coach, predicted the Falcons would have a "profound effect" on the NFC West. Dave Waymer, the 49ers safety, said the Falcons will be a "formidable opponent for a long time to come." Deep words, heavy statements.

Still, the most telling endorsement of the Falcons' performance Sunday came from their new coach, Jerry Glanville. Here's a man who hates losing, and he couldn't have praised his team more in victory.

''Our players played extremely hard. We did very well. I'm very proud of the effort we gave," he said. "I don't think I've ever been with a team that tries any harder and never gives up."

That's just it; the Falcons never quit Sunday.

Less than a year ago at Candlestick they lay down like dogs in a 45-3 loss. That was the rule, not the exception in a 3-13 season for the Falcons. Sunday they never quit and, oh, how they hit.

The 49ers did some serious sticking of their own, but the Falcons stayed on even terms. In the end, one blown coverage, one missed tackle and one controversial play was all that stood between Atlanta and an upset to rival their recent selection as an Olympic host city.

''We're a tremendously better team than last year," Falcons safety Scott Case said. "There has been a complete attitude change for the whole organization. We're going to get there.

''We're a team that's so hungry to win because we've been down so many years. We were looking for a savior and we believe he may be the man for us. He instills that we give 110 percent effort and that's what he's gotten."

He, of course, is Glanville. You didn't need to know about the run-and-shoot offense or the Black Wave defense to see his influence.

On the 49ers' sixth play from scrimmage, running back Roger Craig ran a sweep right, leaped over a fallen blocker and had his helmet readjusted by Case. On the Niners' next possession, Jerry Rice got blasted hard enough to drop a pass, and that's hard. Again, it was Case. But he was just one. Strong safety Brian Jordan had 11 tackles. Linebacker Jesse Tuggle had nine. Linebacker Michael Reid had six.

''I saw some shots over there that I was very proud of," said the league's leading authority, Ronnie Lott. "But I expect that from Coach Glanville's team. It wouldn't be bad playing for a guy like that."

No, it wouldn't. Glanville took the fall for both 49ers touchdowns. He didn't say who it was that let Rice get wide open on the 35-yard touchdown play that put the Niners ahead 12-3 in the third quarter. He didn't mention Bobby Butler's horribly missed tackle on Brent Jones' 67-yard TD reception, or the fact that Deion Sanders should have been content to take the San Francisco tight end out of bounds rather than try to bring him down.

All Glanville said was, "I'll take the blame. I'm trying to have them play a six-year package when we've been together for six months. That's 14 points you can attribute directly to me."

You'll go the extra mile for a guy like that. You don't quit on a guy like that. You keep plugging and all of a sudden you're on the opposition's 29-yard line, trailing 19-13 with seven seconds to play and a chance to win.

That's where the Falcons ended up Sunday. That's where it ended for them, on the San Francisco 29, when Chris Miller, the young quarterback, made the last of his mistakes. In his haste to stop the clock, he either fumbled or gave the appearance of fumbling when all he meant to do was throw the ball on the ground.

The Falcons protested loud and long, then retired to their locker room, where the air was strange. Dissatisfaction, mixed with pride.

''It was a lot like last week for us," said Case, referring to a 21-14 loss at Detroit. "We felt we really played well enough to win. What really makes us sick is that we basically beat ourselves. I don't think they lined up and whipped us."

In three weeks, the Falcons meet the 49ers again.

''We'll be looking forward to it," said Butler, a 10-year veteran. He has seen one winning season -- the Falcons went 5-4 in strike-shortened 1982 -- but now he sees something different.

''This team is a team," Butler said. "We can compete. We can play with anybody. The crowds in Los Angeles and San Francisco are expecting their team to walk all over us. But it won't be like that no more."

Notice was served Sunday at Candlestick.