Monday, September 7, 1992


Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Who needs Joe Montana, or even Steve Young or Jerry Rice for that matter?

Not the San Francisco 49ers. Not with no-names like Steve Bono, Tom Rathman and John Johnson waiting and willing to steal the spotlight.

Rathman caught three touchdown passes, Bono threw two in relief of the injured Young and Johnson scored on a fourth-quarter interception Sunday as the 49ers started the 1992 season like they ended last year by rolling to a 31-14 win over the New York Giants.

The victory avenged the 49ers' 16-14 last-second loss to the Giants in the season-opener last year and in some ways showed how much George Seifert's team has matured in 12 months. The 49ers lost four of its first six in 1991 after learning Montana would be lost for the season with elbow problems, and that cost them a playoff berth.

But instead of folding when Young suffered a concussion in the first quarter Sunday, the 49ers got stronger.

Giants tackle Eric Dorsey nailed him with a head-on shot on San Francisco's fifth play from scrimmage and Lawrence Taylor ended his day with a sack late in the quarter.

''Last year, we kept looking for a leader,'' said Johnson, whose 56-yard interception return iced the victory. ''We aren't looking for anyone to get up in the locker room this year and give a speech. Everyone is going to be a team leader.''

Rathman, who had caught just four TD passes in six previous seasons, and Bono really stepped forward after Young was hurt and sent to the sidelines for the final three periods.

Bono, the third-string quarterback who could well be starting elsewhere, hit 15 of 22 for 187 yards and Rathman caught touchdown passes of 3, 15 and 4 yards.

''It was a great day for me personally and it was a great day for the team,'' said Rathman, who finished with five catches for 34 yards. ''The score shows it. It was matter of attitude. We had the attitude we were going to move them and we did.''

The loss was the worst opening-day setback for the Giants since a 31-2 decision to the Dallas Cowboys in 1965. It also snapped a string of four successive opening-day wins for New York, which appears in trouble in Ray Handley's second season.

''It was not pretty,'' Giants cornerback Mark Collins said. ''We could have played better and should have. We were prepared for both Young and Bono and I thought the way we stuck Young it was a good sign for our intensity.

''But Bono showed a lot of poise and it seems that when you have the 49ers where you want them, they come up with the big play,'' he added.

The 49ers, who like the Giants missed the playoffs last season, now have seven successive regular-season victories. They won their final six last season to finish 10-6, won all five of their preseason games and looked strong in beating the Giants despite several mishaps.

Two illegal proce dures by Rice cost San Francisco a touchdown and a 48-yard gain in the first half.

The Niners took the lead for good with two scores in the final 5 minutes 9 seconds of the second quarter, shortly after Rodney Hampton scored on an 11-yard run to tie the game 7-7.

A 27-yard kickoff return by Amp Lee, a 15-yard facemask penalty on the play and a 24-yard pass from Bono to John Taylor set up a 36-yard field goal by Mike Cofer.

Howard Cross fumbled after a 19-yard reception from Phil Simms on New York's first play from scrimmage, giving San Francisco the ball at the Giants' 40. Six plays later, Bono rolled out from the 15 and hit a wide-open Rathman, who rumbled the final 10 yards into the end zone.

An offsides penalty against Tim Harris on a fourth-down punt set up Hampton's touchdown, a 3-yard run in the third quarter, bringing New York within 17-14.

But Rathman capped a seven-play drive with his 4-yard scoring catch on a swing pass.