The San Francisco 49ers have won games that were so pretty you wanted to frame them and hang them on the wall. They've won games in which their offense was something out of a textbook, and their defense was like a cavalry charge with sabres drawn—quick-striking, slashing. In the last four seasons, they've won heart-stoppers and ho-hummers and two Super Bowls. And on Sunday they won one the way those guys in the silver and black used to, the guys who once shared the Bay Area with them. They won one that was mean and nasty.
It was only fitting that the team the 49ers beat 34-10 was the Los Angeles Raiders. They did it on the Raiders' own turf, the Los Angeles Coliseum, and a crowd of 87,006 watched them take the home team apart in a style reminiscent of Raider football. The old Raiders, you'll recall, didn't just beat a team, they left it in a shambles. Maybe the opponent's quarterback would survive, but he would be limping.
Jim Plunkett didn't survive the 49er game. With 10 minutes left and the contest already out of reach at 27-3, Jeff Stover, the 275-pound 49er defensive end, planted the Raider quarterback, and he went down on his left arm, with Stover's full weight on him. Plunkett tried to make it off the field but collapsed near the sideline, in great pain. His left shoulder was dislocated.
"I stripped it down and put it in place," said Dr. Robert Rosenfeld, the Raiders' orthopedist. "It popped out. I did it again, and it popped out again. If we can get it to stay in at the hospital, he'll probably miss four to six weeks. If not, then he'll undergo surgery, and he'll be through for the year."
A shambles. The Raiders' offensive line, a problem to begin with, had to adjust when Charley Hannah, the left guard, sprained his right knee in the second quarter. Bruce Davis, the left tackle, then moved to guard. Shelby Jordan, who has been limited to special teams action with a groin injury, took over Davis's spot.
For a while, things weren't so bad. The Raiders, with a very tenacious defense and a strange-looking offense, a dink offense—pick here, pick there, long drives but no points—were hanging in. But in the third quarter it got out of hand. The 49ers had just put together their nicest drive of the day and were up 20-3. Usually at this point in a game two things can happen. The team that's down can open the throttle and come sailing back, or it can get overrun by the pass rush.
"A late pass rush," 49er coach Bill Walsh likes to say, "is the key to NFL football."
The 49er rushers poured through. Plunkett was sacked on the Raiders' first play, the ball popped free, and Milt McColl, who was playing weak-side linebacker for the injured Keena Turner, raced 28 yards with the fumble for the score and a 27-3 lead. The next Raider series died when Plunkett, under pressure, pitched the ball low to Marcus Allen for an 11-yard loss, then got sacked two plays later. At the beginning of the next series he was sacked again, this time by Dwaine Board, who had four of the 49ers' nine—that's right, nine—sacks. Three minutes later Plunkett suffered his dislocated shoulder. Thus, a game that had been billed as a clash of titans, a meeting between the teams that had won four of the last five Super Bowls, ended as a quest for survival.
As always, the Raiders wouldn't die quietly. There was a bitter aftermath that carried into the corridor leading to the locker rooms, with L.A. defensive end Howie Long going after the 49ers' offensive line coach, Bobb McKittrick.
"Leg whips, they were leg whipping us all day," said Long. "I said to Keith Fahnhorst, the tackle playing against me, 'What the hell are you doing?' and he said, 'I'm doing what I was taught.' In the tunnel I asked someone to point out the line coach, and yeah, I guess I did go after him. That's our careers we're dealing with here."