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One For the Thumb in '91?

Juan of a Kind

By Juan Plascencia

They are being dubbed "the greatest team ever."

In the wake of the most-lopsided, most futile, and yes, pardon my bluntness, most boring Super Bowl ever, the San Francisco 49ers have reason to be pleased. But what they really feel will distinguish them from the other great teams is a record third straight Lombardi Trophy.

And according to views espoused by players, coaches and others in their quotes to the press this week, the seemingly unreachable may be possible.

Ronnie Lott seemed confident in the post-game press conference. "I could see us winning again," said the perennial Pro-Bowler.

"I'm going to enjoy this [Super Bowl] tonight and then start setting goals for next year. Go back and three-peat," said Roger Craig, the only running back in NFL history to gain more than 1,000 yards in both rushing and receiving in a season (1985).

"Each [Super Bowl win] is sweeter," said the much-lauded Joe Montana. "This is just sweet. Let's go get another."

The question remains: Can they repeat?

Seeing the 55-10 slaughter last Sunday night, you might begin to side with the Niners' self-assured proclamations.

With Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, Montana and company, the Niners' scoring machine is sure to produce more of those brilliant pass plays and breath-taking runs. And with Lott leading the defense, enemy offenses shouldn't prove to be much of a menace.

But in the world of professional athletics, where greatness is measured by the number of world championships you win--just ask the Broncos or the Red Sox--the 49ers are trying to eclipse previous standards of greatness.

It is not enough for San Francisco to have merely tied history. Their fourth Super Bowl victory tied the Pittsburgh Steelers' record. Both teams have been hailed as the best of their respective decades.

But the Niners want more. Immediately after the Super Bowl rout, players were already shouting a slogan that revealed their desire for true greatness. "Three-peat! Three-peat!" Their hubris set the heart pounding. Visions of a ring "for the thumb" no doubt were dancing in their heads.

Though laden with talent, the 49ers' mark of distinction resides in their ability to consistently dominate the league's best.

And with all-everything quarterback Joe Montana at the helm, the Niners seemed nearly unbeatable in this year's playoffs. In the post-game press conference, the accolade-laced Montana grinned and said that he could still see himself playing at age 40.

Even Broncos owner Pat Bowlen acknowledged Montana's god-like stature: "The way I look at the 49ers, they're a heck of a football team, and God would have had trouble beating them today. In fact, they had God."

"He's probably the greatest quarterback that has played the game," said San Francisco coach George Seifert And Seifert isn't one to brag. In fact, Seifert brags about as often as Montana throws interceptions, which isn't much.

The fact of the matter is, these San Francisco 49ers are very, very good at what they do.

The greatest team ever?

Terry Bradshaw didn't seem to think so. In the CBS Super Bowl pre-game show, the former two-time Super Bowl MVP for the Steelers argued: "Would the Steelers beat the 49ers? What do you want me to say? Of course they would."

But what if? What if the Niners do win a record third-straight Super Bowl next year? Would that raise them to "greatest team ever" status? Would they, in effect, be undeniably "better" than even the Steelers?

Maybe only four in a row would silence the detractors and satiate the Niners' appetites.

The truth is, however, that the quest for immortality of a sort is imbued with inherent irony. Ironic because champions are never satisified with their achievements.

The question, "Are the 49ers the greatest team ever?" might be answered--if not convincingly then for the moment--based upon whether the team fulfills its self-instilled mission to "three-peat".

Even for the 49ers, it's "wait 'til next year."

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