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Monday Night game not meaningless for 49ers

Jerry DiPaola
| Sunday, Jan. 5, 2003

The season's final Monday night game appeared to be a meaningless match, featuring the playoff-bound San Francisco 49ers, who had nothing on the line, and the disappointing St. Louis Rams, who missed the playoffs for the first time since 1998.

But it certainly meant something to two members of the 49ers' coaching staff, who nearly came to blows during the Rams' four-touchdown rally in the fourth quarter.

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Kevin Lynch was on the sideline near the 49ers bench as the Rams turned a 20-3 deficit into a 31-20 victory, and he wrote about what he saw.

"On the sidelines," Lynch wrote, "the 49ers could barely keep it together. At one point, (coach Steve) Mariucci had to separate defensive coordinator Jim Mora and special teams coach Bruce DeHaven."

Lynch said the disagreement stemmed from the use of linebacker Quincy Stewart on the kickoff return team. A source told Lynch that at one point Mora said, "Get this (expletive) out of my face before I kick his (butt)."

The next day, Mariucci called the report misguided and overblown, but he also called it an example of why reporters' access should be limited on the sideline during games because of the ongoing emotions.

Mariucci said coaches laughed about the report, but didn't deny the shouting incident.

"The thing was over immediately," he said. "During the game, on the sidelines, you've got to realize, the sideline is emotional. It's not the Vienna Boys Choir, OK?"

DOING THEIR JOBS

Three reporters who cover the Cincinnati Bengals for a living went the extra mile — about 450 of them, to be exact — to get the inside details on the firing last Monday of former Bengals coach Dick LeBeau.

Ken Gordon of the Columbus Dispatch, Mark Curnutte of the Cincinnati Enquirer and Chick Ludwig of the Dayton Daily News knew their return flight from Buffalo — where the Bengals concluded their miserable season with a 27-9 loss to the Bills last Sunday — wouldn't arrive in Cincinnati in time for them to speak to LeBeau and team president Mike Brown.

So, they drove through the night after the game ended and they had submitted their stories for the next day's newspapers, arriving in Cincinnati seven hours later at 4:50 in the morning.

"It was like a college road trip," Gordon said.

As it turned out, LeBeau spoke only through a statement released by the team, but the three diligent reporters did get a chance to attend a news conference and chat with Brown.

Gordon's reward — aside from several news stories — was a trip to Tempe, Ariz., to cover Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl last Friday.

GOOD PICK

The Denver Broncos waited until the second round — after 50 other players had been selected — before they took running back Clinton Portis of Miami (Fla.). But it turned out to be the most astute pick of the 2002 draft.

Portis led all NFL rookies in rushing yards (1,508), total yards from scrimmage (1,872), rushing touchdowns (15) and total touchdowns (17). His total yardage figure is nearly double that of the next-highest rookie (Cleveland Browns running back William Green, 1,000). Plus, his rushing yards and total touchdowns were more than double the next-highest rookie.

Jonathan Wells of the Houston Texans rushed for 529 yards and James Mungro of the Indianapolis Colts and Donte Stallworth of the New Orleans Saints scored eight touchdowns.

Portis led all NFL running backs in yards-per-carry (5.52), the second-best yards-per-carry average (5.52) for a rookie in NFL history behind Franco Harris' 5.61 in 1972.

IN HIS GENES•

The Giants are down to their third long snapper — 41-year-old Trey Junkin — after placing former Steelers player Dan O'Leary on injured reserve with a torn thumb ligament. Earlier, the Giants had released rookie long snapper Bob Jones, who had been with the Steelers in training camp.

Junkin began his NFL career as the Buffalo Bills' fourth-round draft choice in 1983 when many of his teammates were in elementary school. Junkin's 18-year-old son Justin is going to college next year — to be a long snapper.

Asked if the ability to snap is genetic, Trey said: "No, but the stupidity of wanting to do it may be genetic. That's not something that's normal."

Junkin had a difficult time finding a job this season because teams would have had to pay him the minimum wage for his seniority level — $750,000. He won't get nearly that much for his playoff stint.

"I was watching all these bad snaps and thinking, 'How much is it worth?' How many games are you going to lose over a snap?"

MELTDOWN IN DALLAS

The Dallas Cowboys' 20-14 loss to the Washington Redskins ended two streaks and continued two others. Before the game, the Cowboys had won 10 in a row against the Redskins, and Dallas running back Emmitt Smith had rushed for 1,000 yards in 11 consecutive seasons. Smith had to settle for 975 this season.

It also was the third 5-11 season for Cowboys coach Dave Campo, who ended up losing his job, and the fourth consecutive loss for Dallas.

Worse, at least four Cowboys ignored curfew the night before the game, three missed the bus headed to the stadium, center Tyson Walter and wide receiver Antonio Bryant were penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct and tackle Flozell Adams and running back Troy Hambrick got into a shoving match on the field.

NOTABLE

For the sixth consecutive season, at least five new clubs from a year ago are in the playoffs. This year, it's Atlanta, Cleveland, Indianapolis, the Giants and Tennessee. … The grass is so bad at 3Com Park due to heavy rain in San Francisco that some Giants players will bring four pairs of shoes to today's playoff game against the 49ers. … The 49ers began breaking down film of the Giants in their St. Louis hotel before their game against the Rams last Monday.

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