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49ers’ Bunz Answered Call the First Time

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Times Staff Writer

Bay Area football lore includes The Catch and The Play but, perhaps because it was made outside these environs, not The Tackle.

The Catch was Dwight Clark’s reception of Joe Montana’s desperate pass that beat the Cowboys and put the 49ers in the Super Bowl three seasons ago.

The Play was Cal’s incredible kickoff return, through the Stanford band, that won the Big Game two years ago.

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The Tackle? Does the name Dan Bunz ring a bell?

Well, the play afterward rang his.

It happened in Super Bowl XVI against Cincinnati in the Pontiac, Mich., Silverdome--the best goal-line stand in any Super Bowl.

Then, as now, Bunz was playing linebacker for the 49ers, whose defense anchored by Jack (Hacksaw) Reynolds had stopped two thrusts by big Pete Johnson. Third down.

“I was thinking it could be a sweep or a pass, so I widened up to make sure I’d get outside,” Bunz said.

Bengal quarterback Ken Anderson flipped a short swing pass right to running back Charles Alexander, who caught it and started to angle across the goal line.

Bunz said: “When the ball was coming I was thinking to go for it, but when we ran that in practice I tipped it and the ball went over my head and the guy caught it in the end zone.”

So Bunz met Alexander at the one-foot line and wrestled him to the ground without yielding another inch.

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“After I hit him and I knew he wasn’t in I was kind of mad,” Bunz said. “Gosh, maybe I could have got the ball.

“Everybody was excited and I said: ‘Hold it, they’ve only got a foot, and they can make at least a foot.’ Then they called time out and we went over and talked to (defensive coordinator Chuck) Studley, and he was telling me to relay about 10 different things--’Tell (Craig) Puki to do this, tell Hack to do this, tell the corners to watch that.’ So I tell ‘em all that and then said, ‘Hey, let’s just stop ‘em.’

“And then Alexander was staring right at me. He had this look like, ‘I’m gonna kill ya.’ For some reason I said to myself, ‘It’s going to be a lead play, so he’s coming to really nail me and get even.’

“We hit heads and I stopped it in the hole, and then Pete (Johnson) tried to come over the top and that’s when Hack and everybody else hit him.

“After the play you could see everybody jumping around. Well, I got dinged . . . broke my chinstrap. I came over to the sideline and Hack says, ‘You all right? What happened?’ I said, ‘I know we stopped ‘em.’ He said, ‘Oh, you’re all right.’ When we turned ‘em away there, the momentum was back on our side.”

Small world. Studley is now the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator. Johnson is their short-yardage runner. After missing most of the 1982 and ’83 seasons with injuries, Bunz now plays outside linebacker for the 49ers.

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Enduring his third Super Bowl experience, Reynolds, the former Ram linebacker asked: “Why don’t the players ever get to ask the writers questions?”

Sure, Hack, why not? What would you like to know?

“Why is it the same guy who writes the story doesn’t write the headline?”

David Shula, 25, is the youngest assistant coach in the National Football League and a close acquaintance of at least two starting quarterbacks.

The son of Dolphin Coach Don Shula was Jeff Kemp’s top receiver at Dartmouth and now works with Dan Marino and his receivers in the pass offense.

No, he won’t compare Kemp and Marino, but he did describe how Marino defies some passing precepts.

“Dan throws the ball into situations when he feels he can get the ball there, when a lot of quarterbacks can’t, and he’s shown that all year,” Shula said. “His ability allows him to make a throw that a reporter or a coach sitting upstairs will say, ‘I can’t believe he threw that ball.’ But he is so confident in his ability that he’ll do it.”

The Dolphins’ passing game is more explosive than, but not as complex as, the 49ers’, which is geared more to ball control than quick-strike ability.

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Shula said the receivers are instructed to always be looking for the ball. Marino will throw it when he feels like it, depending on the situation.

“Sometimes he’ll throw right on the (receiver’s) break, sometimes just before the break and sometimes after,” Shula said. “He can make a decision and have his arm carry through the decision a lot quicker than most people.”

That’s the quick release everyone talks about when Marino is discussed.

Mark Duper said: “When you come off your break you’d better be ready for the ball, ‘cause it’s gonna be there.”

John Madden returned to Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, where the Dolphins are practicing and where he used to work before he became really famous.

Now that he’s a TV commentator and star of beer commercials, rather than just the Raiders’ coach, people ask him for his opinion on important things such as the Super Bowl.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a high-scoring game,” Madden said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of offense, going up and down the field but not getting in the end zone.”

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It was so cold for the first media call at 8:15 at Oakland Tuesday morning that there was frost on the field.

Dolphin receiver Jimmy Cefalo said: “We played here a few times (before the Raiders moved to Los Angeles). The field was always wet. I’ll be interested to see if it was just that way for Raider games.”

Cefalo is showing up at the media sessions already wired for sound and with his own TV crew. A part-time sportscaster, he is doing special reports for WTVJ in Miami.

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