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Pro Football / Bob Oates : Montana Meeting Toughness Test

A quality known as mental toughness is frequently more important to a quarterback than his ability to throw or scramble, Pat Haden was saying the other day.

The former USC and Ram star said about 49er quarterback Joe Montana:

“Montana’s mental toughness is really being tested this year. He’s going through the worst thing a quarterback can go through. A drug innuendo has to be an athlete’s most terrible distraction.”

Haden admires the way Montana has handled the distraction. Since his unusual press conference two weeks ago, Montana has led the 49ers to two victories.

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“But Joe isn’t out of the woods yet, and I’m sure he knows it,” Haden said. “Here is a guy who’s been the darling of two famous football teams, Notre Dame in college, and now a Super Bowl champion. Nothing he’s ever known could have possibly prepared him for this challenge. Although he’s a great scrambler and a great quarterback, the thing that will make him or break him now is his mental toughness.”

The Chicago Bears, who will play the Miami Dolphins and Dan Marino Monday night in one of the most attractive NFL games of the season, have won 12 straight by attacking quarterbacks the way they should be attacked, Haden said.

He would use Chicago’s defensive scheme, he added, if he were a defensive coordinator.

A Rhodes Scholar who has become a lawyer after more than a decade as a winning Los Angeles quarterback, Haden said: “The kind of (defensive) pressure Chicago gets takes away 80% of the other team’s pass offense. All they leave you is your quick stuff.”

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In Haden’s experience, quarterbacks are much happier looking at zone defenses, including prevent defenses, than blitzing defenses.

“Blitzers force you to beat them with a great play,” he said. “Secondly, they make a quarterback wonder: ‘Are they (blitzing) this time or aren’t they?’

“Blitzers prey on your mind.”

The matchup in Miami will bring the team of the year, Chicago, against a coach for the ages, Don Shula, whose 1972 team went 17-0.

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Football people are asking what Shula will have Marino do against the undefeated Bears.

“I’m waiting to see,” Dallas Vice President Gil Brandt said. “Chicago is playing as well right now as any team I’ve watched in 25 years.”

Defensively under Buddy Ryan, the Bears have become a bump-and-run team that assaults the pocket in force, steadily and creatively. In theory, this leaves them vulnerable to quick passes aimed at single-covered catchers, which are Marino’s specialty.

But even if Marino earns some points, the Bears may outscore him.

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Said Chicago tackle Keith Van Horne: “With either Jim McMahon or Steve Fuller (at quarterback), our offense is underrated.

It may be.

The Bears’ coach, Mike Ditka, has developed some of the NFL’s most entertaining offensive game plans this fall.

Quietly, amid the fanfare for William Perry and the Chicago defense, Ditka has built a team that is as creative on offense as it is defensively. The Bears’ Refrigerator series is merely one of many innovations.

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Ditka is the play designer and play caller and has not been lacking in imagination, as evidenced by:

--Repeatedly in Dallas, when the Cowboys sent in seven defensive backs on third and four or five, Fuller rolled one way, faking passes, and handed off to halfback Walter Payton running the other way, usually for first downs.

--When the Cowboys wised up and went after Payton, Fuller kept the ball and threw the long pass that set up a key touchdown.

--The Bears have succeeded with a number of cartoon plays, including a fake reverse pass by Payton. As Willie Gault speeds left, simulating an end-around run, Payton rolls right to throw it.

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--At San Francisco last month, Ditka’s team threw repeatedly on first down, or attacked with draw plays and other garbage runs, during the first half. Payton wasn’t once asked to hit off tackle on a conventional running play until Chicago had a 16-0 lead, at which point the Bears jammed Payton down the 49ers’ throats.

Ditka, in other words, hasn’t been content to win conventionally this year just because he has the best players. It is true that his stultifying defense takes some of the joy out of football--for the spectator--but his offense puts some of it back in.

Will Steve Young make it at Tampa Bay?

Voting yes is fullback James Wilder of the one-back Buccaneers: “I think (Young’s) running ability scared Detroit. It was like two running backs coming out of the backfield.”

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Not so sure is Coach Darryl Rogers of Detroit: "(Young) was exactly what I thought he would be. Wilder was the one who was really tough on us.”

The play that beat San Diego at Houston Sunday happened on fourth and 15, when, with 13 seconds left, Tim Smith caught Oliver Luck’s pass at the 33-yard line, setting up the field goal that gave the Oilers a 37-35 victory.

Said the nearest San Diego defensive back, John Hendy: “I’m supposed to get deep help inside, but I didn’t get it.”

In other words, the Chargers’ defense isn’t fixed yet. All they accomplished when they fired Tom Bass was getting rid of their best defensive coach, who was also one of the NFL’s best.

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