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Johnson Puts It All on the Line : NFC: Cowboy coach’s guarantee of a victory over the 49ers prompts an uncharacteristic response from Seifert.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cowboy Coach Jimmy Johnson set a new personal standard for pregame hype, and George Seifert, his 49er counterpart, promptly went one step further.

Johnson, who has been known to boast, and Seifert, prone to understatement, exchanged verbal volleys in anticipation of Sunday’s NFC championship game between Dallas and San Francisco.

Johnson, reacting to a radio interview with Coach Dan Reeves of the New York Giants on Thursday night, telephoned a Ft. Worth radio station from his car and, without qualification, pronounced the Cowboys the winners of Sunday’s game.

“We will win the ballgame,” Johnson said. “And you can put it in three-inch headlines. We will win the ballgame.”

The Dallas Morning News put Johnson’s guarantee in half-inch type at the top of the front page of the newspaper Friday morning, right there next to the headline: “Whitewater case counsel expects to grill Clintons.”

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And Johnson was disappointed.

“I think we would have gotten three-inch headlines if the story had been on the sports page,” he said. “Maybe we got three-inch headlines in San Francisco.”

In San Francisco, however, Seifert apparently was not amused. Before leaving for Dallas, he pulled a Johnson and went on the radio.

“Well, the man’s got balls, I’ll tell you that,” Seifert said. “I don’t know if they’re brass or papier-mache. We’ll find out here pretty soon.”

Later, at Friday night’s news conference, Johnson said he had heard a tape of Seifert’s remarks.

“They are not papier-mache,” Johnson said.

Reporters wanted to know if Johnson had been drinking before making his bold prediction.

“No,” Johnson said. “If I had, I would have been much more emphatic. It was very early in the evening. I had just come from practice.”

Running back Emmitt Smith said: “Even if he did have a couple of pops it doesn’t matter because the statement has been made.”

Johnson said he had thought about making his attention-getting announcement on Monday, but waited until the team had completed its preparations Thursday.

“I mean, here we are in the NFC championship game, and do you think I’m going to tiptoe around like I’m scared to death?” he asked. “I know my statements caused quite a stir, but I really don’t see anything earthshaking about it. I just gave you my opinion, and in my opinion I think we’re going to win the ballgame.

“I think it will be a very tight game, but I do believe we’ll make the plays in the fourth quarter to win it.”

The most famous guarantee before a big game was delivered by quarterback Joe Namath of the New York Jets before Super Bowl III in 1969. The Jets, who were 17-point underdogs, defeated the Baltimore Colts, 16-7.

“Joe had more impact on the game than what I have,” Johnson said.

If Johnson’s remarks were designed to distract the 49ers, they said it won’t work.

“It all happens on Sunday,” 49er quarterback Steve Young said. “Bruce Coslet did that last year when we played the Jets (and the 49ers won, 31-14).”

Does Seifert expect his team to win?

“I believe that we will have a very good opportunity,” Seifert said. “We worked very hard, we have a talented group of players and we go into the game optimistic.”

That’s how NFL coaches traditionally talk, but Johnson changed all that after hearing Reeves predict a Cowboy victory on the radio.

“I said, ‘Well, if Dan is going to make a prediction, I’ll just clear the whole thing up and I’ll make a prediction,’ ” Johnson said.

Why don’t more coaches do that?

“I don’t really have any idea,” he said. “Coaches do a lot of things. I think it’s a strange bunch, to tell you the truth.”

Some consider Johnson the strangest of them all, and although his players admire his confidence, they were admittedly caught off guard this time.

“Why did he do it?” asked Nate Newton, Cowboy guard. “I majored in physical education, not psychology. All I know is he put our (butt) in the frying pan.”

Running back Derrick Lassic said: “This shows he believes we can walk on water.”

Said Cowboy owner Jerry Jones supported his coach. “When I heard that, that we were going to win, well I just slept like a baby,” he said. “It’s done. It’s done.”

But what if the Cowboys lose?

“Hey, we go out there to do one thing and that’s to win games,” Johnson said. “And I don’t ever look at the alternative.”


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