49ers Far Too Deep for Broncos, 42-19 : Pro football: Free agents the key this season as San Francisco clinches home advantage in playoffs.


As the NFL’s team of the ‘80s, the San Francisco 49ers rose to Super Bowl prominence with a group of unusually gifted offensive players brought together by former coach Bill Walsh in drafts and trades.

This year in the new era of free agency, the 49ers, as one of the two teams of the ‘90s, are winning with nine experienced defensive free agents, who have moved in to spend their declining years with Walsh’s old offensive stars, Steve Young, Jerry Rice and the others.

“We came over to help Steve and Jerry win,” one of the nine, linebacker Gary Plummer, said after the 49ers turned back the Denver Broncos on Saturday, 42-19, earning home-field rights throughout next month’s playoffs.


“You saw that offense today--it’s the best in the league, a Super Bowl offense--and we wanted some of that,” said Plummer, one of the 49ers’ inside linebackers. “This place is a free agent’s paradise because the 49ers also have the best organization in the league. And San Francisco is the best town in the league. Who’s going to beat all that?”

So far, not many people. The 49ers (13-2) combined their new and old players to crush Denver (7-8) before halftime in another easy game for Young, who threw three touchdown passes to make it 34 for the season, a club record that his predecessor, Joe Montana, held with 31.

Plummer and the others in San Francisco’s rebuilt defense overwhelmed injured Bronco quarterback John Elway, sacking him six times and driving him to cover early in the third quarter.

The score was 28-3 when Elway’s backup, Hugh Millen, came in to raise the excitement level for a while with a string of short pass completions leading to a couple of touchdowns.

Before the end, however, the 49ers had improved on their league-leading point average, which was 32 going in, as Rice caught nine passes and Ricky Watters scored three touchdowns.

“Steve Young knows where everyone’s going to be,” Denver Coach Wade Phillips said.

Said 49er Coach George Seifert: “We’ll play to win at Minnesota (on Dec. 26). We want to stay sharp going into the playoffs.”


It was another day of impressive football for Seifert’s team, which ranks with the Dallas Cowboys as the class of the NFL.

This, in fact, has been another season of impressive football for the 49er offense, which was this good last year and has been at a peak throughout most of the ‘90s.

As a team, even so, the 49ers were going backward last year. Because their defense was declining, they were in danger of disintegrating. Four-time Super Bowl champions, they were facing the kind of collapse that has come to every other great NFL team--Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay champions, Terry Bradshaw’s Pittsburgh champions, and all the others.

Then, just in time, the league rode to San Francisco’s rescue, mandating free agency after years of fighting the players.

And in all, the 49ers have signed 11 veteran free agents, two offensive players--Pro Bowl center Bart Oates and receiver Ed McCaffrey--plus the nine on defense.

Theoretically, every team in the league had an even shot at all of them, but only San Francisco has Young and Rice as a magnet and only San Francisco has San Francisco--the magical city of the west.


“Everyone wants to play in the 49er organization,” said Leigh Steinberg, the agent who represents Young, Plummer and four other 49ers. “For a pro athlete, San Francisco is the promised land.”

Said Plummer: “If the 49ers keep winning, this will keep happening. You hear the oohs and aahs when NFL players fly in over the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time. Then they have dinner at one of the city’s famous restaurants and they’re hooked.”

Of the 49ers’ nine defensive free agents, three are defensive backs, the club’s weakest department: Deion Sanders from Atlanta, Tim McDonald from Arizona, and Toi Cook from New Orleans.

Three are linebackers: Ken Norton Jr. from Dallas, Rickey Jackson from New Orleans, and Plummer, the former San Diego Charger.

Three are defensive linemen: Richard Dent from Chicago, Tim Harris from Philadelphia and Charles Mann from Washington.

Dent, who has been injured and didn’t play Saturday, will be needed in the playoffs to counter Dallas defensive end Charles Haley.


Dallas and San Francisco have won three of the five Super Bowl games played in the ‘90s.

If the 49ers have a slight edge this year, one reason is that their offense looks and plays about as it did in the ‘80s under Walsh.