Rice Back on Menu


On a night dedicated to 49er excellence with reminders of Joe Montana’s charismatic ability to rally his team and the touchdown-scoring return of Jerry Rice, there would be no John Elway comeback to crash San Francisco’s celebration.

And while Denver was unraveling, losing Terrell Davis because of a separated shoulder and allowing the Kansas City Chiefs to claim the AFC West Division and the home-field advantage through the playoffs, the 49ers were making a statement of their own: If the Green Bay Packers aim to repeat as Super Bowl champions, they will have to travel through San Francisco.

The 49ers (13-2), buoyed by Rice’s 14-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter and returning two of Elway’s three turnovers for touchdowns in the second half, broke a 17-17 tie to pull away for a 34-17 victory over Denver (11-4) before 68,461 in 3Com Park Monday night.


“There was a lot of electricity out there,” said San Francisco quarterback Steve Young, who completed 22 of 34 passes for 276 yards and a touchdown. “I haven’t seen that here for a while; you have no idea how it feels to play before a crowd like that. That kind of electricity can push us to the Super Bowl.”

Rice, extending his streak to 177 games with at least one catch and scoring the 166th touchdown of his career, became the first non-kicker in NFL history to reach the 1,000-point mark. Rice, without explanation, left the stadium without comment.

Seemingly lost to the 49ers for the season because of two torn knee ligaments and damaged cartilage in the team’s opening game against Tampa Bay on Aug. 31, Rice opened the festive night running through a gantlet of teammates and jumping into the arms of teammate William Floyd, the crowd cheering wildly.

When the game began, Rice, who holds NFL records for most touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards, ran onto the field 11 times, his arm raised to remind Floyd that he was being replaced, and while two plays were officially wiped out by penalties, he was back in prime time.

On his initial two pass routes, Rice was a decoy while Young looked elsewhere, but on the 49ers’ second possession, he ran up field, cut right and Young located him for a 16-yard gain, Denver cornerback Ray Crockett hitting him with a glancing blow to his reconstructed left knee.

Rice got up, a victory already for nervous 49er fans, and then went back to crafting memories for his well-wishers.


In the second quarter, his diving 10-yard reception on third and eight kept a 49er scoring drive alive, and while that remarkable catch would have been enough for the late-night highlight shows, Rice came back to provide the night’s most memorable moment with his touchdown.

With Denver ahead, 10-0, Rice split Denver cornerback Darrien Gordon and safety Steve Atwater in the end zone and caught Young’s pass for a 14-yard touchdown. Atwater, renowned for his punishing tackles, refused to be swayed by the outpouring of emotion for Rice and blasted him, bruising Rice’s mended knee and forcing him to the sideline to apply an ice bag for the remainder of the game.

“He had some swelling on his knee and we didn’t want to take a chance on his playing longer,” 49er Coach Steve Mariucci said. “He’ll be fine . . . It was so exciting to have him back.”

The 49ers had already made plans not to play Rice on the artificial turf in Seattle next week, and now after assuring themselves of being seeded No. 1 in the NFC, San Francisco will probably rest Young and several other battered teammates in the season finale against the Seahawks.

“This was just a great moment for the 49ers, a great effort on the part of our players,” Mariucci said. “The crowd was electrifying and getting the home field is a big advantage.”

The 49ers, wrecked by Kansas City two weeks ago in a 44-9 blowout, have established themselves as solid playoff contenders with back-to-back convincing wins over Minnesota and Denver.

The Broncos jumped on San Francisco with 10 quick points, turning a fumbled Iheanyi Uwaezuoke punt at the 49er six-yard line into a two-yard Davis touchdown run two plays later, and adding a 49-yard Jason Elam field goal.

Denver taking a quick lead on the road, however, has been a prescription for defeat, all four losses coming away from Mile High Stadium and after the Broncos had moved ahead.

San Francisco mounted its victory campaign with a 92-yard scoring drive in the second quarter, the touchdown scored by Rice, who finished the game with three catches for 40 yards.

The Broncos, while still ahead and driving, stumbled as soon as Davis left the game to be treated for an injured shoulder. Vaughn Hebron, 5 feet 8 and 192 pounds and no threat to challenge Barry Sanders for the NFL rushing title, gained two yards on his first running attempt at the San Francisco 28-yard line. After two Elway incomplete passes, the Broncos were forced to call on Elam, who was wide left from 44 yards.

San Francisco responded with another touchdown drive, Terry Kirby plowing in from the one-yard line for a 14-10 lead, a proper good-feeling tuneup for halftime ceremonies to retire jersey No. 16 in honor of Montana.

Elway, like Montana, probably is headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but this game will not be included in his highlights. After moving Denver into the end zone for a 17-14 lead with Hebron running in from the one-yard line, Elway suffered a meltdown.

“I turned the ball over and that hurt us,” said Elway, a miserable 16 of 41 for 150 yards. “Those picks [interceptions] were bad. You can’t afford them against a good team like the 49ers.”

His pass to wide receiver Ed McCaffrey was off target and intercepted by Merton Hanks. And while Elway gave chase, he was decked by 49er linebacker Gary Plummer, paving the way for Hanks to go 55 yards for a touchdown.

San Francisco moved ahead, 24-17, and with the ball in Elway’s hands, most everyone had to be thinking about the possibility of one of his comebacks. But before he could strike, he was struck down, his pass tipped at the line of scrimmage by defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield and intercepted by linebacker Lee Woodall.

Once again Elway gave chase only to be slammed to the ground, this time by defensive end Chris Doleman, and while Woodall was stopped at the Denver 11-yard line, Gary Anderson came on to kick a 20-yard field goal and extend the 49er lead to 10.

Forty-one times in his career Elway has led a comeback to tie or win a game for the Broncos, but after moving his team in position for an Elam 29-yard field goal, he watched in disgust as Elam’s kick once again moved wide left.

He would come back for one more play, retreating to pass and being sacked, the ball rolling free and picked up by San Francisco defensive end Kevin Greene, who went 40 yards for the game’s final score.

Back up the field, Elway remained kneeling, looking over his shoulder in disbelief, his hopes for a Super Bowl win appearing to fade with the realization that Denver will have to advance as a wild card, and on the road for two of the three playoff rounds.







TD: 1



The eyes of Texas appear to be on George Seifert, who seems to be a logical choice as the next Cowboy coach. C2


The same gift would appear to be appropriate for Drew Bledsoe and Dennis Green’s Minnesota Vikings. C7