Bad memories linger
January 09, 2003
The 49ers took a pounding on their last trip to Tampa
Ron Kroichick, Chronicle Staff Writer
If history is Steve Mariucci's guide, then he should not send Terrell Owens on a second-quarter reverse Sunday in Tampa, Fla. And he should try to limit the chances of Jeff Garcia absorbing a head-rattling hit.
Put another way: Someone should block Warren Sapp.
The 49ers and Buccaneers share little history. They have never met in the playoffs and the regular-season litany predictably leans to the west: The 49ers have won 12 of the 14 games between the teams.
Amid this unremarkable past rests one all-too-memorable encounter. The last time the 49ers and Bucs played each other, on Aug. 31, 1997, at old Tampa Stadium, in Mariucci's first regular-season game as coach of the 49ers, the kingdom nearly crumbled.
Jerry Rice blew out his knee, Steve Young sustained his third concussion in less than a year and the 49ers lost 13-6. Beyond those little details, Mariucci enjoyed a lovely debut as an NFL head coach.
"It was a rough way to start a pro career," he said this week.
As it turned out, Young missed only one game -- which the 49ers won behind the immortal Jim Druckenmiller -- and San Francisco improbably reeled off 11 consecutive victories. Rice came back on a Monday night in December against Denver, only to re-injure his knee. The 49ers ultimately reached the NFC Championship Game, where they fell to Green Bay.
But nobody knew any of this on the night of Aug. 31, as the team winged its way home in the wake of an inconceivably dreadful opener. Nobody knew Young's status. Nobody knew if Rice, who had played in 189 consecutive games before that day, would ever play again.
Nobody knew if Mariucci would implode at the thought of proceeding without his two future Hall of Famers.
"It was an all-around bad day," tackle Derrick Deese, one of the few 49ers players from '97 still on the team, said Wednesday. "You lose two of your offensive superstars, it's one of those games you don't want to remember."
To refresh Deese's memory, Young lasted only five plays (though he returned later in the game). Sapp dragged him down as he scrambled; Young sustained the concussion when linebacker Hardy Nickerson's knee hit Young's helmet.
Rice ran into Sapp late in the second quarter. Or, more accurately, Sapp pulled Rice down by his facemask. Sapp drew a 15-yard penalty and Rice twisted his left knee into a painful mess. He had surgery the next day to repair torn ligaments.
Sapp, of course, still plays for Tampa Bay, still creates havoc for offensive players around the league. He also happened to speak to Bay Area reporters Wednesday on a conference call. And the 49ers-Bucs game of 1997 happened to surface during the interview.
Asked what he remembered about the game, Sapp said only, "Thirteen-six." That would be the final score, ladies and gentlemen.
As a follow-up, Sapp was asked if he has spoken to Rice since their fateful tango. Sapp offered a cryptic response and then, when pressed, he said, "It's none of your business."
The images of that game stretched into the postgame locker room. Young appeared dazed and slightly confused, even leaning on a 49ers official while he answered questions.
Even though Young came back two weeks later to lead an emphatic win over New Orleans, he and the offense were not the same. Mariucci adjusted on the fly, turning to the running game to protect Young.
Garrison Hearst ran for 1,019 yards that season, and Terry Kirby (418) and William Floyd (231) also contributed. Mariucci kept his cool and the 49ers finished the season 13-3.
"He was positive the whole time," Deese said. "If there was any doubt, he didn't show it."
Or, as defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield said, "Steve didn't panic. He knew he had a lot of veterans on that team. We just knew how to handle it."
Now, more than five years later, the 49ers get another chance to handle Sapp -- and wipe away those nasty memories of their last trip to Tampa.
The 49ers hold a 12-2 lead in the series (home team in caps):
10/30/77 49ERS 20, Bucs 10
12/10/78 -- 49ERS 6, Bucs 3
12/9/79 -- 49ERS 23, Bucs 7
10/26/80 -- Bucs 24, 49ERS 23
12/4/83 -- 49ERS 35, Bucs 21
11/18/84 -- 49ERS 24, Bucs 17
9/7/86 -- 49ers 31, BUCS 7
11/2/87 -- 49ers 24, BUCS 10
9/17/89 -- 49ers 20, BUCS 16
11/18/90 -- 49ERS 31, Bucs 7
12/19/92 -- 49ERS 21, Bucs 14
11/14/93 -- 49ers 45, BUCS 21
10/23/94 -- 49ERS 41, Bucs 16
8/31/97 -- BUCS 13, 49ers 6
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