Before hopping a plane back to San Francisco and a hero's welcome, 49er Coach Bill Walsh met the press one final time to discuss the Super Bowl and related topics. Among his many observations on the season that ended with his team's victory over Cincinnati was an insight on San Francisco's progressive passing philosophy.
''I think we're willing to settle for a little less yardage on passes than some teams are,'' he said. ''Another thing we do is practice for hours and hours throwing to secondary receivers, and even third receivers.''
This, incidentally, is one of the hardest skills in football to master, since it requires split-second recall on the quarterback's part and precise execution of pass patterns by receivers.
Walsh believes the recognition he's been receiving as the National Football League's resident offensive genius partly stems from rule changes that have freed up passing attacks.
''The league went through a period there in the 1970s when defenses were just destroying the passing game,'' he recalled. ''The rules were such that just getting a receiver off the line of scrimmage against teams like Pittsburgh, Miami, and Oakland was brutal.''
Against this backdrop, Walsh may have implied that what he accomplished as Cincinnati's offensive coordinator in the mid-'70s rivals anything he's done in San Francisco. ''In 1975 the Bengals had one of the greatest passing offenses people have seen in many, many years. Under the existing rules, it was an incredible season.'' The quarterback that year was Ken Anderson, who guided Cincinnati on Sunday.
Though a thorough tactician, Walsh generally makes intuitive judgments based on accumulated knowledge rather than computer printouts. He appears to take quiet satisfaction in the 49ers' ability to break out of the mold this way.
''Most club personnel directors around the league picked Cincinnati to win the Super Bowl because of what the computer said,'' he explained. ''By and large, though, the players picked us because they knew the team's chemistry. One thing we have done is to look at what a particular player can do for our ballclub, not how many 4.5-second 40-yard dashes he has run.''
Maybe Walsh's most surprising comment came in discussing the league's top teams.
After ticking off the usual contenders, he added, ''And watch out for the New Orleans Saints. They've got a great coach (in Bum Phillips). Boy, they're going to be good!'' Considering New Orleans has never had a winning season and was 1-15 in 1980, Walsh might be accused on talking through his hat. Something tells me, however, he sees a little of San Francisco in the Saints, who were 4- 12 this season.