The thought of playing a Super Bowl without Jerry Rice is enough to nauseate any San Francisco 49er fan. Or player. Or coach.
It's not something the NFC champions will have to stomach on Sunday, despite the ankle injury Rice suffered in practice Monday. Just ask any 49er - or any Cincinnati Bengal."If he can walk, he'll play," Joe Montana said. The 49ers quarterback knows his All-Pro receiver isn't about to let his first Super Bowl appearance hinge on a twinge six days before kickoff. "Believe me, he'll play. I'll drag him out there."
If he doesn't do the dragging, Bengals Coach Sam Wyche might.
"This is a game where the two teams should be at full strength," Wyche said. "I hope he can play. Jrry Rice is one of the best players they've got and one of the best players in the league.
"I hope all of them play, on both sides."
Rice left San Francisco's practice after injuring his right ankle and was listed as questionable for this rematch of the 1982 Super Bowl, San Francisco's first of two NFL championships. In the minds of the medics, there might be a question.
As for Rice's teammates and opponents, forget it.
"He's the man you want to get the football to," Cincinnati Pro Bowl safety David Fulcher said of Rice, who when healthy is the most dangerous receiver in the game. "Nobody at this time is going to miss a game like this,and I'm sure he knows how important he is to that team."
How important? When Rice's ankle finally healed this season, the 49ers went on a four-game tear that boosted them to the NFC West title. In those four games, Rice averaged five receptions for 104 yards.
"He's our gamebreaker," Montana said. "That's no secret. And you go to your big-play guy in big games. That's not a secret, either.
"Knowing Jerry Rice, he will be on the field and doing his job."
That's all he was doing when he went down in practice.
"He did a hook pattern and finished it off,and then he went in," Montana said. "I didn't know it was bad.
"I don't think it means much if he doesn't (practice). By this time, we're not learning anything new about each other."
Bill Walsh wasn't so sure.
"So much of our offense is related to Montana getting the ball to Rice,and without that timing and that week of work, it reduces our effectiveness," the coach said. "We'll rest him completely. We feel he'll be OK."
"If he needs the time to rest and heal," Montana added, "he should take it."
While the 49ers wondered whether Rice would play in the Super Bowl, owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., said in a separate interviews he has a feeling Walsh will resign a few days after the game.
"He just wants to wait till after the season's over," DeBartolo said in an interview published in today's editions of the San Francisco Chronicle.
"He's told me that. Basically, he's told (the media), too. I really believe that Monday, probably, or maybe Tuesday, at the latest, he'll (make an announcement).
DeBartolo put at no better than 20 percent the odds that Walsh would coach the 49ers again in 1989, the newspapers reported.