The day after every Super Bowl, the winner looks like next year's NFL champion.
No Super Bowl champion, however, ever looked more invincible than the San Francisco 49ers did Monday in the wake of their 55-10 romp past the Denver Broncos.
"Three-peat, three-peat," 49ers players were yelling only minutes after their devastation of the Broncos had produced the first repeat Super Bowl winner in 10 years.
"If they want to do it again, it's fine with me," said San Francisco coach George Seifert.
Until this season's 49ers came along, maintaining the emotional and physical edge needed to put forth the arduous eight-month effort required to be Super Bowl champion was something no NFL team had been able to do since the 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers. Since then, only the 1983 Washington Redskins even got to the Super Bowl after winning it the previous season. Those Skins lost to the Los Angeles Raiders, 38-9.
As good as the 49ers are, the odds are against them repeating, it would seem. But don't tell that to the San Francisco players.
When skeptics, even some of their own fans, said they couldn't repeat after last year's victory, it became a motivating factor for the 49ers.
"Our guys said, 'hey, nobody can tell them what they're going to do,' " Niners quarterback Joe Montana said at Monday's press conference. "I think the guys came back and took it as a challenge."
Another theory is that the departure of Bill Walsh as coach and general manager was an even greater motivating factor.
Seifert believes the change might have helped keep the Niners interested and alert.
"There was a certain amount of unknown. That causes you to crank things up a notch or two and go back and study the playbook," he said.
Others think the Niners went out of their way to prove this season that they can win without Walsh.
"As you can see, we haven't skipped a beat," Montana said proudly in talking about how the change in coaches affected the San Francisco offense.
Mike Holmgren took over as the team's offensive coordinator, a province Walsh reserved for himself.
Seifert, however, wasn't looking to remove Walsh from the list of those receiving credit for this San Francisco Super Bowl victory.
"The mark Bill put on this club will last for a long time," Seifert said.
Assuming they are properly motivated to make another Super Bowl run in 1990, what are the practical problems facing the Niners?
Contract problems? The Niners' payroll jumped from around $4 million to more than $19 million this season and owner Eddie DeBartolo has indicated he is willing to sit down and restructure the remaining two years on Montana's $1.2 million a year contract. In light of their championship, there will be more upward pressure on the Niners' payroll. However, the team stands to share in increased revenues from the league's new television contracts.
Age? Not really a major problem. Only two offensive starters will be in their 30s next year. Montana will be 34 and running back Roger Craig will be 30. Wide receiver Jerry Rice, who caught three touchdown passes Sunday, will be only 27, as will fullback Tom Rathman, who scored twice. On defense, two of Sunday's starters, Matt Millen and Keena Turner, will be 32 and Ronnie Lott will be 31.
Role dissatisfaction? This could be a problem. Backup quarterback Steve Young began to complain about his lot during Super Bowl week. Young is 28 and anxious to be an NFL starter again. The problem for Young is Montana is showing no signs of slowing down. Running back Terrence Flagler openly has complained about his lack of action. He was a No. 1 draft pick in 1987 but has carried the ball only 42 times in three seasons.
Schedule? The Niners face as tough a slate as you'll find in the NFL -- the New York Giants, Washington, Dallas, Cleveland and Pittsburgh at home and Minnesota, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Houston and Cincinnati on the road as well as divisional opponents Los Angeles, New Orleans and Atlanta.
"The toughest part of our season sometimes is getting out of our division," Montana said.
Injuries? Losing Montana might knock the Niners down a peg from great to just very good, but San Francisco has the best depth in the league and uses more players on a regular basis than most teams. San Francisco played the Super Bowl without linebackers Riki Ellison and Jim Fahnhorst and safety Jeff Fuller, whose career is finished. During the season, the Niners went long stretches without Lott, a safety, and nose tackle Michael Carter.
When Ellison and Fahnhorst were lost, the Niners signed ex-Raider Millen as a free agent. When Carter went down, they signed ex-Giant Jim Burt. Signing the two high-priced veterans showed the commitment of the organization.
"Our players believe in the program and in the fact that everybody is working so they can be successful," Seifert said Monday.
Becoming stale? The Niners did not stand still as far as their offensive and defensive schemes. Offensively, San Francisco was still in a state of evolution, becoming even more diversified than last year's champions as tight end Brent Jones became more involved in the offense as a receiver and Rathman was used frequently as a receiver. Montana said he believed that was a factor in the continued improvement of the offense.
"The big thing was spreading the ball around. We never got in a situation where we had to force the ball," Montana said.
Look for the Niners to make more effective use of tight ends Jamie Williams and rookie Wesley Walls next year, possibly find a role for Flagler, and make more use of Mike Sherrard as a third or fourth receiver.
San Francisco has the talent and Montana has the knack for taking advantage of whatever holes the defense leaves. Sunday, they wreaked havoc with Denver's zone defenses which left the middle open for four of the Niners' five touchdown passes.
"In the two-deep zones, their safeties would get pretty wide," Montana said. "Because they were so wide, we felt that we could use play action and look them off a lot."
This is one football dynasty that doesn't appear to be ready to die easily.
Montana will be replaced by Washington's Mark Rypien in Sunday's Pro Bowl game because of his sore throwing elbow. The last time Montana played in the Pro Bowl with a sore arm, he later required surgery.
He has been bothered much of the season by tendonitis and a bursa sac problem. Montana said the Niners' medical staff wants him to rest the arm so that it may not be necessary to surgically alleviate any swelling in the joint.