On Jan. 8, 1989, Mike Ditka ended a week of suspense by announcing to the world that Jim McMahon would start the NFC title game against San Francisco over Mike Tomczak.
Two days later, the 49ers routed the Bears 28-3 and Chicago began a decline that lasted for most of the next decade. San Francisco's decline was shorter -- the last two seasons after five Super Bowl victories in 15 seasons.
Both are 4-1 and meet Sunday in Chicago. The Bears, winners of four straight, are favored by 2 1/2 points.
There are similarities between now and 12 years ago:
--San Francisco is offense, averaging 24 points a game.
--Chicago is defense, allowing just 8.6 points a game, best in the NFL.
--Jeff Garcia is playing the role of Joe Montana.
--Brian Urlacher is Mike Singletary.
Every game the 49ers have played has been close, including a four-point loss to unbeaten St. Louis and two overtime wins over Atlanta. The Bears, on the other hand, have been shutting down teams and getting enough offense to win. Rookie Anthony Thomas ran for 188 yards in a 24-0 win in Cincinnati last week.
The Bears won't shut out San Francisco.
They won't need to.
Indianapolis (minus 3) at Kansas City (Thursday night)
Bad as the Colts have been, the Chiefs have been worse, as Dick Vermeil follows his pattern of starting slowly with a new team. They're 0-3 at Arrowhead, usually one of the toughest road venues. But Jim Mora won't run up the score on his buddy.
Tennessee (plus 3) at Pittsburgh (Monday night)
Kordell Stewart has one touchdown pass all season, yet the Steelers are 4-1. Another low-scoring Monday nighter.
New Orleans (plus 12) at St. Louis
The Rams seem to be on a mission against what they perceive as disrespect. The team that knocked St. Louis out of the playoffs last year is physical enough to cause trouble -- as the Giants did two weeks ago.
Oakland (plus 1) at Philadelphia
Tout talk: Raiders off a bye week against Eagles on a short week off an emotional win.
Jacksonville (plus 7 1/2) at Baltimore
The Ravens take out their frustrations on the battered Jaguars,
Minnesota (plus 3) at Tampa Bay
The Vikings won 20-16 the first time at the Metrodome. They're 0-2 on the road.
New England (plus 7 1/2) at Denver
No one respects Tom Brady and David Patten.
Buffalo (plus 7 1/2) at San Diego
Bills against ex-Bills.
Miami (minus 2 1/2) at Seattle
Trent Dilfer's back on the bench. So is the Seahawks' two-game winning streak.
New York Giants (minus 7 1/2) at Washington
Jim Fassel is upset. When Fassel gets upset ... the Giants listen.
New York Jets (minus 2 1/2) at Carolina
The Panthers can't run. The Jets can't stop the run.
Arizona (pick 'em) at Dallas
The Cowboys can't win two in a row.
Cincinnati (plus 3) at Detroit
The last winless team finally gets one.
LAST WEEK: 4-8 (spread); 4-8 (straight up)
SEASON: 41-38-4 (spread) 51-32 (straight up)
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