Oates: 49ers, Pack survive cap hell

Wolf also struck it rich in the 2000 draft, using his NFL-high 13 picks to land instant starters in tight end Bubba Franks, offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher and outside linebacker Na'il Diggs. Among several other contributors from that draft is Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who led the Packers with 13½ sacks this season.

The final element of the success Walsh and Wolf enjoyed was luck.

Walsh is responsible for uncovering quarterback Jeff Garcia, who earned his experience by playing four seasons in the Canadian Football League and was signed by the 49ers to be Young's backup. Three years later, Garcia will be going to his second Pro Bowl and is drawing favorable comparisons to Young and Joe Montana. The 49ers, who couldn't pay halfback Charlie Garner and lost him to the Raiders, got another break when Garrison Hearst returned after two missed seasons and five ankle operations to once again become a 1,000-yard rusher.

As for Wolf, he fleeced his old compatriot, Mike Holmgren, by trading cornerback Fred Vinson, who was damaged goods, for halfback Ahman Green. Green, who had fumbled his way into Holmgren's doghouse in Seattle, gained almost 2,000 yards from scrimmage for the Packers this season and has given Favre the complementary running threat he's needed since injuries caught up to Levens.

Upon their exits, both Walsh and Wolf left behind solid organizations so that the success might continue.

Mariucci's coaching job this season was overshadowed by those of Chicago's Dick Jauron and New England's Bill Belichick, but he battled through the constant distractions created by Owens to double the team's victory total from 2000. In fact, after going 2-19 from early in the 1999 season to late in the 2000 season, the 49ers have won 16 of their last 22 games. Terry Donahue, who replaced Walsh as general manager, is a budding personnel whiz.

Wolf, after the disastrous hiring of Ray Rhodes in 1999, cut his losses and hired Sherman the following year. The Packers have gone 16-4 under Sherman since Dec. 1 of last season. Sherman inherited Wolf's general manager's duties after the draft and brought in Mark Hatley as his top personnel man. Hatley was responsible for putting together the Bears team that went 13-3 this season.

Clearly, these are two men, and two franchices, that know how to win. However, not even Mariucci thought the 49ers would be this good, this soon.

"To say that we expected to be a 12-4 team, that might have been a little bit of a stretch," he said.

He could have been speaking for both teams.

Bucs' different frame of mindThere is only one thing to say about the Eagles' 17-13, come-from-behind victory over the Bucs last Sunday night.

Not bad for a preseason game.

There were big plays, late scores and an improbable rally in the teams' regular-season finale. Too bad it was meaningless.

That's because the teams were already scheduled to turn around and meet again this weekend in a wild-card playoff game at Philadelphia. One thing is certain, there were no secrets revealed last week.

For the Eagles, quarterback Donovan McNabb started, handed off twice and went to the bench. Seven Eagles starters were on the inactive list, not even dressed.

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