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49ers shoulder burden of success and scrutiny

His career winning percentage (.760) is merely the best in league history. He reached 50 wins faster than any other NFL coach, and his San Francisco 49ers have played in the NFC title game four of his five seasons.

So, naturally, on the morning after the worst loss of his NFL career, George Seifert knew he could count on the support of his friends and family. Apparently just his friends and family.

In a radio fan poll conducted by the 49ers' flagship station Oct.

3, the day after a 40-8 home loss to Philadelphia, Seifert awoke to the news that 85 percent of the more than 700 respondents thought he should lose his job in favor of the people's choice, Jimmy Johnson.

What is it they say about life at the top and having only one direction to go?

"I just thank the 15 percent who voted for me," Seifert mused this week. "It's a humbling experience, let me tell you that. I guess basically a part of me understands it. It's that type of business. You've got to be thick-skinned. But I can't say it doesn't take a little swipe at you. Sure, it does.

"But at the same time, you've got to get back into your work and not be consumed by it. If you're consumed by it, then you're defeated."

If there's one experience rare to both Seifert and the 49ers, it's defeat. Neither the 49ers nor their faithful suffer it well, or often. Spoiled by an NFL-record 11 straight seasons of 10 wins or more, 10 playoff trips in 11 seasons, and four Super Bowl titles in the 1980s, San Francisco accepts nothing less than the best.

Thus, Seifert's rather public flogging after the loss to the Eagles, the team's worst at home since 1967 and three touchdowns worse than Seifert's most lopsided previous loss _ a 28-17 defeat by the Rams in 1990.

"When we lose around here, it's like a funeral," 49ers quarterback Steve Young said. "You don't want to put a couple games like that together. It is not something that anyone even slightly feels comfortable with. It is a tough week after a loss. Maybe because of that, you certainly don't want another one. It's just too hard. In a way, it's almost easier to win, in a sense that the aftermath is something you can deal with."

Since being blown out by Philadelphia _ an outcome that dropped the 49ers' record precipitously close to mortal at 3-2 _ San Francisco has responded as, well, a champion, winning two on the road.

After trailing 14-0 at Detroit, the 49ers won 27-21. And last week, in a first-place NFC West showdown in Atlanta, San Francisco played a near-flawless game, piling up six sacks, six takeaways and six touchdowns in a 42-3 humiliation of the Falcons.

The Eagles game? Maybe it was just the clarion call the 49ers needed. Not that Seifert will nibble.

"Any time you have a loss, people talk about that sometimes helping you," he said. "I don't know. It certainly was an embarrassing game. We didn't play hard at all. I think we learned something, but it's a hell of a way to learn. It's like having to go to prison for 10 years to figure out you did something wrong."

A loss equated to Alcatraz. Could anything be more typical of the 49ers' aversion to defeat?

"There is an attitude or something that's been developed over the years, and it's hard to attain and you want to battle to make sure you don't lose it," Seifert said. "I think that we were in a situation there against Philadelphia _ and then down 14 points to Detroit _ where we had to make a stand or fade off into never-never land."

The 49ers never seem to fade, in large part because of the commitment to winning shown by owner Edward DeBartolo, president Carmen Policy, and vice president for football administration John McVay. The club spent $10-million late last season to restructure the deals of many of its own potential free agents, then went on an off-season (and early-season) shopping spree to land Rickey Jackson, Gary Plummer, Ken Norton Jr., Richard Dent, Toi Cook, Charles Mann and Deion Sanders.

All to reverse the results of the past two NFC title games, in which Dallas blocked San Francisco's path back to the Super Bowl.

"The expectations are that we're going to be a very successful franchise and that we need to win every year," Young said. "And not only win, but make it all the way. I think the players feel that, and it's not always easy to deal with. But it's something that pushes us to get us to play at a higher level. Everybody feels the same creative tension to succeed. I think that's why this is a unique place."

Unique enough to see one loss inspire talk of canning the NFL's most successful head coach. To overwhelming fan support.

"That poll tells you," Young said. "You know, they take a poll at 2 in the morning and get 85 people somewhere in the area to say there should be someone else. I think there's a fringe of people that just likes chaos and they'll always go against the grain.

"Certainly here you get used to that a little bit. I think George is smart enough to figure that out and the rest of us are, too. But there is a lot of scrutiny on this team, and after a loss or two, you can just expect it."

Seifert feats

In his five-plus seasons, including the playoffs, George Seifert has the best winning percentage of any NFL head coach, current or otherwise: 73-23, .760. Vince Lombardi is next at .733 (104-36-6).

The 49ers have an NFL-record 11 straight years of 10 or more victories, and 12 of 13.

San Francisco has qualified for the playoffs 10 of the past 11 seasons _ and 11 of 13, including Bill Walsh's first Super Bowl team in the 1981 season.

Before a 40-8 loss to Philadelphia Oct. 2, Seifert's largest defeat as 49ers head coach was a 28-17 loss to the Rams in 1990.

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