We are sufficiently far enough into the NFL season, and developments have been such, that we now begin speculating what the San Francisco 49ers front office might do if their employees share Super Bowl XXVIII with the Kansas City Chiefs.

If they are magnanimous, owner Eddie DeBartolo, president Carmen Policy and coach George Seifert will offer warmest congratulations to Joe Montana, wish him all the best, then meet behind closed doors to drain every bottle of Old Overcoat in the minibar.If they are correct and polite: Eddie, Carmen and George will note their great admiration for Lamar Hunt, Carl Peterson and Marty Schottenheimer and their Kansas City accomplishments and say repeatedly, "We are happy with the decision we made back in April, and are utterly delighted to have this chance to prove it before the world."

If they are worried: The San Francisco leadership will deny ever having made the trade, and when pressed on the subject by CBS, will say, "We did it for Joe's health. He suffers from a rare disease picked up at a Pro Bowl in which he must eat Stroud's fried chicken each day or be dead before he turns 50."

If they are really worried, they will inform the players to answer each question with, "I'm sorry, I don't speak English."

In a related development, they will keep Steve Young in seclusion in South Carolina and tell him, "If anyone asks, you're an aluminum siding salesman from Asheville who fell asleep in the chair at SuperCuts."

True, there is still too much football to be played before such a deliciously bizarre scenario might occur. They both have 10 wins. Both have their little flaws. The 49ers have an average defense and have not yet negotiated their way past the Cowboys. The Chiefs' two best offensive players are in their early 60s, and there is no firm indication that Montana might not blow up again.

Still, given the more painful alternatives - Bills IV, Broncos IV, the remade New York Giants, anyone from the NFC Central or Don Shula's throbbing brain and Bryan Cox's throbbing larynx - it is clear that only two truly intriguing possibilities remain:

The Cowboys-Chiefs because Emmitt Smith vs. Derrick Thomas is why the game still exists.

The 49ers-Chiefs in the Emotional Baggage Winter Games.

The exiled hero brings back his vacant-eyed smile, his precision toolbox and all the subtly-worded recriminations over the extended bum's rush he received, while his successor faces the ultimate measuring stick while swearing disingenuously upon a stack of Classics Illustrated Supreme Court rulings that all the old stuff that allegedly didn't exist anyway doesn't matter anymore.

Fortunately, we don't have to believe a word of it. We put in six hard years of speculation, choosing up sides, defending the prerogatives of seniority, and the requirements of precocious youth, and sparing no snotty reference in the defense of whatever our position happened to be from day to day.

We as a nation deserve this for any number of good reasons, many of them having to do with resolution, but for those of us who lived through it all, there is an added bonus. We'll finally get to see just how hard Eddie and Carmen and George can grit their teeth.

The Montana post-mortems died quickly enough - after about three weeks of breast-beating after the April trade, again when Joe played his first exhibition game in August and once more when he opened the season in Tampa.

But as soon as Young hit his stride and Montana hit injured reserve, the 49ers' decision looked more and more like wise football as well as wise business.

We are now fairly used to the idea of Young as the 49er quarterback, to the point that nobody even mentions Steve Bono anymore.

And yet, is it really over?

Not until Montana is done, and the fact is, he isn't done yet.

The Chiefs are 7-2 with him as the starter, spectacularly vulnerable without him. If they are not quite as complete a team as the 49ers (still open to question), they don't have as far to go in the A(lmost)FC. They certainly don't have the Cowboys in their way.

No, it won't be over at all. In a Super Bowl, the resolution of the Montana-Young affair won't be a matter of prudence, or long-term planning, or salary cap fears, or the petulance of the elderly, or any of the other battlefields upon which the 49ers feel safest when the topic comes up. It'll be one game, with all the antagonisms between the two quarterbacks, the two teams and the two constituencies all rising to a frightening peak.

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And the 49ers won't enjoy a moment of it unless and until they win. In fact, they would do almost anything to prevent this hellish reunion, or if it happens, to enjoy almost none of it.

As opposed to the rest of us, of course. For us, it's perfect, more perfect than the first Super Bowl, or the one when they went 18-1, or Bill Walsh's last Super Bowl. It'll be the Super Bowl we've all thought the Super Bowl can be, no matter how many aging stars decline the offer to sing the National Anthem. The Super Bowl where something bigger than mere football is decided.

And much as they hate the lead-in, if the 49ers beat the Chiefs, if Steve beats Joe, if Eddie beats Lamar, if Carmen beats Carl, and George beats everyone who ever gave him less than his due, this will be the best Super Bowl of all for the 49ers.

Because there are rings, and then there are rings.

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