© St. Petersburg Times, published January 8, 2003
Meet the 49ers
Stone rolls to Pro Bowl
Of San Francisco's six Pro Bowl selections, only two are starting, and one is perhaps the least well-known of the 49ers headed to Hawaii. Ron Stone, a ninth-year pro who earned his third straight Pro Bowl selection, signed with San Francisco as an unrestricted free agent after spending the past six seasons with the Giants.
Stone was on the same line as Bucs tackle Roman Oben last season. He helped eliminate his former team Sunday, protecting Jeff Garcia on a day the Giants -- despite Michael Strahan (11 sacks) and Kenny Holmes (8) -- did not have a sack.
San Francisco is the second-least likely team to win the Super Bowl out of the eight teams remaining, according to current odds in Las Vegas. The 49ers are 12-1 shots to win their sixth Super Bowl, with only the Falcons (14-1) facing longer odds.
The Bucs are 9-2, with only the Raiders and Eagles (each 5-2) better favorites to win. Filling out the middle of the playoff pack are the Titans (7-1), Jets (8-1) and Steelers (10-1).
Six months ago, both the Bucs and 49ers were 10-1. The longest shot still alive? The Falcons, who had 50-1 odds in July, same as the Cardinals.
The 49ers' official Web site, sf49ers.com, asked fans the duh poll question of the week: Who gets the game ball for the win against New York? Out of more than 36,000 responses, 69 percent chose quarterback Jeff Garcia, who threw for four touchdowns in the 39-38 win. Receiver Terrell Owens, who had 177 receiving yards and two TDs, drew 19 percent to finish second, and the offensive line finished third with 7 percent. The real question now is who are the nearly 200 people who chose receiver J.J. Stokes, who had two catches for 14 yards and no touchdowns?
A search for 49ers yields more than 4,500 items currently up for auction at eBay.com -- Buccaneers and Bucs barely top 3,000 items combined -- and each day we'll showcase one item, whether its expensive, obscure or both.
It may take four quarters to beat the 49ers, but that also can get you a 12-ounce cola if you're the top bidder on a 49ers soda vending machine, which has a minimum bid of $550. The machine holds 440 cans -- enough for any hearty Super Bowl party -- and much like the 49ers themselves, "has been tested and works 100 percent." We'll warn you that shipping could be as much as $400, though it is "much cheaper if it goes to a dock."
3 -- Passing plays of 40 yards or more allowed by the 49ers, lowest in the NFL this season. Ten teams gave up 10 or more; the Bucs had six.
7 -- Fumbles lost by the 49ers, lowest among the remaining teams. Their 17 giveaways are also the lowest among playoff teams; the Bucs have 21.
30.6 -- Rushing plays per game for the 49ers, who ranked fifth. Five of the top six teams are still in the playoffs, with Miami the exception. Tampa Bay ranks 25th, with 25.9 rushes per game.
46.9 -- Percent of third downs converted by the 49ers' opponents, the worst in the league; the Bucs are third-lowest, giving up 33.6 percent.
52.3. -- Percent of third downs converted by the 49ers, best in the league and the second-best single-season mark in NFL history.