Montana's sons studying his secrets to quarterback success

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MAUI, Hawaii -- Walking bare-foot on a quaint grass field nestled along Wailea Beach, Joe Montana, wearing board shorts and a T-shirt, still blows into his fist and licks his fingers before he grabs a football and starts slinging it left and right as if he was still at Candlestick Park.

The spiral is still there, the fluid drop back still seamless and his passes still hit their targets in stride, but what makes Montana, 53, feel old as he connects on one pass after another is that the 6-foot-4, 200-pound receivers he is throwing to are his sons, Nate and Nick.

The last time many saw the boys was in 1995 when the entire Montana family graced the cover of Sports Illustrated after Montana's retirement. Now 15 years after Montana's last game, the family has reconvened on this makeshift football field in paradise to watch the next generation of signal calling Montanas.

As Joe tosses passes to Nate, who just finished his freshman year as a walk-on quarterback at Notre Dame, and Nick, a highly recruited senior quarterback at California's Oaks Christian who has committed to play at Washington, Montana's wife, Jennifer, and daughters, Alexandra and Elizabeth, who both graduated from Notre Dame, are watching from the sidelines.

"She struggles sometimes with it," says Joe about his wife watching their sons play football. "She's seen what I've been through and she keeps reminding them, 'Do you guys really want to do this?' It can be trying when it starts getting physical."

Jennifer was initially against her boys playing football and Joe seemed content playing basketball with them knowing that it would be safer than having them elude blitzing linebackers. It wasn't until they got to high school that they began taking football seriously. In fact, Nate, who also played basketball, didn't focus on football until his senior year while Nick wanted to line up opposite the quarterback.

"At first I started playing because I just wanted to hit people," says Nick, who originally wanted to go to Georgia but committed to Washington after meeting with Steve Sarkisian on his last official visit. "So I started out playing linebacker and I loved it."

While it may seem natural for the Montana boys to want to play the same position as their father, the truth is, they were no different than your average kids growing up. When their dad would tell them what to do or bore them with old stories, they'd roll their eyes and look the other way. Although Montana's stories about driving his teams down the field in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl may be more exciting than most fathers' cliché "walking 10 miles in the snow" tales, it didn't change the fact that it was still their dad telling the story. It's hard to be "Joe Cool" when you're simply known as "Dad."

"He's just a normal dad to us," says Nick. "Originally it was really hard because when your dad tells you something you just want him to get away from you and tell him that he doesn't know what he's talking about. But when you see his old games on TV and all his great plays you realize that he might know what he's talking about and that you should listen to what he says."

That was never more evident than in Hawaii, where Montana was instructing a group of young quarterbacks at Steve Clarkson's Super 7 quarterback camp. As Montana pulled aside Cody Keith, a senior at Maranatha High (Pasadena, Calif.), Nick locked into the conversation and soaked up every word as he asked his dad to also show him where his hand should be when he followed through on a deep pass. A few years ago he might have turned the other way or had been embarrassed to ask his dad for help; now he can't get enough.

"I've been wanting to ask him recently about all these great games he's been in," says Nick. "I keep telling myself I'm going to ask him. I'm going to get to it but he's my dad, you know. I remember I asked him one time what was going through his head during the comeback drive to win the Super Bowl against the Bengals. He said he was so nervous but he didn't want anyone to know it. I do want to ask him about the other games he's been in. I want to know how he did what he did."

This season Montana will be able to help Nick more than ever as he will be in the press box Friday nights to help new offensive coordinator and former Tennessee quarterback Casey Clausen with the Oaks Christian offense. Montana will also go to as many Notre Dame games as he can on Saturdays to be with Nate. He talks to him every other day on the phone about his progress under Charlie Weis.

"When I see them play it's as close to the feeling I had when I played," Montana says. "The only difference is you don't have any control. So when things are going bad you don't have control in trying to help them."

With Nick entering his last year in high school before leaving for Washington and Nate leaving to go back to Notre Dame soon, Montana understands that he won't be able to throw the ball around with his sons as much as he'd like in the future and jumps at any chance to lick his fingers and hit the field when they're around.

"I cherish these moments," says Montana. "Pretty soon it'll all be over so I'm trying to enjoy it as long as I can. Maybe I'll have to throw it around with Jennifer when they're gone. She wings it pretty good."