(Photos courtesy of San Francisco 49ers)

Talk of Fame Network

Joe Montana was not only the best quarterback in NFL history; he was the best player

At least that’s the opinion of former San Francisco star, Dwight Clark, one of Montana’s favorite receivers in the 1980s. Clark was with Montana for two of the quarterback’s four Super Bowl victories, which doesn’t exactly make him an unbiased voice when it comes to comparing Montana to another Bay Area product, San Mateo’s Tom Brady.

Nevertheless, that didn’t stop us from asking if Clark sees something of Joe in the New England Patriots' quarterback, and we’re not talking style; we’re talking his ability to excel in big games.

“Are we talking about the ball being deflated?” Clark joked when speaking on the Talk of Fame’s latest broadcast. “I know Brady gets compared to Joe constantly. I haven’t been in the huddle with him, (but) I do see some similarities out there on the field. Brady’s a winner. And that’s what Joe is.

“I don’t know … to me, Joe Montana’s the greatest football player …. not just quarterback … the greatest football player that ever played. I was in the huddle with him, and I’ve seen what he’s done back there. He’d say, ‘If the defender’s coming from your back side left, I’ll hit you on the right side so you don’t get turned into the tackle.’ And I’m like … you can’t do that with all that stuff back there.

“And then you start paying attention to it, and he could hit numbers if he needed to. He was just so accurate, and he had such presence on the field. His field vision was so incredible. And he prepared. Back in the day we’d have that tape running on the projector, and he’d be the guy leaving with five to ten tapes under his arm, to go home and continue to study.

“He was a magical guy. He had great judgment, and, yeah, I see some of those things in Tom Brady. But I’d take Joe Montana ten out of ten times.”

Clark reunites with Montana on this week’s Talk of Fame broadcast, with each asked to describe former team owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., who’s on this year’s Hall-of-Fame ballot as a contributor. Like Montana, Clark was effusive in his praise, saying DeBartolo "set the standard for modern-day owners,” like the Patriots’ Robert Kraft and the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones. But he went beyond that, detailing why so many players and coaches in and around the 49ers are devoted to him.

“He loved us like family members,” he said, “so we didn’t want to let him down.”

As a front-office executive, Clark became entangled in the 1993 trade that sent Montana, his closest friend, to Kansas City in a move that not only shook the Bay Area; but rattled the world of pro football. On the broadcast, Montana describes how and why the move was necessary to his career, while Clark goes one step farther – detailing how it affected his relationship with Montana.

“I was actually on the way up in management,” he said. “I had retired in ’87, and then I was there in ‘88 and ‘89 and then Joe gets hurts. But I was kind working my way up, and I couldn’t believe they wanted to trade Joe Montana. I wasn’t in favor of it all. I understood the money part of it, but how could you do that to a four-time Super Bowl champion? So I was totally against it.

“But somehow, I was asked to try to get him to go, and he kinda took that the wrong way -- that I was in favor of him leaving, which I was not. So after he left, there were several years – four, five or six years -- where it wasn’t bad blood as much as it was just he and I didn’t talk very much. And this was my best friend. So that was a little bit rough.

“But then when he retired, his wife invited me to the ceremony, and that’s when we started to heal a little bit. A few years after that we totally got back together, talked it out and all that. (But) I had to make sure that he knew I had nothing to do with that. Like I said, I understand he had been injured, there was a lot of money (and) Steve Young was the Player of the Year two years. I understand. But I still wouldn’t have done it.”

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