SI.com interviewed a number of former Sportsman on what the honor meant to them. Here. SI.com's Richard Deitsch speaks with Joe Montana, SI's Sportsman of the Year in 1990:
SI.com: Twenty years later, how do you feel about receiving the Sportsman honor? Has its importance grown or diminished with time?
Montana: I think it has grown because you cherish those times. I don't have the ability to go out and win another award, and even when you are in the arena, the Sportsman of the Year is a very difficult to win. It's not like MVP of the league, or MVP of the Super Bowl. Those are things you have a chance to win every year and I guess you have the chance to win Sportsman as well, but you are also dealing with a lot of other sports. So every year that goes by I cherish it more and more.
SI.com: Where do you keep your Sportsman cover?
Montana: I keep that kind of a stuff in a workout room and I do have a copy of the issue. It's funny about that cover because we were playing a stupid game with rolls of tape during the shoot, trying to throw them on the top of the goal post. If you look at that picture, I was pretty young.
SI.com: What does the title "Sportsman of the Year" mean to you?
Montana: The Sportsman title is kind of overwhelming because it encompasses all of sports. It's a bigger honor than people are led to believe. When you look at all the people who were involved in sports at that time, it's a tremendous honor. It's one of my favorites,
SI.com: You know that you were the first pro football player to be given the honor outright?
Montana: I do. It's a special honor to begin with, and then to know that you were the first NFL player, it's something I can always be proud of and look back on and tell your kids about. For Sports Illustrated to have picked me as Sportsman at that point in my career was a great honor.
SI.com: What is the role of Sportsman and should extend beyond performance?
Montana: It does extend beyond performance. I think the first and foremost thing is to go out on the field or the ice or whatever sport it might be and perform. That is what your basic job description is: It's to go out there and play at the top of your game. Beyond that, yeah, I think there is a certain amount that goes beyond the field or the lines of play. But I think we get carried away sometimes and I think people expect a lot more from guys off the field. I think sometimes people think you should do everything they want you to do. But there are lines there, too. People don't realize you have a family and you re looking for your own time, too. I think there is a little too much expectations for the guys outside of the field but there is definitely a role for it outside.
SI.com: Is there someone in the current athletic realm who would be representative of the award?
Montana: That's a tough question because it has to encompass all the sports. Sometimes, they even pick horses. I was pulling for Zenyatta big time and I felt bad for the jockey. That as a tremendous race. I thought she would pull it out. But I haven't really thought it for this year.
SI.com: What accomplishment in or out of the world of sports are you most proud of?
Montana: I think there are probably a couple of moments. Some of them are the Super Bowls and some of them are coming back from back surgery at the beginning of a year. You know, coming back from injuries is the most difficult part because mentally it is very difficult to get the right mindset. I tore the muscle in my arm that let me throw the football and to have that thing thrown back together and drilled through the bone, and to come back after that and to be able to play, that's something that means as much to me as the some of the victories. If it was not for my wife keeping me going, I mean, there were days I just wanted to quit. I had had enough. So for me coming back from injuries are big moments.
SI.com: People have their own opinion about your legacy, whether its the Super Bowls or wins. What do you believe or hope your legacy is?
Montana: I think the biggest thing people got from me -- and my teammates too-- is that I had fun playing for a living what I like to call a stupid game. It was something that I did since I was eight years old and I enjoyed it until the day I retired. I still kick myself for not trying to play a couple of more years. So I want people to know how much I enjoyed the game and how much I enjoyed being out on the field and trying to show people that it was a lot fun playing or the Niners.
SI.com: With the Giants winning this year and your Niner teams having such a place in San Francisco sports culture, what was it like for you and where did you watch the World Series?
Montana: Jennifer (Montana's wife) and I went to the first two home games and everyone wanted the Series to come back to San Francisco but I kept saying: You don't want it to come home. You don't want to extend this any longer than it has to be. Teams will take advantage of you. Jennifer and I moved into the city and into a high-rise building called the Millennium Tower and getting used to living in the city has been fun. There's like an owners lounge where people in the building hang out and as soon as it got close, I ran upstairs and grabbed a bunch of bottles of champagne. We celebrated right along with them in our building.