What am I wanted for now, Sheriff?
To take me to the dance, JoeMontana.
Or better yet, to explain what the American Dream means to you, JoeMontana. A guy with a microphone asked JoeMontana that recently and JoeMontana, possibly confusing dream with democracy, repeated the routine shibboleths—"Life, liberty, freedom, is that how it goes?" he said—before adding a new one, "Oh yeah, and going out on Sundays to get beat up." Haw, haw. Elusive rascal, that JoeMontana. Just like on third-and-long. He doesn't want to be trapped. Or even touched. Doesn't want the people to know. Doesn't want anybody to figure out how absolutely delicious his life is. How wonderfully controlled, rich, secure and happy he finally has become. How JoeMontana, a skinny kid from the dreary Pennsylvania coal fields, could turn himself into a California beach layback. How he could outcelebrity his own name—a cute trick pulled off in recent times only by Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone herself—and come off so...so....
What am I wanted for now, Sheriff?
To explain why you're so lucky, JoeMontana.
Well forget it. Nobody can explain luck anyway. But so what if JoeMontana won the Super Bowl and married the spectacular Schick Sheriff back to back? (With a tiny rotor blade on the way.) Or that he makes a million point one a year and lives in a glorious hillside hacienda, where on a clear day he can see Catalina Island, Malibu, innumerable marinas and maybe the great but late Dan Marino as well? So what if JoeMontana, 29 years old, 6'2", 200 pounds, of Monongahela-by-the-Bay, Pennsylfornia, is the American Dream.
JoeMontana deserves all of this. First he had to juke that name—"Sounds like a gunfighter," said Terry Hanratty, the Notre Dame quarterback of the late '60s, hearing it for the first time. Now as a rule he's merely JoeMontana—ram right through that, one word. Really now, "Joe" is too, too plebeian, and how are you going to call a guy "Montana," which at last look was a state or something?
Remember also that JoeMontana had to spend the first 18 years of his life in the vicinity of Pittsburgh and the next five at Notre Dame—four regulation seasons and one injury-compelled redshirt year. That is enough dues-paying for several lifetimes. Moreover, he has had to scramble out of the pocket of two broken marriages and into daylight from a reputation for a lackadaisical attitude and game-time inconsistency. Not to mention the silliest stigma of all: that an offensive football system "made" him rather than the other way around. Ultimately, however, JoeMontana hit pay dirt.
"JoeMontana's been searching," says his San Francisco 49er teammate Russ Francis. But no more than he has been searched after. Whose life is this, anyway? Was JoeMontana a flashy, womanizing show-off, as manifested by his ladies and his cars? He dated a Norwegian model between marriages; he tooled across high school in a Triumph Spitfire; his current favorite is a red Ferrari. Was JoeMontana a silent, bashful introvert? His wife, the former Schick law woman, Jennifer Wallace, says he is only now getting over being "afraid" of people. A veritable stranger, she had to pinch him in the butt (embarrassing him to a shade of cerise) before he would loosen up enough to complete their commercial.
Was JoeMontana a quaking-in-his-boots novice? In a game at Dallas in 1980, his second season in the pros, he actually tried to hide behind Bill Walsh so the 49er coach wouldn't send him into a terrifying blowout that the Cowboys would win 59-14. Was JoeMontana a macho commander? A little more than a year later he whistled a touchdown pass over the earlobe of Too Tall Jones and yapped "Respect that!" in San Francisco's 28-27 playoff upset of Dallas that created the 49ers' aura and lifted him to stardom.
Or did it? After San Francisco beat Cincinnati in the 1982 Super Bowl 26-21 the game story in this magazine listed Walsh's name 22 times, not necessarily all including the prescribed middle name "Genius." As for Montana, who had completed 14 of 22 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown and won the Most Valuable Player award, his name was mentioned a mere 10 times. Last January, prior to the 49ers' 38-16 Super Bowl victory over Miami, an SI cover featured both Montana and the Dolphins' Marino. In the eight pages inside the 49er was mentioned twice. Then he blasted the other guy off the map—his versatility, adaptability and ballet dancer's feet winning out over the cannon. And suddenly there was no other quarterback alive.
Backing up a bit, at the same time JoeMontana has been compiling the fairly outrageous statistics that now make him both the most accurate passer (in completion percentage) and the one with the lowest percentage of interceptions in pro football history, his overall quarterback "rating," according to an NFL formula you might get Edward Teller to explain sometime, is also the best of all the pros who ever took a snap. Still, the decade of the '80s has seemed at different times to be the signal-calling province of Joe Theismann or Dan Fouts or Doug Flutie or Bernie Kosar. Or of Marino. Or even of Warren Moon, whoever that may be. But wait a minute. What other quarterback ever won a national championship in college and then won a Super Bowl in the pros? Before JoeMontana, only Joe Namath. Before Namath, nobody. And in 1985 JoeMontana won another and a second MVP award as well.
Assuredly, JoeMontana is a nice fellow, quiet and restrained, polite and humble. But it's in the quarterback manual that the species is to be booed. All quarterbacks. Except that nobody can remember this quarterback ever receiving such treatment.
That is timing, and timing has always been JoeMontana's hole card—on and off the field. JoeMontana picked the NFL's strike-shortened 1982 season to have an "off" year—the 49ers were 3-6 but in truth the defense couldn't stop anybody, and JoeMontana's factored-out numbers would have been merely brilliant over a full slate. In August of '84 he discreetly negotiated a new contract estimated at $6.6 million for six years—he is the highest-paid player in the NFL—while teammates Ronnie Lott and Fred Dean took the brunt of public alarm by engaging in noisy holdouts.
Even during the acrimonious divorce in 1983 from his second wife, Cass, a stewardess four years his senior and, according to some 49er teammates, something of an overprotective woman, JoeMontana donned the white hat and rode the white horse. (The couple's two Arabian stallions were innocent parties in the litigation.) Reports in several papers said that Cass refused to relinquish her ex-husband's Super Bowl MVP trophy and assorted football paraphernalia. That the information was false did nothing to quell the Frisco uproar over JoeMontana, their JoeMontana, being done wrong. And what about this? Recently the 49er quarterback's replies to some fan mail were lost in transit, the result being that his answers were received months late. Unfriendly repercussions? One little girl wrote back thanking JoeMontana for being so kind to aim his reply so that it arrived on her very birthday. You gotta have timing.
Most amazing of all was how JoeMontana got away with moving from San Francisco to Los Angeles—a sin normally punishable by hanging. When he signed his contract, JoeMontana said he wanted to re-up for six years because he "loved" the Bay Area. Then he moved south with Jennifer. The fact that the newspapers revealed the new residence as being in Palos Verdes Estates, 26 miles from L.A. proper, probably soothed some hurt feelings. Or else Jennifer may have smiled—an audible guaranteed to melt the harshest of critics—while the Montanas promised to find a second, in-season home in the South Bay. All the same, what San Francisco hero could have survived this horrendous faux pas but JoeMontana?
A few years ago when San Francisco Chronicle writer Ira Miller suggested JoeMontana be given a nickname, 10,000 monikers issued forth, including one proposal that what the man needed instead was a real name, specifically "David W. Gibson." Luckily, Sir Pass Goldflinger Big Sky Beaut Montana didn't change his name, and Montanamania continues unabated.
This summer at Macy's on Union Square, Montana made an appearance that in audience enthusiasm rivaled any of the past performances of Santa Claus—or even Calvin Klein at the perfume counter. Hundreds upon hundreds of people lined up for hours before JoeMontana's midmorning appearance. There were golden-agers, matrons, babes in arms—"the 49ers are undefeated in the kid's lifetime," one father boasted of his 7-month-old—who were joined by punkers with arrows, crosses and other terrific messages cut into their hairdos, creatures of indeterminate sex, shop personnel and streams of sighing young girls.
The subject did not have such a wonderful time. Even accompanied by the social and vivacious Jennifer, 27, a veteran trouper from her modeling days and her TV bit actress career (Mork and Mindy, Dynasty) JoeMontana looked painfully uncomfortable amid all the hullabaloo. Most public appearances are "a pain in the ass" to him, though he cooperates fully and understands their necessity. They are tolerable now only if his beloved Jen comes along.
Jennifer is a dazzling beach girl herself, right off the Redondo esplanade—beach "oriented," she emphasizes. She is credited with getting JoeMontana to settle down and open up in their 19 months together. Francis, the 49er tight end who knew Jennifer years ago in Hawaii, where she played beach volleyball and worked as a crew member on a large sailboat, says she is the "special partner" JoeMontana was looking for. "He had been on edge for a couple of years," Francis says. "I think he's at peace now."
When the six-foot Jennifer met JoeMontana at that opening Schick shoot, his first impression was: "They finally got somebody they don't have to prop up on orange crates." They were married in February. The honeymoon was spent skiing in Utah and snorkeling off Virgin Gorda. She is expecting in November. "With Joe, this image of the athlete as public figure, star, hero—he's not into that," Jen says. "Everyone wants a piece of him, and he's never known who to trust. It got so that he didn't know what was real and what was unreal. I think he's eased up in that respect. He's accepted the responsibilities of celebrity. In the last year I've seen Joe just bloom."
On that summer day at Macy's, JoeMontana was cordial with everyone—fans, organizers, the Concord watch people from whom he receives terrific scratch for concealing his wrist with their product. But after an obligatory 90 minutes it was time to flee another pocket. The scene was precisely why the Montanas had moved from the city. The public had kept piling on. There was too much attention, acclaim. JoeMontana's face and name were splattered everywhere. There was no privacy. In Palos Verdes, JoeMontana could get lost behind the orange and lemon and guava trees by the pool and be protected inside the iron gates with the maximum-security system, the one with the sign in the front yard warning ARMED RESPONSE. Oh yeah, he also could go to the beach every few minutes or so.
San Francisco had become an environment in which JoeMontana had no control. There were no blockers. No options. Nobody was open. It was a trap, a loss. The only play was to get out of Dodge. At Macy's, JoeMontana told a reporter, "These public things are nice once in a while because the people get to see my wife and me up close."
Upstairs, JoeMontana tenderly kissed Jennifer goodby in the presence of a roomful of strangers—they were to be apart a full 10 seconds until meeting again out in the hall—and then both were whisked away by uniformed guards through the storage aisles down some more stairs, past a freight elevator and into a waiting limousine deep in Macy's basement, where nobody could make the tackle. When together—which is presumably till the 12th of Never—Joe and Jen don't hold hands, they interlock arms. Now JoeMontana was safely out of bounds again—or in another end zone. Also, it was abundantly clear, JoeMontana wasn't just in bloom, he was hopelessly in love.
Most of our greatest athletes are not naturals. Bjorn Borg and Larry Bird, to drop a couple of familiar names, had to sweat and toil and struggle until it all came true. JoeMontana is one of those few gifted from swaddling clothes with talent, all the right instincts and a flair for the dramatic as well. In Little League in Monongahela he pitched three perfect games, and at Ringgold High he high-jumped 6'9" and saved his best performances for basketball, still a favorite sport. Even now he wins bets from his close friend, 49er wideout Dwight Clark, by dunking two hands backward. In San Francisco's first football game following the strike of '82, he threw 39 passes and completed 26 for 408 yards in a 31-20 rout of the St. Louis Cardinals. That's a natural.
"Sports was not something I had to work at," JoeMontana says. This got him in hot water at Notre Dame. But early on, his father drummed into him vast quantities of fundamentals. And later, his quick mind could, as 49er quarterback coach Paul Hackett says, "translate the X's and O's to eye level and then to reality." Work be damned—"I still hate practice," he says—JoeMontana has made it the easy way. On enormous physical ability and raw brainpower.
It was John Brodie, the former 49er quarterback, who suggested JoeMontana to Walsh. Phil Simms, who was considered one of the best of the college quarterback crop in the 1979 draft, would be long gone before the 49ers' pick, and Walsh was partial to Steve Dils, whom he had coached at Stanford. But when he watched JoeMontana work out with UCLA running back James Owens, Walsh was impressed with his "nimble" feet, quickness and balance on the drop. JoeMontana, who had never looked good in practice at South Bend, must have been playing charades. The 49ers drafted Owens on the second round and JoeMontana on the third, the 82nd pick of the draft. "I knew of his inconsistency," Walsh says. "I also knew about his competitiveness. If he could be great for one game, why not two, why not repetition? He was willing to learn. That was easy to tell. I knew he would improve. I was anxious to zero in on this guy."
Choosing up sides in the backyard, who always gets to be the quarterback? The best athlete, that's who. In fact as well as theory, the NFL doesn't quite work that way. The athletes go to the defensive secondary or to outside linebacker—or to basketball. Ah, but here was an athlete who almost offhandedly happened to be a quarterback. Recall the Catch that culminated the Drive that beat Dallas and got the 49ers into Super Bowl XVI. Yes, Clark made that phenomenal leaping grab in the back of the end zone with 51 seconds left to win the game. But here's what JoeMontana did just to get the ball loose and up there: He avoided a frightening defensive rush, dashed to the sideline searching desperately for someone to break clear, baffled both Cowboys, Jones and Larry Bethea, who were about to sandwich him, pumped once off-balance to get the two Dallas defenders in the air, then leaned in another direction as they were coming down and threw off the wrong foot.
You don't, as they say, coach that. Moreover, you don't scout it or prepare for it, either. JoeMontana does not have the rifle of a Marino or a Steve Bartkowski or a Neil Lomax or even a Matt Cavanaugh, the 49ers' second stringer. But scavenger feet, an intuitive head and a thirst for spectacular improvisation will slice up coaching expertise and standard fortifications any day—just like in the backyard. Who can forget the Miami defenders in last January's Super Bowl running around frantically looking for San Francisco receivers? And then here came JoeMontana—racing down the field behind their backs chasing them. "I got half my catches from Joe at Notre Dame just avoiding confused defenders," former Irish tight end Ken MacAfee once said.
"Street ball" is 49er running back Wendell Tyler's description of JoeMontana's style. "Just like back home on the block. I move when he moves. In two years of this here, I've got the feeling. You pick up on his groove to get into your own."
Walsh surely cringes at the notion that his complex offensive designs—JoeMontana remembers rehearsing 127 different plays for a game with Buffalo, then it rained—might be considered in the realm of improv. His initial philosophy was that the short pass is as effective a tool at controlling the ball as a bull moose running game if you have an intelligent point man who can read defenses, delineate situations and throw with accuracy. This offense was developed for a mechanical fellow named Virgil Carter when Walsh was an assistant at Cincinnati in the 1970s and the Bengals had to throw to make first downs. In 1981 JoeMontana took this strategy and turned it into an art form as the 49ers rolled to their first championship. It is said that along the sidelines in that watershed playoff victory over Dallas, Brodie and O.J. Simpson, Frisco kids from birth, were so caught up in the emotion that Brodie broke out in tears.
Last season, with Tyler and Roger Craig adding a running attack to the 49er monster, the entire NFL could be seen sobbing. Now opposing defenses had to cover every inch of the field in fear of runners and receivers and of JoeMontana everywhere. The quarterback's days of being overly patient—that is, in waiting too long looking for the perfect option and then hurling wild—were over. Now there was hardly ever such a thing as a 49er broken play for long because JoeMontana would qickly fix it.
When JoeMontana keeps the football, the fun begins. "It's a burden on us, sure," says Francis, "but a challenge, too. Our scramble drills cover all the possibilities. It's a relief to run down the field and see nothing but trouble, everything getting very hairy, and as you turn your head you see JoeMontana scrambling. He has seen the problem before you get there and now he's going to finish the play anyway. And you know he will finish it."
After six NFL seasons, JoeMontana already tiptoes with legends. Unitas and Starr: But they wouldn't be caught dead in the open field, or else they might be dead. Tarkenton and Staubach: JoeMontana has a better arm than the former, is more accurate than the latter. Though not necessarily as hard to catch, he is probably faster than both. "I don't know if anybody can run him down," says 49er guard Randy Cross. "The only reason Gastineau caught him in [this year's] Pro Bowl was because Joe stopped running to throw." Namath: the same elegant drop and setup. The same upbringing in Western Peeay. But after his Super Bowl, Namath basically faded into interceptions and summer stock. JoeMontana still has two good knees and can move sideways. "He's Fred Astaire," says Namath.
It has never been the arm with JoeMontana. "Weight room! Weight room!" the 49ers scream when one of his long practice heaves flutters short. Nor is his angular body particularly known for its hunkability quotient. "Who is this, the punter?" Clark said seriously upon their first meeting.
What JoeMontana has instead is the dramatic ability to get his body in position to throw—from all imaginable angles, through any multiples of crunching hits. "Escapability," Hackett likes to call it. "JoeMontana knows how important his feet are. Over a period of six weeks going over game films last season, we might have mentioned his feet three times. Last year on only five passes did his feet cost him an interception. That's just unbelievable."
JoeMontana still knows how much he doesn't know. He knows the lifeblood of a quarterback, the edge, especially his edge, is in a command of the Walsh system. Simply, he has to be a human memory bank for the 49er plays, progressions, personnel and various formations. Furthermore, JoeMontana not only knows the 49er offense, he also understands it—which is altogether a different kettle of, uh, Dolphin. This summer Hackett marveled at how JoeMontana could repeat whole game plans four months after the fact. Hackett's forte is innovation; he is renowned for challenging Walsh mentally. In weekly quizzes on the game plan Hackett will have the sheet of plays in front of him, but, he says, "I'll miss more than Joe does." Is it any wonder JoeMontana was the right quarterback for this job?
JoeMontana has subtly acquired a share of team leadership, though not off the field, of course. "If you didn't know Joe, you wouldn't know he was JoeMontana," says Tyler. But out there on the grid....
"There's not a lot of lemmings on this team," says Cross of the champs. "So JoeMontana's your perfect field general for a bunch of individualistic maniacs. No rah-rah. His leadership has come slowly, by example. He's always thinking a step ahead. A lineman's input isn't life and death to him, and he'll be polite. But you get the impression you might be a nuisance. He'll go 'oh sure' and give you that one-thousand-miles-away stare. I call it playing football in the third person. He's there and he's not there."
Well, folks, he's just taking what they give him.
Wrong. In the 49ers' possession plan JoeMontana takes what they don't want to give him. Walsh has called JoeMontana a "sensuous" athlete and compared him to "a great writer or musician" in the way he can manipulate the point of emphasis of a football game. "JoeMontana stretches our limits," Walsh has said. "He redefines what is sensible." This is marvelously heady stuff. And, by the way, it's all true.
The two men have had their differences as well, Walsh complaining at times that JoeMontana has depended too much on bosom buddy Clark for a target; that he has been overly reckless breaking away from blockers; that he spent valuable time on extracurriculars (TV shows, endorsements, appearances) in the season following Super Bowl XVI. But criticism cuts both ways. "The TV stuff was on Mondays, a nonstudy day, and I didn't miss any practice sessions that year," says JoeMontana. "On my choice of receivers, whose neck is it? I'll go with a guy having the hot year every time. They say I force the ball sometimes, but I don't call any of those third-and-eight plays. I don't call any plays."
This may stick in the craw. Last season with time running out and Detroit and the 49ers tied, JoeMontana entered the huddle and was asked somewhat facetiously what plays Walsh had told him to run. "He didn't give me any——plays," JoeMontana snapped. "He told me to get the——ball in the——end zone." It took 11 plays to set up the decisive field goal, and the 49ers won 30-27.
"I can kid Bill—but not about philosophy or egos, stuff like that," says JoeMontana. "I like to think the system was built around the quarterback and that I add something special. As much as Bill puts in, we're the ones who have to execute. But maybe that's just for my own mindset, to keep me motivated. One frustration is that throwing deep is not part of the plan. It's so hard to sit and watch other teams do it and know, damn, we can do that. But throwing down the field is not something a team can perfect in practice, and whenever we miss in a game he [Walsh] gets scared and I get nervous. Then we back off. I think I'm at a point in my career where I could play anywhere in any system, but I don't want to have to find out."
Greater love hath no man for another that he refuses to throw him to the hyenas in his rookie season (San Francisco was 2-14; JoeMontana threw just 23 passes all year). Walsh also protected him in JoeMontana's second year, when the 49ers were 6-10. At the beginning, Walsh played him behind Steve DeBerg, using him only in propitious situations—not against headhunters, rarely inside his own 50, always to spur confidence. If not looked after this way, who knows, JoeMontana could have ended up Archie Manning.
Once against the Jets, DeBerg took the team to the New York five-yard line, but JoeMontana came in and scored on a rollout. Then he completed four of six passes for 60 yards. Then, exit. In his second season JoeMontana started a few games, then handled the headphones and clipboard for three weeks, then started a few more. "I was setting the stage," says Walsh. But in the 14th game of 1980, after the 49ers fell behind New Orleans by 35-7 ("Attack, don't absorb," Walsh said at the half), JoeMontana marched the team on four touchdown drives totaling 331 yards and engineered another drive in overtime that led to a field goal and a 38-35 victory. This was the greatest comeback in the history of the NFL. JoeMontana never looked back. Of course he had been there before. He has always been Comeback Joe.
It was in JoeMontana's junior year at Ringgold High that it first happened, a 35-35 tie with heavily favored Monessen from across the river. It was the kid's first starting assignment on the varsity, but Joe Sr. had prepared him long and well. Running pass patterns. Swaying the tire through which his son aimed his deliveries. Lying about the kid's age to get him in peewee ball. Both Montanas insist the proper word is "encourage," not "push," for what Joe Sr. did for Joe Jr. in sports. But others who were there know different. "He never had a choice," says Theresa Montana, wife and mother.
Joe Sr., 52, silver-haired and part Sioux Indian, was born a year to the day after the future mentor, Walsh. When little Joe was three, his father quit his job as a telephone equipment installer for Western Electric, which kept him on the road, and took an office job at the Civic Finance Company in Mon City, as Monongahela is called in the local vernacular, so he would always be there, a benevolent sage for an only child's pursuit of excellence in athletics. And there he remains—although now JoeMontana has mounted a strong lobbying effort to get his parents to move to California.
The father always has been the son's best friend. And the father's father wasn't far behind. "Hooks" Montana, a semipro player for the New Eagle (Pa.) Indians, once drove all the way from Texas to Cleveland hoping to see JoeMontana play in the Notre Dame-Navy game, even though his grandson was a redshirt that season. At halftime a stroke came on. Within seconds Hooks was gone. JoeMontana says Hooks knew he was about to die and wanted to pick the place. If that is so, no Notre Dame fan ever passed from this earth a happier fellow. Notre Dame 27, Navy 21.
JoeMontana himself turned down a basketball scholarship to North Carolina State in favor of football under the Golden Dome, but he was terribly homesick from the start. Not only that, among the three quarterbacks on the freshman roster he ranked last. In his second semester he married a hometown honey, Kim Moses, which was not so unusual in that time and place. At Notre Dame, Nick DeCicco, JoeMontana's roommate, and Nick's father, Mike, the university's academic adviser, tried to talk him out of wedlock—no more panty raids at St. Mary's, Joe, no more transplanting goats from the' South Bend Zoo to the athletic dorm. But in Mon City lots of people married young. Hardly anybody ever left to go off to college.
So the teenagers went through with it. Kim took a job in the Notre Dame Sports Information Office, and JoeMontana soon gave her plenty to type up. Because coach Dan Devine favored others—the kid didn't exactly practice hard, remember—JoeMontana spent much of his sophomore year coming off the bench and didn't start till the fourth game of his junior year. In between, 1976, he sat out the season with a separated shoulder, although to this day he vows he could have played the second half if Devine hadn't held him out. (MacAfee insists that if JoeMontana had played he would have won the starting job, had a leg up on the Heisman Trophy and would have won it in 1977.)
In his modest fashion JoeMontana does not dwell on his truly amazing storybook career at Notre Dame: among other heroics, six games in which he played a total of a little less than 40 minutes and brought the Irish back from 88 points behind.
North Carolina, his sophomore year: JoeMontana plays 1:02 and guides the Irish from a 14-6 deficit to a 21-14 victory. Purdue, junior year: JoeMontana, the fourth Notre Dame quarterback sub, plays six minutes and passes for 154 yards and 17 points to bring the Irish from 24-14 behind to a 31-24 win. Stuff like that. By now Devine had figured everything out, and he left JoeMontana in charge for the balance of 1977, at the end of which the Irish smashed Texas in the Cotton Bowl and won the national championship.
But this was a bittersweet time. JoeMontana and Kim were having problems in the same period the Notre Dame quarterback was all over the wire services kissing the Cotton Queens upon landing in Dallas. The publicity did not sit well with some people in Mon City, where Kim was the girl next door, and if there is anywhere on the planet cynicism still lingers about JoeMontana, it is in his own hometown.
"It's very hard to go back, anywhere, it really is," JoeMontana says softly. "But Mon City is not the kind of place people who leave go back to. Not in spirit, not all the way." Last spring he took Jennifer back to Mon City, but he has not maintained close ties there other than with his parents, and the visit was somewhat awkward. "I know what the people probably think," he says.
What they think is that JoeMontana went Hollywood long before he even saw California, and in a way he did. While still a senior at Notre Dame he kept orchestrating cinematic finishes right out of a Tinseltown dream. As in the '79 Cotton Bowl: It was 17° with 30-mph winds for JoeMontana's last college game. He was cut and bleeding from the raw rock salt on the field. He showed a temperature of 96° before being covered with blankets in the locker room and force-fed with chicken soup. By the time a doctor got his breathing back to normal it was late in the third quarter and the Irish had fallen behind Houston, 34-12. JoeMontana redefines what is sensible. Before enough rosaries could be said to cover the situation, Montana had whipped Notre Dame to within 34-28, and with four seconds left he nailed Kris Haines with a perfect quick-out pass for what would have been the winning touchdown. But Haines slipped. In his very last huddle JoeMontana told Haines, "Don't worry, you can do it." And he called the same play. And he threw the same pass. And this time, with the clock having run out, Haines caught it. Notre Dame: 35-34.
Soon after, JoeMontana left for the Southern California beaches to await the pro draft and his future. "I love the ocean," he says. "It's scary. Lots of things are happening out there." Again, just like third-and-long.
All during Super Hype XIX, while the media fiddled with Marino, JoeMontana, with his great heart and competitive desire, must have burned. One Florida writer, comparing the two, even referred to JoeMontana in print as a "wimp." But the 49er quarterback eschewed woofing and kept his poise. There isn't a mean bone in JoeMontana's body, but even a laid-back ocean lover has pride. After the game, the first thing JoeMontana said was, "Where's the guy who called me a wimp? I hope he saw this." And he pointed to the scoreboard.
What should most concern the rest of pro football, however, is something else JoeMontana said, this time while warming up before that game. Here it was just moments before the SuperDestinyArmageddonMarinoMachoaManoMontanarama Bowl, and the San Francisco quarterback was taking snaps in the end zone and talking to himself. Hackett heard him. "I feel like I'm floating back here," JoeMontana mumbled. "I'm drifting, dammit. Next year in training camp I've got to get this setup right."
Uh oh. The beach boy has finally acquired some work habits. He's happy in love, besides. Now how far does this stretch the 49er limits?