Late Sunday afternoon the 49ers trudged to their locker room in Anaheim Stadium following a next-to-last-second 16-13 loss to the Rams. Then, doom upon gloom, word spread that quarterback Joe Montana, the Man With the Golden Gun, the two-time Super Bowl MVP, would have surgery on his back the next day. The operation to remove a portion of a herniated disc will bench Montana for most—if not all—of this season. And there are no guarantees when, or if, he will return to the 49ers.
"This is being done to allow him to try and return to professional football," said Dr. Robert Gamburd, a 49ers team physician who is a back specialist. "The usual length for rehabilitation time is three months, but I'm not talking about somebody who comes back and plays in the National Football League."
Could Montana, 30, have played without surgery? "No," Gamburd said, "because he could not continue to move in the style he needs to. He would probably have recurring problems."
Montana was plagued with back problems last year, and he wrenched his back in the 49ers' 31-7 win over Tampa Bay in the season-opener two weeks ago. Few of his teammates had been told of the severity of his latest injury, and after the Rams game, when the 49ers heard about the operation, they were stunned.
"He's a little bit nervous," said receiver Dwight Clark of Montana, his best friend. "You know, the spine is not a knee. I'm nervous just thinking about it."
Coach Bill Walsh, whose team has been mentioned as a Super Bowl contender, said, "You have to understand that in sports these things happen. We have a pat hand, and we're going to play it."
That hand is quarterback Jeff Kemp, obtained last April from the Rams. In turn, the 49ers dealt long-time backup QB Matt Cavanaugh to the Eagles.
In his first six plays on Sunday, Kemp threw two interceptions, the first leading to a Ram field goal. But he rallied nicely after that, completing 19 of 24 passes for 252 yards.
"I'm not going to play just like Joe," Kemp said. "He's the best quarterback in the league. But I can improve, and I will. It will take a while to grasp the whole offense completely."
Meanwhile, in Miami, Colts quarterback Gary Hogeboom, his throwing (right) arm strapped tightly to his chest and his shoulder wrapped in ice, tried to hide his tears behind a pair of sunglasses. Late in the third quarter of the Colts' 30-10 loss to the Dolphins, Hogeboom suffered a shoulder separation while trying to outrun—and stiff arm—defensive back Lyle Blackwood. The QB will be sidelined for the rest of the season.
"I was having a lot of fun playing football again," said Hogeboom, traded last spring from Dallas. "Just two games put it all back in my system."
For some time the NFL has tried to soften its image by running United Way commercials during games; the ads feature a warmer, more human side to players, usually showing them at work for charities in their communities. But since the marriage of MTV and pro football last season—the bad-boy attitudes of the Chicago Bears fit the union perfectly—some players are now posing for posters that promote a more violent side of football.
America is buying it, too, and the league isn't happy. Says an executive with NFL Properties, "We have nothing to do with these posters. If there was any reference to the NFL—any logos or uniforms—we'd have final approval. Then, we'd look at it from the taste standpoint. Clearly, these images are not consistent with the [one] we want to project."
In a poster titled MAD MAC...THE GRID WARRIOR, Chicago quarterback Jim McMahon, decked out in a leather jacket with skull-and-crossbones buttons, high-top boots and sunglasses, stands in front of Soldier Field holding a loaded crossbow.
"He just did it to have fun," says Steve Zucker, McMahon's agent. Already, 35,000 of the posters have been sold, and with orders coming in daily, the poster company expects to sell 500,000. Retail price: $4.95.
"It's certainly a tough-guy poster," Zucker says. "But I think that's the Bears' image. It always has been. Anything with Jim right now would go over, more because of Jim McMahon than his costume—whether he's wearing his uniform, blue jeans or Mad Mac stuff. He's like a rock star. You should see him in public. He gets mobbed."
In Seattle, safety Kenny Easley has come out with a poster titled THE ENFORCER. Easley, a bone-jarring tackier, is posed in a dark alley, wearing a sleeveless leather jacket and ripped jeans. There is tape wrapped around his forearms and leather gloves on his hands; one fist is tightly clenched. At his feet lie bits and pieces of opponents' uniforms. On his face, there's an icy stare.
"Sure we're concerned," says Mike McCormack, Seahawks G.M. "But what are you going to do? He has the right to promote himself the way he wants."
"I don't want to talk about my poster," Easley says, then adds, "I don't think it projects any image. I haven't studied it long enough to develop any kind of ideology."
All-Pro Andre Tippett of the Patriots thinks he's at the top of his game. "When it comes to linebackers," Tippett says, "I'm the Man. When I came into the league, I considered Lawrence Taylor and Hugh Green the best. They were where I wanted to be; I dedicated myself to getting them. By the beginning of last year, I felt I had moved into the same category with Taylor. Now I feel I'm ahead of them all."
SI conducted an informal poll of more than 200 players to come up with the NFL's 10 Cleanest Players list. The results:
1) Walter Payton, Bears running back. Says Lions defensive end William Gay, "If there's a prince of football, put him at the top of the list."
2) Mike Singletary, Bears linebacker. Says Vikings center Dennis Swilley, "He has had a couple of cheap shots he could've given me. Last year, on one interception, he said to me, 'I could've taken your knee out, but I wouldn't want someone to do it to me.' "
3) Steve Largent, Seahawks receiver. Says Chargers safety Gill Byrd, "He's just a professional who doesn't bad-mouth anyone."
4) (tie) Lawrence Taylor, Giants linebacker, and Howie Long, Raiders defensive end. Says Oilers tight end Jamie Williams of Long, "He told me 'Good block' one time. I couldn't believe it! My head swelled up and everything."
5) Mike Haynes, Raiders cornerback.
6) (tie) Tony Dorsett, Cowboys running back, and Dwight Stephenson, Dolphins center. Says 49ers linebacker Riki Ellison of Dorsett, "He looks like a comedian. He keeps smiling even after you knock the hell out of him—like the joke is on you or something. Then he gets up and skips away like nothing's wrong. It's galling." Chiefs safety Deron Cherry says of Stephenson, "He plays the game the way I've never seen anyone play it. He's physical and he's dominant, but he's clean."
7) Charlie Joiner, wide receiver for the Chargers.
8) (tie) Mark Gastineau, Jets defensive end, and Clay Matthews, Browns linebacker. Says one AFC quarterback who asked to remain anonymous, "[Gastineau] had a chance to rip my head off once last year. He shot past the tackle and almost got to the setup point before I did. He could have killed me, but grabbed me easily instead."
9) Marcus Allen, Raiders running back. Says Saints linebacker Rickey Jackson, "When he comes to block you, he makes sure you see him first. He's not trying to take anybody's career from them."
10) David Logan, Bucs nose tackle.
To get tips on how to place their bets, folks in Seattle and Dallas can tune in Chuck Knox and Tom Landry, respectively. The NFL coaches for the Seahawks and the Cowboys pick games on their weekly television shows, though without the point spread. They are the only coaches of the 28 in the NFL who do so. "We'd never allow it," says Kevin Byrne of the Cleveland Browns.
The NFL, which prohibits betting by anyone connected with the game, doesn't believe Knox and Landry are promoting gambling. NFL spokesman Joe Browne says, "If there was a point spread involved, that would be different. As wrapped up as coaches are in their own clubs, they don't know as much as somebody who's following 28 teams.
"It isn't encouraging gambling. In most quarters in this country, among sports fans, the line is, 'Who do you like on Sunday?' That's a question that has been asked for 67 years, since the inception of the NFL."
In his three seasons of making picks on The Chuck Knox Show on KOMO-TV, Knox has been right about 75% of the time. On the second weekend, he got 9 of 11 correct. "We suggested the idea to him," says Bruce King, the show's cohost. "It's just a fun thing. The fans love it. We'll get telephone calls and letters from people who missed the show, saying, 'Give me his picks for this week. I missed them.' "
Landry has also had good success on the Tom Landry Show on KXAS-TV. "He and Frank Glieber started it years ago," explains Brad Sham, who joined the 25-year-old show as cohost after Glieber died last year. "At the end of the season, the guy who made the better choices got bought dinner. I think Tom bought only once."
Denver Broncos backup quarterback Scott Stankavage, entering his third season with the team, was recently cut for the sixth time. He now holds the club record for Bags Packed Most Often—a mark he may not improve on. "Retirement is something my wife and I are going to look at very seriously," says Stankavage, 24.
The USFL is bringing in attorney Ira Millstein, an antitrust specialist for the New York firm of Weil, Gotshal and Manges, to work as co-counsel on the injunctive portion of the league's ongoing suit against the NFL.
Harvey Myerson, the lawyer who argued the USFL case last spring and summer, will be retained. There had been a falling out between Myerson and USFL commissioner Harry Usher. Usher felt Myerson was acting too much on his own and not communicating enough with his client. Soon after the jury awarded the USFL $1 in damages, Usher, according to sources familiar with the case, chewed out Myerson. "We have discussed a lot of things," Myerson said of his talks with Usher. "We agree on some and don't agree on some."
However, after getting opinions from a number of law firms, Usher and the owners decided Myerson should continue because of Myerson's knowledge of the case. Says one USFL exec, who wishes to remain anonymous, "No one thought we'd get the NFL on anything."
Anthony Young, the talented Indianapolis Colts safety who made several all-rookie teams last season, was forced to retire a few weeks ago because of a neck injury. "I'll never forget the afternoon the doctor told me I had a torn ligament at the first vertebra of my neck," Young says, "and that it would be advisable not to play football ever again—that I'd be risking paralysis or death if I did.
"I tried not to believe it. I walked around for a long time by myself. There were so many questions. Over and over, I asked. Why are they telling me at age 22 that my career is over?"
Young suffered the injury against the Seahawks on Aug. 8. Seattle running back Bobby Joe Edmonds ran a sweep, and as Young came up to make the tackle, Edmonds cut back. "So I put my head down to make the tackle," Young says, "and his helmet hit the top of mine. The force just jammed my head down. Then I fell back and rolled over. Everything went blank in my body. My arms were dangling at my sides. I heard a ringing in my ears. It was the scaredest that I've ever been."
The first thing Young thought about was his good friend Allen Penn, a teammate at Pemberton Township (N.J.) High, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a high school football game in 1980. Then, Young started praying. Soon, the feeling came back into his body.
Now, after consulting with three specialists, Young will not take a chance playing football. He plans to return to Temple University this spring, where he's three credits short of a marketing degree.
"Allen Penn has helped get me through this," says Young. "I'm trying real hard to be strong."
Who are the highest-paid players at each position in the NFL this season? This chart, which is derived from Players Association information, reflects 1986 figures—base salary, bonuses for reporting and making the roster, as well as signing bonuses, which have been prorated over the length of the contract.
QB—Jim Kelly, Bills, $1.4 million
RB—Marcus Allen, Raiders, $875,000
WR—Steve Largent, Seahawks, $800,000
TE—Todd Christensen, Raiders, $783,300
G—Dean Steinkuhler, Oilers, $699,250
T—Bill Fralic, Falcons, $508,750
C—Joe Fields, Jets, $460,000
E—Mark Gastineau, Jets, $815,000
T—Joe Klecko, Jets, $795,000
LB—Lawrence Taylor, Giants, $850,000
CB—Mike Haynes, Raiders, $791,666
S—Kenny Easley, Seahawks, $611,600
Place—Nick Lowery, Chiefs, $278,300
Punter—Greg Coleman, Vikes, $215,000
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Walter Payton carried the ball 34 times for 177 yards, boosting his career yardage to 15,150, and also scored his 100th career TD as Chicago defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in OT, 13-10.
Strong safety Kenny Hill intercepted Dan Fouts twice—and the Giants' defense had five interceptions—as New York shut down the San Diego Chargers' explosive offense for a 20-7 victory.