Don't Worry, He'll Be Back
This is an article from the Oct. 21, 1991 issue
Joe Montana will play again, because the elbow injury that has sidelined him for the season isn't nearly enough to TKO his career. He has come back from major surgery before, remember. In 1986, eight weeks after having undergone surgery to remove a ruptured disk and widen his spinal column, Montana threw three touchdown passes in a 49er rout of the Cardinals. If he needed only eight weeks to rehab his back, imagine what nine months will do for his elbow.
Montana will play again, because, as best as can be determined, the Oct. 9 operation to reattach the common flexor tendon to the bone in his right elbow was a success. He had partially torn the tendon while throwing in training camp, and seven weeks' rest did not heal the injury. On Oct. 5, Montana tested the elbow with short passes, but the first time he aired one out, the tendon tore completely. Two days later, team physician Michael Dillingham advised him to have surgery. With CIA-type secrecy, Montana flew to Houston and to Lexington, Ky., to get second opinions from other orthopedists. Surgery, they said. Let's do it, he told Dillingham.
Montana will play again, because, surprisingly, Dillingham found there was no additional damage when he opened up the elbow. He drilled three or four holes in the bone and tied the tendon securely. Done. Throughout Montana's career, the joint was always getting banged up and swelling to the size of a grapefruit. (In fact, several years ago the Niners insisted that Montana wear an elbow pad whenever he played on artificial turf. He hated the pad because it affected his throwing motion, and he was fined after a couple of games for not wearing it.) In addition, Montana had a bursa removed from the same elbow in 1988. But Dillingham liked what he saw inside the Most Valuable Elbow. "There was nothing else wrong," he said, "or else, obviously, we would have fixed it."
Montana will play again, because he is used to playing with pain. One former 49er teammate told SI last week that Montana had had at least 50 pain-killing injections in his right elbow for previous injuries in his 13-year career. Like any number of NFL players, Montana has taken needles to help him get through a game with an injury.
Montana will play again, because he will pay whatever price it takes in rehab to return to the game. He's not ready to quit yet. That's probably the biggest reason of all. "I got here in 1986," says offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren, "and the first game in my first year, Joe went down with the back injury. I thought, I'll never have a chance to coach Joe Montana now. Two months later he was back, and he's given me five years. So there's not a doubt in my mind he'll be back."
Stats of the Week
•Redskins wideout Art Monk, whose seven catches in Sunday's 42-17 victory over the Browns gave him 756 in his career, needs to average 7.1 catches a game for the rest of the season to break Steve Largent's NFL career record of 819.
•A Don Shula-coached team had never trailed by 42 points, until Sunday, when his Dolphins were blown out of the water 42-7 by the Chiefs.
•In the 11 quarters since Jim McMahon went down with a strained knee ligament, Eagle quarterbacks Brad Goebel and Pat Ryan have thrown 10 interceptions and no TDs. Of 37 Philadelphia possessions in those 11 quarters, none reached the end zone, and Goebel and Ryan have combined for a quarterback rating of 16.4. McMahon is expected back next week.
Wyche: Mea Culpa
Apparently, not only is there golf to be played and tennis to be served, but there are also confirmation hearings to be watched. Bengal coach Sam Wyche, who after his team fell to 0-3 made the point that losing a football game was no reason to quit living life to its fullest, joined much of the nation last week in watching segments of the Clarence Thomas hearings on TV. Wyche felt a kinship with the embattled jurist. "Judge Thomas is going through some things on a much larger scale that I go through on a miniscale," said Wyche.
One major difference, though: Wyche agrees with the allegations of his accusers. "I think it's me," said Wyche, after Cincinnati dropped to 0-6 with a 35-23 loss to Dallas. "I've got to do a better job coaching. Figure it out. We've got good players, and we're playing good teams. If we were in a little better position to win, maybe we'd win some."
Those on a Wyche watch should know that Cincinnati's management is notoriously slow to pull the trigger on coaches. But in the seasons when the Bengals got off to their two previous worst starts, 0-8 in 1978 and 0-6 in '79, they did make coaching changes. Wyche, 61-61 in seven-plus seasons in Cincinnati, including an 0-5 start in 84, will probably finish the year, but then general manager Mike Brown will have to decide whether Wyche's frequent and caustic detours into media-bashing and his devotion to helping the poor, even during the season, are too distracting to the team.
"You name it, we're screwing it up," said Bengal quarterback Boomer Esiason after Sunday's loss. "We're making more little mistakes that teams kill us with than I've ever seen in my career." Case in point: Against the Cowboys, left tackle Anthony Munoz was neutralizing Dallas defensive end Jim Jeffcoat as Esiason, back in the pocket, scanned for receivers. When he found one to his left, he threw, but the ball came within the reach of Jeff-coat, who stuck up a paw and deflected it. The ball landed in linebacker Dixon Edwards's hands, and he ran it back for the clinching TD.
A Really Close Shave
The black cloud that floats over the Patriots is raining on them again. Last week the NFL had to help mediate an ownership fight between razor king Victor Kiam, who owns 51% of the Pats, and businessman Fran Murray, who owns 49%, and only one scenario seems certain: When this chapter in New England's history is closed, Kiam will own Remington Products Inc. or the Patriots—but not both. A club source says Kiam doesn't have the cash to keep both.
In October 1988, Kiam and Murray bought the Patriots for $85 million, with the proviso that within three years Murray could cash in his 49% share of the club for $38 million. Murray has since become part of a group trying to bring an expansion team to St. Louis, so in July, Murray told Kiam that he wanted the $38 million by Oct. 10. When that deadline came last week, Kiam surprised Murray and the league by claiming that he had a 30-day closing period to come up with the money. He said he would have it by Nov. 9.
"Victor's coming up with the money, even by then, is very doubtful," says the source. Murray, who disputes the 30-day closing period, wants his money now and is considering court proceedings to get control of the team. Under terms of the 1988 ownership agreement, if Kiam can't raise the $38 million in time, Murray can take over the Patriots and then sell the team within 120 days.
The league is not inclined to go to extremes to save Kiam, who made a terrible situation (the Lisa Olson sexual-harassment case last season) worse with derogatory remarks about the incident and with a joke about it at an off-season banquet.
Game of the Week
Rams at Raiders, Sunday. This is the Raiders' 10th season in Southern California but only the fourth meeting between these two teams since they became neighbors. The three previous games have drawn crowds that filled their respective stadiums to an average capacity of only 87%. Big rivalry? Nah. "I don't think so," says running back Greg Bell, who played for both teams but is now out of football. "The Lakers pretty much hold all the bragging rights in Los Angeles."
The End Zone
New England backup linebacker Richard Tardits has become president of a semipro football team that is playing half a world away, in his hometown of Biarritz, France. Tardits, who came to the U.S. in 1984 and played football for the first time a year later at the University of Georgia, has had to supply his players with additional equipment—early on, the offensive and defensive units were sharing shoulder pads—and also has helped to formulate the game plans. The Biarritz coach's only exposure to football in America has come from what he has seen on French TV. "I had to send him plays and tell him what to run," Tardits says.
THE SUN SETS ON BO
What the Raiders' team doctors believed to be true in March—two months after Bo Jackson suffered a serious hip injury in an AFC playoff game—finally came to pass last week: Jackson isn't going to play football this season, and his NFL career is probably over. Now the Raiders, who were obliged to pay him a $100,000 reporting bonus last week when he showed up for, and flunked, his physical examination, must decide whether they want to retain his playing rights. "We're still reviewing our options," says Raider executive assistant Al LoCasale.
Whether managing general partner Al Davis chooses to keep Jackson, in the faint hope that he'll play again someday, has no impact on Bo's being able to collect the remaining $1.5 million due him in this final year of his contract. Jackson's money was guaranteed, and the Raiders have an insurance policy to cover them in this situation. It is probable that the Raiders will waive Jackson, who then would be free to make a new deal with any team.
Jackson's meteoric four years in the NFL invite comparison to the performance of the last spectacular player to be cut down by injury—Bears great Gale Sayers, who in 1970 suffered serious ligament damage of his left knee that ultimately ended his career. Sayers scored six touchdowns in one game in 1965 and averaged 37.7 yards per kickoff return in '67. Jackson played in baseball's All-Star Game and was voted to the NFL's Pro Bowl, and had runs from scrimmage of 88, 91 and 92 yards. Here's how Jackson's 38-game career compares with Sayers's first 38 games.
Until he was arrested for driving under the influence early last Friday morning, linebacker Tim Harris was adjusting well to his move from Green Bay to San Francisco. He had been a holdout this season with the Packers, but on Sept. 30 the 49ers traded two draft choices for him so that they could pair him as a pass-rushing bookend with linebacker Charles Haley. "Well, well, well!" Haley crowed when he saw Harris in the Niner locker room for the first time. "Look who's here! Mr. Big Head!"
A player walks a fine line when he joins a new team. Harris, one of the league's premier sack men as well as one of its most obnoxious guys on and off the field, toned down his act right away in San Francisco. He told the offensive linemen that he had left his trademark "pistols" in Green Bay—as a Packer, he had pointed his index fingers at sack victims and "shot" them—and that he wouldn't be so demonstrative as a 49er. He wanted to fit in. "No way!" one of the linemen said. "You used to do that to us. You better not quit now."
Harris had much to learn about the San Francisco system, and he says he watched more film in two weeks than he had in a season with Green Bay. When Haley saw Niner coaches running Harris through the same plays over and over in practice last week, he hollered, "They treat you like a laboratory animal!" Further, Harris had to get used to the idea of playing primarily as a nickel pass rusher, instead of on every down.
Finally, he had worn number 97 in his nine college and pro seasons, but San Francisco rookie Ted Washington wears that number, and Harris was issued 92. "I'll give you $1,500 for your number," Harris said to Washington.
"Make it $4,000," Washington said.
Harris stayed with 92. "I'm the new guy," he said. "What can I do?"
Still, just getting out of Green Bay seemed to make it all worthwhile for Harris—who had three tackles in his Niner debut, a 39-34 loss to the Falcons on Sunday. He was singing, "Nothing could be finer than to be a 49er," when he walked out of the locker room one day last week. But Harris and the 49ers could be singing the blues if he is charged and found guilty of DUI. The NFL would then review the incident and give him a hearing, with the possibility of a suspension hanging in the balance.