SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The most successful quarterback working in professional football, San Francisco's Joe Montana, said he is concerned about being slowly phased out of the 49ers' offense, despite his feeling that he could be a starter for at least two more seasons.
"Yeah, I have thought about that (being phased out). That enters your mind. Sometimes it scares me, but I try to use it as motivation. I think I could understand if I wasn't playing well, but I've had some pretty good years. I could have gone to the Super Bowl for the third time in a row, and if it wasn't for (Roger Craig's) fumble (in last season's NFC championship game) we would have been there.
"Every player has a concern about how his career is going to end and when. Those are things that weigh on my mind. The 49ers try to tell me not to worry about it, but I don't know. It would be fun still to be around two years from now, but I want to contribute. That's the fact of it. I really don't want to go out sitting on the bench. But if I could contribute sitting on the bench, then I guess I would have to do it. I would hate it, but would there be a choice?"
Montana's comments came on the same day San Francisco's team physician Michael Dillingham said that if Montana's elbow injury doesn't get better within four weeks, surgery will be "seriously" considered, which would put Montana out for the season.
However, Montana said he feels surgery won't be necessary, and he expects to be throwing -- not playing -- in seven to 10 days.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Montana spoke about a number of things, including the damaged elbow that Dillingham said has a torn tendon. Montana also expressed his feelings about his relationship with Steve Young, the talented quarterback who has been Montana's backup for the last four years.
"Steve is on a big push for himself," said Montana. "And anytime you have a competition, there is always that certain amount of animosity towards each other. I can say we have only a working relationship. That's all it is. After that, he's on my team, but as far as I'm concerned, he's part of the opposition. He wants what I have, and I have to approach it that way. There is no other way to deal with it."
As to a possible future as a backup quarterback, Montana, 35, said: "I don't want to be on the bench ever. I don't want to be on the bench now. What I'm talking about now is my future a few years down the line, when I really start envisioning how my career is going to end. I don't want to go out on the sideline. It's very, very difficult for me not to want to participate, and just sit and do nothing after so many years of playing.
"If two years from now I am in a position where physically I'm still hurting, and I'm not 100 percent of what I feel I can do, and I'm saying to myself, 'Is this worth it?' then I would move on. But for me, I can't see that happening at this point in time. But you never know. Right now, though, I feel I have two or three years left."
The 49ers called Monday's news conference with Dillingham to discuss Montana's injured elbow. The San Jose Mercury reported recently that the injury could be worse than feared because of ligament damage.
Dillingham said there was no ligament damage, but for the first time in weeks the 49ers mentioned surgery. Dillingham said Montana has been given every kind of test -- including X-rays, two magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and a series of dye tests -- to determine the severity of his injury. Dillingham said ligaments in the elbow appear normal.
The problem, according to Dillingham, is that Montana has partial tendon tears in the muscles that flex the wrist. The decision has been made for Montana, who will be on injured reserve for at least the next two weeks, to continue rehabilitating the elbow. If it doesn't get better, Dillingham said, "then surgery is not a remote possibility."
"We want this (injury) to calm down," said Dillingham, who informed Montana about the possibility of surgery Monday morning. "We want it to take its natural course."
If surgery is performed, Dillingham said there is an 80 percent chance of it being successful.
Montana said he plans on throwing at the end of next week if he isn't in too much pain. Coach George Seifert said he actually expects Montana back for the Los Angeles Raiders game on Sept. 29, the earliest Montana could come back under the league's injured reserve rules. Also, the 49ers have a bye the following week, so should Montana miss the Raiders' game, he could get more time to rest.
"Personally, I would like to come back at the end of next week," Montana said. "But realistically it would probably be better if I didn't just to be on the safe side. But it's hard to sit out when you think you might be healthy.
"I guess now the big question is, when I do come back, I haven't played for so long, how long will it take for me to get ready? I'm sure that is on the coaching staff's mind."