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It Was Quite a Night for Montana Too

December 16, 1997|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — Watching from the end zone, three monumental players in their own right for the San Francisco 49ers, Steve Young, Jerry Rice and Brent Jones, stood shoulder-to-shoulder applauding Joe Montana as Tina Turner's voice boomed throughout 3Com Park, singing: "Simply the best, better than all the rest . . . "

The 49er organization and fans had just finished paying tribute to Montana, his No. 16 jersey having been officially retired, but here were great athletes leaving locker room halftime preparations early for a second half against Denver, paying respect to one of their own with obvious affection.

"Joe was like a little kid on the football field and no doubt the best quarterback to ever play the game," said Rice, who caught 55 of Montana's touchdown passes. "I remember Super Bowl XXIII when he ran into the huddle when we began that final drive, and the complete quietness in there as he started making his calls. There was no doubt in that huddle that we were going to take the ball down the field and win, and that was because of Joe, always cool and collected."

Montana completed that drive with a touchdown pass to John Taylor, one of the many glorious chapters in a brilliant and legendary career that included four Super Bowl victories and three selections as the Super Bowl most valuable player.

Monday night's jersey retirement ceremony began with a video replay of "The Catch," Montana's six-yard touchdown pass off his back foot to Dwight Clark that beat Dallas, 28-27, in the 1981 NFC championship game.

Earlier, Huey Lewis and the News, while singing the "Star Spangled Banner," changed a line: "Oh say could that old Joe Montana play."

"With all the excitement, all the pressure, Joe has always appeared to be passive," said Bill Walsh, coach of the 49ers during much of Montana's reign in San Francisco. "But under the surface there was this tremendous energy, this magnetic ability to rise to the occasion."

Montana, returning to this stadium for the first time since being traded to Kansas City in 1993, had left here bitter at the organization that he had helped become so successful. Relegated to backup duty behind Young by Coach George Seifert, Montana made it clear he preferred to go elsewhere, if it meant playing on a regular basis.

"I didn't want to leave San Francisco," said Montana, who spends time flying his own plane, golfing and making public appearances. "But I just wanted to play, and at that point the opportunity was not afforded to me."

In Kansas City, Montana led the Chiefs to an 11-5 record and two playoff wins before losing the AFC Championship Game to Buffalo, and a year later after going 9-7 and losing in the playoffs, he announced his retirement.

Montana, called "Joe Cool," by his 49er teammates, had been asked to present himself last year here to retire his jersey, but he said he had other plans, the friction with his former club still hanging in the air.

But this year he agreed, although reluctantly, and so team owner Eddie DeBartolo, who had stepped down as the team's decision-maker recently with the expectation of being indicted for gambling fraud, took the stage at midfield to honor Montana.

49er fans responded by chanting, "Eddie, Eddie," and paid tribute to DeBartolo, while a national television audience waited for the Montana ceremony to continue.

Stepping forward finally, Montana calmly thanked DeBartolo, Walsh, family, teammates and fans, a nice speech, but a letdown of sorts for anyone accustomed to watching Montana perform and expecting yet one more flash of magic.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Montana's Legacy

A look at the career passing ranking of Joe Montana, the four-time Super Bowl winning quarterback whose jersey was retired by the San Francisco 49ers on Monday:

PASSING YARDS

1. Dan Marino: 55,141

2. John Elway: 48,396

3. Warren Moon: 47,233

4. Fran Tarkenton: 47,003

5. Dan Fouts: 43,040

6. Joe Montana: 40,551

COMPLETIONS

1. Dan Marino: 4,425

2. John Elway: 3,896

3. Warren Moon: 3,811

4. Frank Tarkenton: 3,686

5. Joe Montana: 3,409

TOUCHDOWN PASSES

1. Dan Marino: 384

2. Frank Tarkenton: 342

3. Johnny Unitas: 290

4. Warren Moon: 275

5. John Elway: 274

6. Joe Montana: 273

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