After hearing that Joe Montana was saying publicly that he felt insecure with the shadow of Steve Young behind him, Coach Bill Walsh called his quarterback in for a heart-to-heart talk.
Five days later, on Sunday, Montana went out and played an almost perfect game--20 of 29 for 302 yards and four touchdown passes--as the San Francisco 49ers beat the Seattle Seahawks 38-7.
“I got the sense he was very relaxed out there,” said the indomitable Jerry Rice, who caught two of the TDs--for 69 and 60 yards--on Montana passes that led him perfectly.
“We had a lot of people questioning our judgment on Joe Montana,” Walsh said. “Well, he was the All-Pro quarterback last year, the leading passer in the league. He’s broken all kinds of records. He’s the guy we have to go with.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Montana said.
And for good reason.
Since last Dec. 14, when Young replaced a shaken-up Montana and threw 4 touchdown passes in a 41-0 victory over the Bears, it became a question of when the quarterback of the future would replace the quarterback of the past and present for the 49ers.
The questions intensified when Young led San Francisco to two more routs--35-7 over Atlanta and 48-0 over the Los Angeles Rams to close out a 13-2 regular season.
And they reached a crescendo when the 49ers were upset, 36-24, by Minnesota in the playoffs, a game in which Young replaced an ineffective Montana and went 12 for 17 for 158 yards and a touchdown. That led to off-season speculation that Montana was headed to the Raiders or Chargers.
In fact, it was more than just speculation--owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., who thinks he deserves an NFL title every season, was more than ready to dump the man who has been the MVP in both the 49ers’ Super Bowl victories.
The controversy continued into this season, when Montana was lifted with a bruised elbow after three TD passes in the opener against New Orleans. Then he replaced Young in the second game against the New York Giants in time to throw a 78-yard TD pass to Rice with 41 seconds left for a 20-17 victory.
But back home, in a loss against Atlanta, a two-touchdown underdog, Montana threw three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
The Bay Area media, which gives the team as much scrutiny as any in the league outside Denver, immediately began asking questions. Montana answered them, grumbling that he was playing with one eye over his shoulder because he was afraid one mistake would cause him to be lifted from the game.
“I can’t believe he said that,” Walsh said. “I can’t believe he’d spill his heart out to you reporters before he’d talk to the man he’d worked 10 years for.”
So the next day, Montana spilled his heart to Walsh, presumably got a vote of confidence, and performed Sunday like he did most of last year. In 1987, despite his injuries, he won the first passing title of his career, was named All-Pro and set a team record with 31 touchdown passes.
And, of course, he got the vote of confidence, from Walsh and his teammates.
But for how long?
“We need more fans and fewer experts,” said center Randy Cross, taking a swipe at the media of which he is a part--he has a Saturday television show as an “expert,” analyzing the previous week’s game.
So, Cross was asked, is the air cleared?
“It will be cleared for a while,” he said. “Then they’ll beat it back do death again.”