Quarterback Joe Montana is expected to announce his retirement early next week in San Francisco, ending an era where it began.
"I understand that's when it's happening," said Carl Crawley, longtime family friend from New Eagle, Pa. "But I'm not believing anything until I hear it."
Relatives from Monongahela, Pa., already have flown to San Francisco to join Montana, 38, for the ceremony in the city where he led the 49ers to four Super Bowl championships and countless comeback victories.
The ceremony may involve city officials, but the 49ers are not expected to participate. They traded him to Kansas City two years ago, going with Steve Young as their quarterback.
Months of retirement speculation became a reality recently when Montana, according to relatives, finally decided to listen to his aches, pains, and the wishes of his wife, Jennifer.
"He wants to keep playing and winning," said one source close to the situation. "But he's sick of practicing, and his wife wants him home."
During his two seasons with the Chiefs, the team and his body deteriorated to the point that Montana apparently has decided that the final season of his contract would not be worth his $2.4-million salary.
Neither Montana nor his agents could be reached for comment.
"At the end of the year, his friends in Kansas City were telling me that Joe was just tired, real tired," said Dave Huffman, a friend and former Notre Dame teammate. "This shouldn't surprise anybody."
What might be surprising is that Montana will retire, after a 16-year career, with only two NFL passing records--most consecutive 400-yard passing games, five, and most consecutive completions in a game, 22, twice.
Although he trails Fran Tarkenton and Dan Marino in completions and touchdown passes, nobody has performed better in big games.
"He is the greatest quarterback of our time," said retired linebacker Matt Millen, longtime rival and teammate. "Here's the test. Ask Marino or Tarkenton if they would trade what they have done for what Joe has done. And they would."
Some of the highlights of his career are so impressive, they have titles.
Remember "The Catch," the touchdown pass to Dwight Clark that gave the 49ers the 1981 NFC championship against Dallas?
How about "The Drive," Montana's game-winning march against Cincinnati in the final minutes of the Super Bowl after the 1988 season that ended in a touchdown pass to John Taylor.
"He's in a position where it's hard to compare through the years," said Randy Cross, longtime 49er offensive lineman. "But if you ask football people which quarterback they would take if you are down six points with three minutes left and two timeouts and 80 or 90 yards to drive . . . I bet it wouldn't even be close."
Montana did little to tarnish his reputation during his two seasons with the Chiefs, leading them into the AFC championship game during his first season and back to the playoffs last year, when they lost in the first round to the Miami Dolphins.
Many thought his career became complete last season with a victory over the 49ers and Young, who nonetheless replaced Montana in the hearts of many San Franciscans by leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl championship.
"I can name you a half-dozen things that Joe has done that I have never seen anybody else do," Cross said.
Anticipating Montana's decision, the Chiefs have been negotiating a new long-term contract with backup quarterback Steve Bono.
Bono backed up Montana at San Francisco before going to Kansas City and knows the Chiefs' offense better than anybody but Montana.
"Am I worried that Joe has not announced his plans yet? No," Chief General Manager Carl Peterson said several weeks ago. "Why do you think I signed Steve Bono?"
Some have criticized Montana for costing the Chiefs a chance to use his salary elsewhere by not declaring his retirement, but the Chiefs have signed three high-priced free agents--tackle Jeff Criswell, safety Brian Washington and cornerback James Hasty.
They also will use Montana's salary for signing players taken in the NFL draft April 22-23. Montana's announcement has been timed to make that money available to them.