Joe Montana's right elbow looked as though an orthopedic surgeon had gotten playful and during some now-forgotten operation implanted a baseball. His left hand was swollen to the size of a small canned ham, albeit a purplish one. His ribs ached so much that from his point of view it was almost a toss-up: Should he breathe or not? And still these overly large men kept knocking him down, falling on him, cracking him right in the face just as they had bragged they would. And, also, his team was losing 10-0 and....
Haven't we all seen this movie before?
Only about a thousand times. Even the Houston Oilers, with that cute little halftime lead over Montana's Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at the Astrodome, couldn't help but browse through mental film from the NFL archives, the comeback section. Montana could be lying in state and these Oilers, as cocky as they might be, would still want to poke him with a stick. "10-0," said Oiler defensive end William Fuller, recalling an anxious intermission. "With Joe Montana? That's too close."
Of course, as the Oilers have proved, no lead of theirs is big enough in a playoff game. Their destiny is, apparently, to be the best team in the NFL never to win a division championship. And in some cases—last season's overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills in the wild-card round, in which Houston squandered a 25-point halftime lead, comes to mind—the failure has been spectacular.
But surely this year, with defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan's new blitzing defense that specialized in the routine demoralization of opposing quarterbacks, even a Montana should be held in no more awe than a pile of socks. All the same, said Oiler cornerback Cris Dishman, "I hated to see him with the ball in the second half and the game close."
Montana, that 37-year-old bag of bones, drove the Chiefs 71 yards in their first possession of the second half, lofting a seven-yard scoring pass to Keith Cash, his tight end, to end the drive. In the end zone Cash looked up to see a large poster featuring Ryan's distinctive face. Cash spiked the ball smack in the middle of that mug. If the Oilers thought 10-0 was too close, how did they like 10-7?
In the fourth quarter, after K.C. had spotted Houston a field goal that increased the Oilers' lead to 13-7, Montana passed for two more touchdowns and handed off to Marcus Allen for another. When Montana was finished, the Chiefs had won 28-20 to advance to this weekend's AFC title game in Buffalo, and he had added a bit more to his legend. Montana-led teams have now come from behind in the fourth quarter to win 29 games—four of those in the postseason.
You saw all this happen, and even so, you had a hard time explaining it. Just how did this happen? "I don't know." said Fuller. "He kept getting back up."
There is more to Montana than that, as there is more to the Chiefs than Montana. Overlooked in the comeback was the Kansas City defense, neither as famous nor as accomplished as Ryan's fierce creation in Houston. Yet it was the Chief defense that racked up nine sacks of Oiler quarterback Warren Moon and caused him to fumble five times (he lost two). It was the Chief defense that held tailback Gary Brown to a mere 17 yards rushing—108 less than he had averaged in his eight starts during the regular season.
"All we heard about was their defense," said Kansas City defensive end Neil Smith. Well, if the Chief defensive unit had a self-promoter like Ryan in charge, someone willing to take a poke at a fellow coach on the sideline, it would have its own nickname by now. With all those takeaways, it would be called the Kansas City Thiefs or something like that.