It transcended won-lost records and the fact that this was a meeting of two unbeaten teams. It was historic, emotional. It was big. "Our championship in September," Kansas City Chief owner Lamar Hunt called it.
Joe Montana vs. Steve Young in the Vindication Bowl. Montana's magical right arm had deposited four Super Bowl trophies in the San Francisco 49ers" display case. He was a god in the Bay Area, but a god who left in a cold fury last year when he was first told that he would not be allowed to compete for the starting quarterback job and then, in a last-minute effort to save face for everyone involved, was guaranteed the position. Take your guarantee and shove it, he said, and off he went to Kansas City in a trade the Niners felt obliged to make.
He was replaced by Steve Young, the NFL's highest-rated passer for the last two years, but with no Super Bowl win to his credit. And that's what cut deepest around the Bay. You've gotten rid of our Joe and given us what'? A terrific athlete, a fine passer, but where are the championships? A harsh measurement to be sure, and unfair of course, but there it is. Joe vs. Steve, on Sunday in Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Game 2 of the season, with both guys fresh and healthy. Now we'll find out.
During the week before the game, the two quarterbacks said all the right things in an attempt to defuse the frenzy. It's a long season. Young said, and we'll have 14 games after this one, and we can't lose focus. Montana did his talking in a Monday conference call that was widely quoted during the week. Here and there you could detect an edge to his remarks. "All I wanted was fair competition for the job," he said, "I didn't want to be given the job. That's where people were misled: 'Oh, here he is complaining. Give it to him. Keep him quiet.' "
For four years Young had labored as Montana's backup, constantly bugging the coaches for more work in practice, for more snaps. He then ran the show for two seasons while Montana was out with an elbow injury, and what developed between them was...well, hatred might be too strong a word, but on Montana's side, dislike, and for Young, a feeling that he would never get a real chance as long as Montana was there.
"He's a gym rat, that's Steve's problem," says Chief player-personnel boss Lynn Stiles, who was on the 49er coaching staff for five years. "Hungry to compete, wants to beat you in anything. Problem is, the other guy's exactly the same."
And now they were meeting on the field for the first and. unless the teams play each other in a Super Bowl, probably the last time. This was it, a chance for Bay Area fans to say, "See, we told you."
For the Chiefs' p.r. staff it was a nightmare. "The biggest media blitz in the six years I've been here," said Kansas City publicity director Bob Moore. "Two hundred requests for cameras and video credentials—normally we get 30 or 40—so many media applications that we had to go to folding chairs."
Scalpers on the Kansas side of the slate line, where there are no limits on the resale of tickets, were advertising scats for $350 apiece, club level with a parking pass. The Kansas City Star ran an ad: "Two tickets...will meet with the highest bidder...outside city limits."
Desperate 49er fans were calling anybody, even Chiefs. "One guy phoned me for tickets," K.C. noseguard Dan Saleamua said, "and said, 'You know me, we had drinks once.' I told him, 'Yeah, and I paid for them. Get your own tickets.' "