"Joe is quiet," Jennifer says, "but when he makes up his mind, or when he speaks his opinion, he'll make it known. He doesn't like confrontation, but once he makes up his mind, he doesn't look back. Everybody thinks he has to quit because his wife says so. Come on. I mean, he's 38 years old. Why isn't that excuse enough?"
This is not to say that Jennifer is shy about exerting her influence. For instance, during the tense period that preceded Montana's trade to Kansas City, it was a confrontation between her and 49er vice president Dwight Clark, a longtime friend and former teammate of Joe's, that precipitated a two-year feud that ended only last week. Then again, it was Jennifer who contacted Clark, Nathaniel's godfather, and initiated the reconciliation.
Jennifer is thrilled with her husband's decision. But it was his call, and it came much earlier than most people know. In late January 1994 the Montanas were driving up Interstate 280, heading north toward San Francisco, when Joe broached the subject. Earlier that month, during Kansas City's 30-13 loss to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC championship, he had been knocked out by three charging defenders. The concussion, Montana says, "felt like a lightning bolt went right through my head."
His first reaction was to grab his face mask—to make sure it wasn't embedded in his skull. When questioned on the sidelines, he couldn't name members of his family. The incident scared Montana into taking several medical tests, which revealed no permanent damage. He returned to the Bay Area in a bad mood and stayed that way for several days. Finally, while driving with Jennifer on that January day, he revealed his thoughts: "I'm gonna quit. And I'm gonna announce it soon."
A few weeks later he changed his mind and hired two personal trainers and a karate coach to work with him at home. But the old spark wasn't there. His off-season training group, which included former 49er teammate Jerry Rice, worked out that spring at Menlo College, only a couple of minutes from Montana's home, and still he had trouble dragging himself there. Training camp was a struggle, and even after the Chiefs beat the Niners in the second game of the season, Montana's edge was gone. He called his old San Francisco teammate and good friend Ronnie Lott, who was then with the New York Jets, and told him the end was near.
"For the first time in my life, football began to feel like a job," Montana says. "All of a sudden I was dreading getting up in the morning. When that feeling takes over, you know it's time, because, chances are, that's when you're going to get hurt. You're not thinking about the game; you're just thinking about making it through the week, making it through the game. I always thought I'd end up quitting because my skills were deteriorating. But physically, I felt better going into last season than at any time in recent years."
Montana has taken a beating in his career. After Buffalo defensive end Bruce Smith leveled him during a game last Oct. 30, he looked up and told Smith, "I'm too old for this——." Contrary to some newspaper reports, however, the recent surgery to repair cartilage damage to Montana's right knee did not prevent him from continuing to play. He was driven out not by injury but by indifference.
The right arm is sound and steady—no one disputes that. Standing on the highest portion of his Napa property, where he plans to have a summer house built, Montana is about to put that arm to use. In his quest for water, Montana has employed Laurie Woods, a water witcher well into senior citizenship. Woods searches out potential water sights with a pair of thin iron rods and an empty bottle of brandy. He holds one rod in each hand, and their movements reveal the choice spots. He learns about the potential flowage by spinning the brandy bottle on the ground and counting the rotations. "Yeah," Montana says dryly, "but the key is, he drinks the brandy first."
After watching Woods scout a locale, Montana asks for a demonstration. Woods walks over to a spot, and the rods cross. Then they vibrate. "Here, you try it," he says to Montana, handing over a rod. It flutters only slightly, so Woods grips Montana's left arm, which causes a more pronounced tremor. "Now I'm going to hold your right arm as you hold the rod," Woods says. When he does, the rod shakes violently. Both men smile as they stand there, Woods channeling energy through an arm responsible for so much magic over the years.
This is not the first time Montana's right arm has attracted unconventional attention. In 1992, while he was in the midst of elbow troubles that would force him to miss nearly two seasons, he tried all sorts of alternative healing approaches. Wonder creams would come in the mail, and he would apply them. He ingested herbal teas and potions. One would-be healer was invited to Montana's home and spent minutes moving his hand up and down Montana's arm without touching it. "That guy was really spooky," Jennifer says.