The limb carries so many memories, most of them fond. Montana recalls the arm's first great professional act. In 1980, his first season as a starter, the 49ers trailed New Orleans 35-7 at halftime before Montana pulled off the biggest comeback in regular-season history. San Francisco won 38-35.
That convinced the 49ers, if not their doubting fans, that something special was brewing. The next year, when Montana and the Niners beat the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC championship en route to their first Super Bowl triumph, the arm not only delivered The Catch—Clark's leaping end-zone grab—but also thrust itself defiantly in the face of Cowboy defensive end Harvey Martin. Following a 45-14 loss to the 49ers in the regular season, Martin had remarked that Dallas still didn't respect San Francisco. Montana remembered, and after throwing his first touchdown pass in the NFC title game, he pointed at Martin and yelled, "Respect this" punctuating his statement with a descriptive noun that would make even Roseanne blush.
"Not everyone remembers what it was like back then," says Montana. "The 49ers had never won a thing, and people wouldn't let us forget it. Especially when we played the Cowboys, because they had always ruined things for us. I'm not big on trash-talking, and I think it has gotten way out of hand around the league, but back then no one respected us. If people didn't respect us, I'd show them no respect."
The arm has also seen its share of trouble. In the 1990 NFC championship, New York Giant defensive end Leonard Marshall delivered what Montana says is the hardest hit he ever took—a blind-side sack that bruised his sternum, fractured a rib and knocked him out of the game. According to Montana, what Marshall did after the whistle was reprehensible: "He grabbed my hand on the way down, and after we hit the ground, he snapped it back and broke it. There are photographs of him doing it." Montana says Marshall denied hurting him intentionally.
At the moment the arm is performing one of its favorite activities, raising a glass of red wine. As he sits in a trendy Napa Valley restaurant, sampling a local zinfandel, Montana mulls over his messy departure from the 49ers after the 1992 season. His thoughts are not for publication. Montana prefers not to dredge up that chapter of his otherwise dreamy career.
He learned to be politic from his first Niner coach, Bill Walsh. Their relationship went through some rocky times in the late '80s, but they are close once again. Things aren't as congenial between Montana and Walsh's successor, George Seifert, but Seifert was invited to the retirement ceremony earlier this week, along with Clark and Niner owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., whom Montana regards with great warmth.
There is no pretense of friendship with Steve Young, who inherited Montana's starting job four years ago and completed a dream season in January by leading the Niners to victory in the Super Bowl and winning the game's MVP award. The competition between the two men was fierce. Not only did Montana resent what he perceived to be self-promotion on Young's part, but he also thought that Seifert openly favored Young. During the 1992 season, when Montana was on the injured reserve list, he was asked not to hang around the 49er practice facility because he might be a distraction for Young. This banishment is what prompted Montana to take up flying.
With a pilot's license and a Malibu Mirage, the single-engine plane he received as a gift from Jennifer in December, Montana has the means to pursue his new passion. He is not content to take to the air merely as a means of transportation. He experienced a barrel roll while flying with the Blue Angels (as a passenger) last year, and though his instructor has already taught him a maneuver called a spin, he wants to learn more stunts. "When he's in the air, that's the only time he has that same glow as when he's playing football, maybe even a bigger glow," says Jennifer. "His eyes get really big, and they sparkle, and he talks about side winds and things like that. It'll never make up for playing in the game, but it'll help ease the emptiness."
Montana wants to put a landing strip on his Napa property, along with a fishing creek, several ponds, an outdoor fireplace and a vineyard. He envisions a red-wine operation that would produce 500 cases a year for friends and family to consume. "Lord knows I'll drink enough of it myself," he says. He has big plans for taming the land, from spraying the poison oak to cruising around on a tractor and moving mountains.
Then again, a part of Montana wants to hit the road—and the skies. In addition to planning several side trips, the Montanas are considering renting a house in Italy in the fall. If Joe accepts a broadcasting job—NBC and Fox are the leading suitors—it will likely be a part-time, in-studio gig. The Chiefs, Montana says, have left the door open for a comeback, which he deems highly unlikely. He has ruled out doing what former teammate Roger Craig did last summer—re-signing with the 49ers for a day, as a symbolic act, before retiring.