"Last year was the toughest he's ever had—and Steve has played on some pretty bad teams, so that's saying something," Tina says. Not only has Schottenheimer eased up on his players, but he and Hackett have opened up the offense a bit, too. To protect Montana, Hackett had shied away from deeper routes and slower-developing pass plays; this year he is taking advantage of Bono's strong arm and pinpoint timing. "Joe had the best touch of all time," Hackett says, "but Steve can really stick a ball to a receiver."
Bono has been sitting at The Tavern, a hip bar in Kansas City's Plaza district, for almost an hour, and not one patron has asked for an autograph. He is discussing what has to be the most shocking NFL record of 1995: his 76-yard touchdown run (well, it was more like a lope) against the Arizona Cardinals last month, the longest scoring run by a quarterback in league history.
Even more amazing than the run was what Bono had said in the huddle after receiving the play from the sideline. Convinced that the play-action bootleg would burn Cardinal coach Buddy Ryan's aggressive defense, Bono, who normally exudes the personality of a tackling dummy during games, told his stunned teammates, "Guys, I'm taking it to the house."
Bono puts down his micro-brewed beer and changes the subject to his favorite topic: food. Last year he joked that "the worst restaurant in San Francisco is better than the best restaurant in Kansas City." While that may have been an exaggeration, Bono considered K.C.'s gustatory offerings so mediocre that he consulted with the owners of one of his favorite Bay Area Italian haunts, Il Fornaio, about opening an establishment in Kansas City.
"A lot of the restaurants here are well-intentioned, but they don't understand how to put things together," he says. "They'll order all these interesting ingredients and mix them in strange combinations. So what Tina and I will do is order a dish, but without two or three of the ingredients, and then order a couple of other ingredients that belong in there on the side."
Bono is getting warmed up now, his deep voice and hearty laugh resounding across the bar, as two young women finally notice him and approach for autographs. They tell him that they are huge fans; he replies politely, puts his flawless signature to paper and turns to finish his thought. Methodically, perhaps unconsciously, he takes a napkin and wipes a drop of spilled beer from the bar.