Late Sunday afternoon the 49ers trudged to their locker room in Anaheim Stadium following a next-to-last-second 16-13 loss to the Rams. Then, doom upon gloom, word spread that quarterback Joe Montana, the Man With the Golden Gun, the two-time Super Bowl MVP, would have surgery on his back the next day. The operation to remove a portion of a herniated disc will bench Montana for most—if not all—of this season. And there are no guarantees when, or if, he will return to the 49ers.
"This is being done to allow him to try and return to professional football," said Dr. Robert Gamburd, a 49ers team physician who is a back specialist. "The usual length for rehabilitation time is three months, but I'm not talking about somebody who comes back and plays in the National Football League."
Could Montana, 30, have played without surgery? "No," Gamburd said, "because he could not continue to move in the style he needs to. He would probably have recurring problems."
Montana was plagued with back problems last year, and he wrenched his back in the 49ers' 31-7 win over Tampa Bay in the season-opener two weeks ago. Few of his teammates had been told of the severity of his latest injury, and after the Rams game, when the 49ers heard about the operation, they were stunned.
"He's a little bit nervous," said receiver Dwight Clark of Montana, his best friend. "You know, the spine is not a knee. I'm nervous just thinking about it."
Coach Bill Walsh, whose team has been mentioned as a Super Bowl contender, said, "You have to understand that in sports these things happen. We have a pat hand, and we're going to play it."
That hand is quarterback Jeff Kemp, obtained last April from the Rams. In turn, the 49ers dealt long-time backup QB Matt Cavanaugh to the Eagles.
In his first six plays on Sunday, Kemp threw two interceptions, the first leading to a Ram field goal. But he rallied nicely after that, completing 19 of 24 passes for 252 yards.
"I'm not going to play just like Joe," Kemp said. "He's the best quarterback in the league. But I can improve, and I will. It will take a while to grasp the whole offense completely."
Meanwhile, in Miami, Colts quarterback Gary Hogeboom, his throwing (right) arm strapped tightly to his chest and his shoulder wrapped in ice, tried to hide his tears behind a pair of sunglasses. Late in the third quarter of the Colts' 30-10 loss to the Dolphins, Hogeboom suffered a shoulder separation while trying to outrun—and stiff arm—defensive back Lyle Blackwood. The QB will be sidelined for the rest of the season.