On Day 11, Montana and eleven others announced they were planning to report to work. In hopes of dissuading them, some of the remaining strikers, at Fahnhorst's behest, grabbed picket signs and went to the 49ers' Redwood City training camp. Coach Bill Walsh, fearing a showdown might erode team unity, prevailed on the defectors to delay their return. But five days later they crossed the line.
That development took a heavy emotional toll on all the Niners. Craig, who lost $69,000 in salary, returned even though he felt like he was "driving a huge ax between my teammates and myself." Turner was distressed because cornerback Eric Wright, his best friend and godfather to his daughter, Sheena, was one of those who reported. "Every morning I woke up with headaches," Turner says. "Eric and I have had disagreements before, but they were never as intense and heated. If our friendship didn't survive this, then I guess it wasn't very good to begin with."
When the 49ers got back together for the first time, on the morning of Oct. 19 at their training facility, they were understandably apprehensive. The first team meeting, during which Walsh discussed the importance of honest communication, was unusually quiet and businesslike. Then at lunch backup quarterback Steve Young, who honored the strike to the end, made a great show of coveting Montana's bag of homemade chocolate chip cookies. "It was a good way to break the ice," says Young. Never mind that Montana, who had brought in the cookies to give to a secretary, didn't share them with Young.
Fahnhorst shook hands with the defectors as well as the 14 replacement 49ers still with the club. Turner passed Montana in a hallway and playfully rubbed the quarterback's tummy. Montana giggled. After practice, safety Ronnie Lott gave one of his trademark rambling speeches. "I told the guys not to look at the small picture, that if we held the last three weeks against each other—after all we'd lived through—we'd be pretty shallow people."
Clark, Craig, Turner and Lott went out that evening for beers. A few nights later Clark, Turner, Lott and Wright, partners in a restaurant in Cupertino, had dinner together. And on Oct. 22, during practice, the Niners burst into a rendition of Happy Birthday to You for Turner, who had just turned 29. "It was like we had never left," says guard Randy Cross, a faithful striker.
Practices were hard, pep talks basic. "It was like training camp," says Walsh. "I reiterated that it's vital to judge a person by his performance and commitment rather than his politics, spiritual feelings or economic status."
Walsh set aside time each day for players to air their feelings, and he had University of California sociology professor Harry Edwards, a 49ers' consultant, attend practices. Walsh also met individually with players to discuss their financial problems.
If the Niners came together smoothly, Walsh knew it was because of Fahnhorst's and Turner's efforts to promote harmony. So, on Sunday, he made them captains for the game against N�w Orleans. And the team played better, especially in the air, than it had before the strike. Montana completed 18 of 32 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns as the 49ers won 24-22.
Lott believes the Niners are on their way to becoming closer than ever. "Adversity, if dealt with in the right way, makes you stronger," he says. "You have to look it in the face and challenge it immediately. If you ignore it, you'll grow apart."