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Wrong. In the 49ers' possession plan JoeMontana takes what they don't want to give him. Walsh has called JoeMontana a "sensuous" athlete and compared him to "a great writer or musician" in the way he can manipulate the point of emphasis of a football game. "JoeMontana stretches our limits," Walsh has said. "He redefines what is sensible." This is marvelously heady stuff. And, by the way, it's all true.
The two men have had their differences as well, Walsh complaining at times that JoeMontana has depended too much on bosom buddy Clark for a target; that he has been overly reckless breaking away from blockers; that he spent valuable time on extracurriculars (TV shows, endorsements, appearances) in the season following Super Bowl XVI. But criticism cuts both ways. "The TV stuff was on Mondays, a nonstudy day, and I didn't miss any practice sessions that year," says JoeMontana. "On my choice of receivers, whose neck is it? I'll go with a guy having the hot year every time. They say I force the ball sometimes, but I don't call any of those third-and-eight plays. I don't call any plays."
This may stick in the craw. Last season with time running out and Detroit and the 49ers tied, JoeMontana entered the huddle and was asked somewhat facetiously what plays Walsh had told him to run. "He didn't give me any——plays," JoeMontana snapped. "He told me to get the——ball in the——end zone." It took 11 plays to set up the decisive field goal, and the 49ers won 30-27.
"I can kid Bill—but not about philosophy or egos, stuff like that," says JoeMontana. "I like to think the system was built around the quarterback and that I add something special. As much as Bill puts in, we're the ones who have to execute. But maybe that's just for my own mindset, to keep me motivated. One frustration is that throwing deep is not part of the plan. It's so hard to sit and watch other teams do it and know, damn, we can do that. But throwing down the field is not something a team can perfect in practice, and whenever we miss in a game he [Walsh] gets scared and I get nervous. Then we back off. I think I'm at a point in my career where I could play anywhere in any system, but I don't want to have to find out."
Greater love hath no man for another that he refuses to throw him to the hyenas in his rookie season (San Francisco was 2-14; JoeMontana threw just 23 passes all year). Walsh also protected him in JoeMontana's second year, when the 49ers were 6-10. At the beginning, Walsh played him behind Steve DeBerg, using him only in propitious situations—not against headhunters, rarely inside his own 50, always to spur confidence. If not looked after this way, who knows, JoeMontana could have ended up Archie Manning.
Once against the Jets, DeBerg took the team to the New York five-yard line, but JoeMontana came in and scored on a rollout. Then he completed four of six passes for 60 yards. Then, exit. In his second season JoeMontana started a few games, then handled the headphones and clipboard for three weeks, then started a few more. "I was setting the stage," says Walsh. But in the 14th game of 1980, after the 49ers fell behind New Orleans by 35-7 ("Attack, don't absorb," Walsh said at the half), JoeMontana marched the team on four touchdown drives totaling 331 yards and engineered another drive in overtime that led to a field goal and a 38-35 victory. This was the greatest comeback in the history of the NFL. JoeMontana never looked back. Of course he had been there before. He has always been Comeback Joe.
It was in JoeMontana's junior year at Ringgold High that it first happened, a 35-35 tie with heavily favored Monessen from across the river. It was the kid's first starting assignment on the varsity, but Joe Sr. had prepared him long and well. Running pass patterns. Swaying the tire through which his son aimed his deliveries. Lying about the kid's age to get him in peewee ball. Both Montanas insist the proper word is "encourage," not "push," for what Joe Sr. did for Joe Jr. in sports. But others who were there know different. "He never had a choice," says Theresa Montana, wife and mother.
Joe Sr., 52, silver-haired and part Sioux Indian, was born a year to the day after the future mentor, Walsh. When little Joe was three, his father quit his job as a telephone equipment installer for Western Electric, which kept him on the road, and took an office job at the Civic Finance Company in Mon City, as Monongahela is called in the local vernacular, so he would always be there, a benevolent sage for an only child's pursuit of excellence in athletics. And there he remains—although now JoeMontana has mounted a strong lobbying effort to get his parents to move to California.
The father always has been the son's best friend. And the father's father wasn't far behind. "Hooks" Montana, a semipro player for the New Eagle (Pa.) Indians, once drove all the way from Texas to Cleveland hoping to see JoeMontana play in the Notre Dame-Navy game, even though his grandson was a redshirt that season. At halftime a stroke came on. Within seconds Hooks was gone. JoeMontana says Hooks knew he was about to die and wanted to pick the place. If that is so, no Notre Dame fan ever passed from this earth a happier fellow. Notre Dame 27, Navy 21.
JoeMontana himself turned down a basketball scholarship to North Carolina State in favor of football under the Golden Dome, but he was terribly homesick from the start. Not only that, among the three quarterbacks on the freshman roster he ranked last. In his second semester he married a hometown honey, Kim Moses, which was not so unusual in that time and place. At Notre Dame, Nick DeCicco, JoeMontana's roommate, and Nick's father, Mike, the university's academic adviser, tried to talk him out of wedlock—no more panty raids at St. Mary's, Joe, no more transplanting goats from the' South Bend Zoo to the athletic dorm. But in Mon City lots of people married young. Hardly anybody ever left to go off to college.