There are skeptics who claim that the two best NFL teams are not in this year's Super Bowl. Cowboy and Charger fans, in particular, tend to argue that homefield advantages, officials' calls and wind-chill factors unfairly did in their "obviously superior" teams. But as San Francisco 49er Coach Bill Walsh proclaims, "I guarantee people will be seeing the two best quarterbacks in the Super Bowl."
And who can argue with Walsh, the celebrated "offensive genius" of the NFL, the silver-haired gent who turns out signal callers the way Stradivarius turned out violins? But you don't have to take Walsh's word for it. You can, as they say, look it up.
San Francisco's Joe Montana was the highest-ranked quarterback in the NFC this season. His counterpart, Cincinnati's Ken Anderson, was the highest ranked in the NFL. Montana, who is in only his third pro season and first as a full-time starter, is a newcomer to the top, but as Bengal Coach Forrest Gregg says, "He didn't do it with mirrors. Montana is great." He's so great that last week he had to practice in a No. 19 jersey, 49er fans having glommed all his No. 16s. Anderson, who was also the NFL's top-rated passer in 1975 and '76, just finished his best season ever and now is being swamped with awards, including the league's Most Valuable Player. Indeed, if Anderson were more controversial, if the Bengals played more TV games and if Anderson's given name weren't the real-life equivalent of David W. Gibson, the pallid handle a San Francisco writer gave Montana in a mocking effort to find a nickname for the 49er quarterback, Anderson might be recognized for what he is: a superstar.
Unlike many other quarterbacks who have met up in the Super Bowl—Namath and Unitas, Stabler and Tarkenton, to name a few—Montana and Anderson have a lot in common. Both were born and raised in small midland towns (Anderson in Batavia, Ill., Montana in Monongahela, Pa.) located less than an hour from major cities (Chicago and Pittsburgh, respectively). Both are the only male children in their families (Montana is an only child; Anderson has a younger sister), and both played sports year-round as kids—"Whatever was in season," as Anderson says.
As kids, both liked basketball more than football, and both were better at it. Anderson, who went to Illinois' Augustana College on a basketball scholarship, had a hoop in his driveway but played most of his games at the house of neighbor Dan Issel, now of the Denver Nuggets. Montana, who turned down a number of basketball grants-in-aid to play football at Notre Dame, had an 8-foot rim at his house "for dunking" and a regulation court at the end of his street.
Both Montana and Anderson are polite, unpretentious and accommodating and will describe themselves right off as "quiet." Anderson, 32, is married and has two children, Matt, 6, and Megan, 2. Montana, 25, is recently married and has two horses, Simmy and Mac. Both have bought homes and settled close to their teams' cities, and both plan to stay after quitting football. Anderson just completed law school and will take the Ohio and Kentucky bar exams this spring; Montana plans to get his master's in business administration. "From what I can tell," says Montana, "Ken's personality seems a lot like mine."
Physically, the two are moderately alike, though at 6'2½", 208 pounds, Anderson is sturdier than the bird-legged, 6'2", 193-pound Montana. ("Straighten my bowed legs, and I'd be 6'5"," says Anderson.) Facially, they're near opposites. Anderson is dark, mustachioed and earnest-looking; Montana is blue-eyed, fair and looks as if he'd short-sheet your bunk. On the field both are good scramblers and throwers off the run. Both were third-round choices of their present teams, Anderson in '71, Montana in '79. Both will be playing in their first Super Bowl. Both are Catholic.
Montana's and Anderson's game stats this year are eerily similar. Anderson attempted 479 passes and completed 300 for 3,754 yards. Montana threw 488 times, completing 311 for 3,565 yards. Anderson's completion percentage, 62.6, was the highest in the AFC; Montana's, 63.7, led the NFL. Montana's interception rate was the lowest in the NFC; Anderson's the lowest in the NFL. Anderson was sacked just 25 times; Montana 26. The only significant difference was in touchdown passes—Anderson had 29, Montana 19. But both led teams that out-scored opponents by 13 TDs.
Both quarterbacks threw to wide receiver pairings that are nearly mirror images of each other. Dwight Clark and Cris Collinsworth are the two young, tall, white "possession" receivers; Freddie Solomon and Isaac Curtis are the two veteran black game-breakers. "Our teams are so similar," says Collinsworth, "that the Super Bowl's going to be like an intrasquad game."
If there's a difference in perspective for Montana and Anderson, it's that in his brief pro career Montana has never been booed. Anderson, the 11-year vet, has. After having winning years from 1972 to '77, the Bengals fell below .500 for three straight seasons and Cincinnati fans blamed Anderson, who because of injuries was for the first time in his career throwing more interceptions than TDs. Fans cheered when Anderson got injured against San Diego last year, and this season they booed mightily when he threw two interceptions in the opener against Seattle before being benched in the first quarter.