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An American Dream
Leigh Montville
December 24, 1990
What kid doesn't want to grow up to be quarterback Joe Montana?
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December 24, 1990

An American Dream

What kid doesn't want to grow up to be quarterback Joe Montana?

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"My friend and I are pretty good. I'm always Joe Montana and he's always Jerry Rice. We have a deep pass that always works. Well, mostly always. If my friend catches the ball. Then I say the words at the end of the Super Bowl."

The words?

"I'm going to Disney World."

You like to watch him on television. Especially during the hard times. The hard times are best. You know all about him during the hard times. You have read all the stories, read the books, listened to all the commentators. He is at his best when the chips are down. Isn't that what they say? You love to watch him when the chips are down.

He somehow seems to breathe slower when everyone else breathes fast, seems to have a different metabolism. Remember that final drive in the 1989 Super Bowl? You fell off the chair. You rolled on the floor with excitement. Was there ever any doubt that he simply was going to move those Niners 92 yards down the field in the final 3:20 to beat the Cincinnati Bengals? Of course not. He completed one pass, and then another, and another. Eight of nine passes during the drive. Was there ever any better high-pressure bit of football business? Didn't you read what he said at the start of the drive?

"Hey, check it out," he said to tackle Harris Barton.

"Check out what?" Barton asked.

"There, in the stands, standing near the exit ramp," Joe said. "There's John Candy."

Wasn't that the greatest? There are lists of the comebacks he has quarterbacked in 12 seasons with the Niners and four college seasons at Notre Dame. The lists are so long that they look like the itinerary for a breakout tour by a heavy-metal band. Your father remembers reading about someone named Chip Hilton who did the same things Joe does. Your grandfather mentions someone named Frank Merriwell. You don't know any of that. Weren't those characters from fiction? Joe is real. A real Joe.

One of your favorite comebacks was at the Cotton Bowl in 1979, when he directed the Fighting Irish to 23 points in the final 7:37. They won 35-34 over the University of Houston. The day was cold...and Joe was fighting hypothermia, was filled with bullion to get his temperature back near normal...and he went into the ice and wind and did the job. Did the job? Twenty-three points in 7:37?

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