"We didn't do some things.... We got away with it this time," he says. "The next time, we might not. I think we played just average. I played just average."
Just average? He scored a touchdown. He threw for a touchdown. He completed 27 of 37 passes for 290 yards. He was touched by the Dallas defense no more than four times. Just average. You study his face. He looks a little like the singer Barry Manilow. He smiles and seems easy with words, but he does not say much. He is not a nightclub comedian or a politician or an evangelist. He is a football player.
The press conference—lasting no longer than seven minutes—is finished when a heavy-set man named Jim Warren tells Joe that he has to get rolling. Warren carries a walkie-talkie and also has a little audio plug in one ear. He's one of the Niners' private security guards on game days, and most of the time he watches out for Joe. On the way out the door, Joe is asked to do an interview with a television crew that has arrived late. Joe says, "It wouldn't be fair to all of those other guys." He smiles. He is off to the trainer's room.
"I've been guarding him since 1981," Warren says. "Everywhere we go, I figure ways to get him out of the stadium. There always are so many people waiting. You have to find different routes. In L.A., I take him right up through the stands and out a side door. In Atlanta, we go way through the back, through this concessions area. Dallas here isn't bad. For the most part, the people are kept away from the buses."
The buses wait in a fenced-off runway on the side of the stadium. There are three of them, all in a row. There also are two equipment trucks and a four-man motorcycle escort. All engines are running, everyone is waiting, when Joe finally emerges from the locker room. He comes out on the run, behind Warren, as people yell his name and try to hand slips of paper to him. Warren directs him to the second bus in the line, and he gets on and walks to the last seat and sits next to safety Ronnie Lott. You can see Lott hand him a beer before the lights go out on the bus. The motorcycles start rolling. The buses and trucks start rolling.
You somehow notice the number on the back of Joe's bus. It's 711. Somehow you think that is perfect.
An 11-year-old named Matthew Hart, from Red Bluff, Calif., had a brain tumor. He was at the University of California at San Francisco Hospital. This was in July. The doctors told his parents he had 48 hours to live. During his radiation treatments, the kid had worn a 49er jersey. His favorite player was Joe Montana.
"We got a call from Matt's mother, Sally, asking if it were possible for Joe to visit Matt," says Ronie Saake of the Sacramento Make-A-Wish Foundation. "We were able to get through to one of Joe's representatives, and she was able to get through to him. Ironically, he was on his way to sign his new contract extension for this season. He said, 'Well, I could be late for the contract' and came to the hospital. He was beautiful. He wasn't some guy who was saying, 'I'm a superstar here to help.' He said he was honored and humbled that Matt had asked for him."
The meeting lasted 45 minutes. Matt was on a morphine drip and would drift in and out of consciousness. He would grab Joe's hand every time he awoke, just to make sure he was seeing real life instead of a dream. Joe left. Matt's crisis passed. Three weeks later, he was strong enough to walk out of the hospital. He is still sick, undergoing treatments, but in September he went to a 49er game. He was Joe's guest.
The attitude never changes. You always are a kid when you see Joe Montana or read about him or simply hear his name and the latest things he has done. You are 11 years old, maybe 12 or 13. The other years do not count, no matter how many have been piled onto the total, no matter what else you might have done. You are wrapped in the blind faith of childhood. Dinner is on the table at the appointed time. Clean clothes always are in the dresser drawers. The afternoon bell at school always signals freedom. A grass field and a game await—a pure time of physical pleasure and active imagination.