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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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You look at the poster on the bedroom wall. You could be Joe Montana. Yes, you could. You throw your official NFL ball into the air, narrowly missing the model airplanes hanging from the ceiling by strings. You catch the ball and dive onto the bed. Montana to Rice! Touchdown! You could do that. You could hear the same noises Joe Montana hears. You could do the same things he does. Yes, you could.

"What's your name, son?"

" Joe Montana. Like the state. Montana."

The possibility is not out of reach. You would not have to be exceptionally fast. You would not have to grow exceedingly tall. You would not have to develop unbelievable strength. Your game would be wits and grace and style and reactions. These are gifts you could have. Cool. You could have cool. The Neanderthals from the defensive line would charge at your face and you would step to the right, step to the left, let them pass with their misguided fury. Cool. The disguises of the defensive backfield would fall away before your eyes. Who is open? How far do I throw? There never would be doubt. You simply would deliver the mail.

Quarterback. That is your position. Has to be. Your father spent a lot of time in this same room thinking he could be Johnny Unitas. His father thought he could be Sid Luckman. Isn't that the American boyhood dream? You could be Joe. Those pennants, held down against the floral wallpaper by thumbtacks now, could be waving in the brisk autumn air. Those street noises outside could be 60,000 people, mad for a moment. You could be holding your hands out for quiet. You could be changing the play at the line of scrimmage, the rest of your San Francisco 49er teammates crouched and ready to go. You could be picking the perfect play for the perfect moment, then running it perfectly.

Nothing would be different. You would have that same boyish humility, amazing everyone and then telling the reporters that it was "no big deal." You would drive the red Ferrari and be married to the television personality and have three pretty children for the Christmas card. The contract would be for multimillions for multiyears. The adulation would grow daily. You would be the star of the best team of a decade, winning four Super Bowls and heading for a possible fifth. The experts would say you were "the best ever," or at least a candidate. The success would not go to your head. You would be All-Pro, a starter in the Pro Bowl, a salesman for the latest wicked-awesome fluorescent sneakers. You would be named SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S Sportsman of the Year for 1990, the first pro football player to win the award outright in its 37 years.

How would that feel?

You could handle it. You could be Joe Montana.

The poster costs five bucks. Send the five bucks to a mail-order house in Fenton, Mo., and you can receive a poster of Bo Jackson or Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson. Or the 2-by 3-foot picture can show Joe Montana throwing a football. He is wearing his white jersey with the red No. 16 on the front. White wristbands. A white towel hanging from his belt. The ball coming from behind his gold 49er helmet.

An 11-year-old kid named Justin Rozen from Branford, Conn., bought the poster because he "just likes Joe and his talent." A man named Ken Hall from Clinton, Ind., bought one for his nine-year-old son, Kenny, because "Kenny had all these pictures of Joe, cut out from sports magazines, on his wall already." A 12-year-old named Azriel Chelst from Southfield, Mich., bought one because "Joe can pass, and I love his two-minute drill, and I want to be a quarterback.

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