"I'm not speaking for Joe or [ Kansas City general manager] Carl Peterson or [Chief owner] Lamar Hunt, but Carmen [Policy, the Niners' president] and Carl have had these discussions, and I think it goes without saying that Joe will finish his career here," said DeBartolo. When asked about retiring back in his old uniform, Montana smiled and said, "That would be nice."
It was a funny week that way. Everywhere Montana went, he must have felt like Jacob Marley. His future, his present and his past all seemed to find their way into his huddle.
Montana's present was wondering how his NFL comeback would go against the young Bucs in a strange new uniform with a strange old number (19, because the Chiefs had retired 16, which was the number Len Dawson wore when he quarter-backed them) on a strange new team in a strange new division after almost two years of sitting on the bench icing an old and sore elbow. But even that number, 19, begged the past. Montana hadn't worn it since he was 11 years old playing peewee, the last year that he wanted to quit football.
"My cousins were all doing other stuff," he says. "I think it was Boy Scouts. And I wanted to do what they were doing." But Montana's father wouldn't let him quit until the end of the season, and by then, Montana didn't want to quit. That was 26 years ago, and in all that time Montana has never wanted to quit. There was some talk this year that he might pack it in, but when the trade to Kansas City came down, suddenly Montana had a football future again.
In K.C., Montana was hailed as a savior even before he had thrown his first spiral. One woman wondered if Montana would be good enough to sign the urn containing her husband's ashes before they were interred. One day Montana got into his car and was about to drive off when some-body screamed for him to stop. It seems a little boy was hiding under the car, waiting for him to come out. One night in a bar Montana drained a few cans of beer with some friends. When he got up to leave, a woman snatched the empties and put them in her purse.
They could be recycled, but could Montana? In the last two years he had tried fewer passes than Joey Buttafuoco. How much speed had he lost? How many hits would he be able to take? Was it Jerry Rice who fueled Montana, or Montana who made Rice? "Hey, let's not forget," warned Buccaneer linebacker Broderick Thomas the day before the game. "The man was surrounded by the best fullback in the game, the best wideouts and a line that would hold, kick, scrape, do anything to protect him."
Finally, Montana came to Tampa, where he found himself staring straight into his past. Starting for the Bucs at quarterback was Steve DeBerg, who has had more lives than Shirley MacLaine, including one in 1979 and '80 as Montana's roommate with the 49ers. He started ahead of Montana, no less. Montana eventually beat out DeBerg, just as nearly every American has done to DeBerg at one time or another. ( John Elway with the Denver Broncos, Vinny Testaverde with the Bucs and, rumor had it, Craig Erickson in Tampa again.) In fact only two seasons ago it was DeBerg who was quarterbacking in K.C. "The interesting thing is the Chiefs got rid of me to get a quarterback of the future," says DeBerg. "Then they go get two old guys."
Montana may be 37 and his backup, Dave Krieg, may be 34, but DeBerg, at 39, is the oldest creature in the league. In fact the match of Montana and DeBerg looked like a shootout at the Creamed-Corn Saloon, the oldest pairing in the NFL since Fran Tarkenton (then 38) went against Roger Staubach (36) in '78.
There was more. Coaching across the field from Montana was Sam Wyche, the 49ers' former quarterback coach, the one who had scouted Montana before the draft, the one who worked with him in his early years, the one who went on to become head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. In three different games, including Super Bowl XXIII, his Bengals were ahead of Montana's Niners in the last minute and a half and lost.
In the end, as always, it was Montana's present that turned out to be the most fun. He came to his locker to find...his shoes missing. In their place were some size 15's and a note. "Stop trying to follow in my footsteps." DeBerg.