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But just as Pipp would never be Gehrig and Best would never be Ringo, DeBerg will never be Montana. He came out flat, and Montana came out hotter than Tampa asphalt. He completed his first nine passes, one of them to Davis for the 19-yard touchdown that gave the Chiefs a 7-3 lead they would never come close to handing back. There were just under 10 minutes left in the second quarter, and Montana still hadn't missed. The way the Chiefs' front row of condominiums was scaling off strangers, it seemed Montana might not miss until November.
O.K., so he did miss his 10th on a technicality ( Fred Jones caught it out of bounds), but he set up scores on that possession and the next—one a Nick Lowery field goal and the other a 50-yard touchdown on a postcard-perfect fly pass down the middle to J.J. Birden. "That ball was about as perfect as it gets," said Birden. "I got a great release on my man, and as I was breaking, I thought to myself, I just hope he sees me. Just as I was thinking that, I looked up, and the ball was there. I didn't even have to break stride."
Then Montana hit Allen on a simple flat pass—one of about 10,000 Allen will catch this year—and Allen turned it into a lovely 12-yard touchdown. Montana to Allen. Touchdown. Must be Beethoven to the ears of long-suffering Chief fans.
"I didn't feel like I had anything to prove to anybody today," said Allen, who left the Los Angeles Raiders in a huff after last season and signed with the Chiefs as a free agent. "I didn't think I needed to prove anything to myself either."
But Montana did, and he proved it. Benched at every level—high school, college and pro—he still has an insecurity streak a mile wide. And even though he bruised his right hand and had to leave the game in the third quarter to have X-rays taken (they turned out negative), nothing was going to take away from his debutante party.
"It felt good to be back out there," said Montana in a sweat-box interview room (as fans outside chanted, "We want Joe!"), "It's been a long time."
Outside, DeBerg, who still has never beaten Montana as a starter, was smarting from having been replaced in the third quarter by Erickson, who was seven years old when DeBerg started his pro career. Will you start next week? he was asked. "You tell me," he said with a smile. Ever the Kelly girl, never the full-time.
Across the way, poor Willie Davis was lamenting his misdeed, spiking away a treasure that should have adorned his den shelf, when he struck on another idea. "I know," he said with a wicked grin. "I'll steal his jersey."